Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Interview with the Twilight Sad's James Graham

James Graham

It’s been a long year in the life of The Twilight Sad. Album number two, Forget the Night Ahead, may have been released just over 12 months ago, but since then the band have lost bassist Craig Orzel, toured relentlessly and released one of 2010’s most remarkable EPs, 'The Wrong Car'.

On the back of their final shows of the year with fellow Scots Errors, we interrupted singer James Graham’s post-tour recuperation to talk new album, morbid lyrics and a possible career in Hip Hop...

How’s it going James, you recovered from the tour with Errors?

James Graham [JG]:
I’m good thanks. Just coming down after the tour. Glad to be back home and not have anything planned until next year, gigging-wise, to be honest. It was only a couple of weeks but I think in my head I just want to get on with the new stuff and get the new album done and recorded.

I really enjoyed the tour, it was great to play. But when you know you’ve got songs that are really different from that last album it’s quite strange going from one head space when you’re writing new songs and then playing all the old ones on stage. It was a good laugh and we really enjoyed it and I think both bands did really well out of it.

Musically, you’re quite a different band from Errors – how did it come about?

It was one of those ideas that came from being in the pub drinking and the next day you think ‘actually that was pretty good’ – unlike most ideas that come from the pub. I suppose it was on the back of them remixing us and us remixing them, so we thought it seemed a good idea. And because we are quite different, it did make it a different sort of night.

The contrasting styles worked quite well didn’t they?

Yeah, when you’ve got co-headlining bands you’ll always tend to get some people there for one band over the other. But it seemed like most people were there to hear both bands, even though we are kind of different.

The Edinburgh gig was really strong – it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen you.

Yeah but I saw a few reviews that were basically saying it was too loud for them. At one point there was a girl down the front who was greetin’ – I kinda hope it was to do with it being too loud, rather than the songs being rubbish.

Actually our photographer did mention there was someone down the front who looked like she’d been crying.

Me and Andy [McFarlane] had an acoustic set at Oran Mor and there was a girl down the front singing every lyric a beat out of time. I actually had to stop mid-way through and say ‘Look, I don’t know what you’re doin’ but it’s no actually what am doin’. Can you stop this?’ I’m pretty sure I saw her at the Edinburgh gig so it could possibly have been her.

But I can never tell if it was a good gig or not. We’re not exactly the kind of band that interact with the crowd or anything like that.

Sound-wise you seemed a lot more direct than previous shows. Was that intentional?

Aye, we don’t really take a breath and we just hammer away at it. I’m definitely not someone who likes talking to the crowd, anyway. I would rather just play the songs, then that’s it done. I think it will be completely different from the next time you see us again. We are going for something completely different.

Is this more in line with the remixes you’ve done with Errors and Mogwai?

We’re not full on Basshunter style. It’s quite hard to say just now because it’s just demos but there’s definitely a lot more space in the songs. There’s not a lot of guitars, which is quite strange for a band that’s always used a lot of guitars. But everybody who’s heard the demos have reacted really well to it. The label [Fat Cat Records] are pretty excited about it too.

For us, it’s just time to try something different. There’re parts that are still us: you can’t really change my stupid voice and the song writing is always going to be done the way we’ve been doing it, but the instrumentation side has definitely changed.

So are you saying we can expect a more pop direction from the Twilight Sad?

[Laughs] I wouldnae say Pop. It’s quite hard to describe at the moment but it’s a conscious thing we’re doing. We cannae just replicate the same things we’ve been doing – there’d be no point in doing the album if we were going to do that.

It’s been a tough year for you guys. The last album didn’t really resonate with the public like Fourteen Autumns... did and you lost your bassist Craig. Has this change of direction stemmed from that?

The weird thing is that people who liked the second album didn’t like the first album and there were a lot of people who liked the first but didn’t like the second. As soon as we went into the recording studio, Paul Savage [co-producer] said ‘Just before I hear anything you’ve done, you should know for a fact people are going to say it’s not as good as the first one’. It happens with every single band. But we were really happy with the way it came out.

In America it took us to the next level. I never thought we’d be a band who could play to 1,300 people. I never really thought we’d be able to get to those kind of stages. Even in New York, we played the Bowery Ballroom. Different magazines seemed to take notice of us and that’s got us bigger audiences in different places

With Craig leaving, the whole album campaign was kind of jilted and we had problems with booking agents. There was definitely a stunted album campaign, whereas with this one we’re hoping it goes a lot more smoothly. We’re still friends with Craig. He just decided he wanted to live a normal life.

You mean it’s not a normal life in The Twilight Sad?

[Laughs] Nah. I think he got fed up with the travelling and Craig didn’t write the songs. I think he found it a bit frustrating but that’s the way we write and there’s nothing we can change about that. Touring’s not for everybody, to be honest a lot of the time I just cannae stand it, but sometimes its can be the best thing.

Now you’re finished touring the record, what are you’re plans for the rest of the year?

We’re just finishing off the demos and are talking to producers right now. Basically we’re just finding out where and when we’re doing it. This time we’ll be using a producer instead of Andy just producing it. We want some sort of outside influence, someone we definitely trust and respect. We’ve got that Mogwai tour in February and the record definitely needs to be finished by then. Then it’s back into the whole cycle again.

Touring and touring and touring?

Yep, touring and damaging our livers, falling out and nearly breaking up. All the joys of being in a band.

So do you think the new record will be the next step up for you? Perhaps you're the next Snow Patrol?

Eh…no. I was listening to the demos the other day and, again, the subject matter is still quite dark - it’s not going to be happy-go-lucky. Some of it’s quite brutal – listening back I was thinking ‘F***, people are going to think I’m a weirdo’ but people already probably think that so I don’t think it matters.

Has the inspiration for your lyrics changed as the band’s evolved?

I put it not quite so elegantly the other day: The first one was about other people being dicks. The second one was about me being a pure dick. And the third one is ‘we’re all dicks’.

With every album we’ve always started on the lyrics and know what way it’s going. This time it’s more like the first one, where it’s focusing in on other people and relationships between people. The second one needed to be about me going through a bad space because that’s what was happening and it made the songs more honest. For this one, it’s about other people – and not in a good way.

There’s never really going to be a happy song with this band. I’ve got a lot of people that I think are dicks. There are too many dicks in the world for me not to. In fact, that’s what the album should be called: ‘There’s too many dicks in the world’.

You were recently named by a certain Radar hack as his favourite Glasgow band of the last ten years. How does it feel now people are speaking of you in the same breath as Mogwai and Arab Strap?

: It’s very strange, very strange. It’s even stranger now that we’re friends with these people as well. I still think of these bands in that way, so it’s pretty amazing to be classed in the same category as these guys - especially as I looked up to them when I was growing up. It’s probably one of the biggest compliments we could have.

Do you feel like you have a responsibility to help new bands out, now you’ve ‘made it’?

Honestly, I don’t really know any. I’m not someone who goes to gigs and says ‘alright guys, how you doin’?’. I prefer to float in the background, watch them and maybe say to someone that I like them. I’m too busy sorting out our band at the moment. I can’t really imagine us being nurturers – we’d probably be quite a bad influence.

One thing that people can take from what we’ve done is that we’ve done it our own way. We’ve always stuck to our guns and we’re not a band that’s been on the front of magazines or on the telly. We are where we are right now through a lot of hard work.

What do you want to achieve with the next record then?

Just the same as we’ve done before, really. If things happen they happen, if they don’t then there’s nothing we can do about. Now we’re kind of making a living out of it - don’t get me wrong we’re not rich or anything, but we’re getting by. As long as it’s still interesting to us and we’re making music we’re all really proud of we’ll keep going.

I don’t want to be the nearly men where we’ve put so much hard work into it and just fall flat at the last minute.

That suggests you have an idea of where you want to be?

If we’re going around the world and selling out venues of 200 people that’s cool for me. I just want to be able to keep doing it and know that what we’re doing is good and not just completely self-righteous. I always look at Mogwai and see how they’ve done their career. They’re big everywhere they go, sell out gigs and are well respected. That’s probably a good place to aim for.

Your crowds are definitely increasing with every album, maybe fame and fortune isn’t that far away?

I don’t think we’ll ever blow up, but if we can slowly build our fan-base and still be thinking we’re pushing what we’re doing musically I’ll be happy. Then after that I’ll start my Hip-Hop/R&B solo career.

Is that the career path we can expect from a content James Graham?

Definitely. When I’ve found the happy side in me. I’m actually quite a happy guy but I just focus on the dark side for some reason. If you look at all the best Scottish bands, they’re definitely not The Fratellis anyway. Aye, one day maybe I’ll write a pop classic. I’ll have to get someone else to sing it. I can’t imagine a pop classic with my voice.

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