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Twilight Sad - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 22 / 3 / 2008

Twilight Sad - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to James Graham from Scottish based act the Twilight Sad about his band's much acclaimed debut album, 'Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters', and the extremes of his group's music

The Twilight Sad are a band of extremes. They have been described by critics alternatively as an indie guitar band, a shoegazing outfit, a post-rock group and even a folk act, and the windy, turbulent soundscapes of their music run a line between ambience and discordance, and the anthemic and the abstract. The lyrics of the Twilight Sad, who come from Kilsyth, a small town ten miles North East of central Glasgow, meanwhile have both an often brutal realism and a surprising sentimentality and tender-heartedness. Their front man, James Graham, is also a figure of opposites. On stage at the Liquid Room in Edinburgh, on what is the first show of a ten date British tour, he boils with a self-enclosed rage and anguish, spending most of the band’s 45 minute set turned away from and rarely looking up at the audience as, his head locked down over his microphone, he spasms and writhes to the sweeping rush of his band’s music. On set he looks older than he is, a man perhaps at the tail end of his 20’s or possibly into his 30’s. Out of the spotlight, he is revealed as being much younger, still somewhat soft-faced, and just in his early 20’s. With all the natural affability that comes engrained with many of those who are from Scotland’s West, he can also not be any more polite or helpful, insisting on taking over the Liquid Room production office when Pennyblackmusic meets him an hour and a half before the Twilight Sad go on stage, and jokingly ejecting the tour manager from it so that we can be guaranteed a quiet twenty minutes to talk. Far from being the tormented, insular figure he becomes on stage, he answers the questions put to him with a slightly bashful and quiet openness. “I don’t tend to think about it or analyse it too much”, he says when asked about the mercurial nature of his band. “I think you can too easily get hooked on what you are trying to make your music sound like, and it can all end up sounding a bit sterile. We have just always done what comes naturally to us, and what sounds right to us at the time and we are comfortable with.” The Twilight Sad first formed in late 2003, and as well as Graham (vocals), also comprises of Andy MacFarlane (guitar/accordion/noise), Craig Orzal (bass) and Mark Devine (drums). The group played two early shows at Glasgow’s now shutdown 13th Note club, creating thirty minute pieces of music which pushed their guitars, bass and drums up against a theremin, tape loops from films and old folk and country songs, effects pedals, toy keyboards, thumb pianos and the noise of computer games. They then subsequently withdrew to their studio to refine their sound, rejecting all offers of live work, and not finally emerging again until 2006. A demo, sent around various labels, attracted the interest of the Brighton-based alternative rock and experimental label, Fat Cat (Sigur Ros, Mum, Vashti Bunyan, Frightened Rabbit). Its owners Dave Cawley and Alex Wright flew up from the South coast to Glasgow to attend the Twilight Sad’s third gig, and signed the group to their roster on the same night. There have since been a five song American only EP, ‘The Twilight Sad EP’ (November 2006); two seven inch singles, ‘That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’ (April 2007) and ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ (July 2007), and also an album, ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ (May 2007). The nine songs on ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ have a scorched sound. The Twilight Sad’s muscular, swirling guitars both float and storm between passages of soft ambience and beauty, jangling discordance and epic jubilance. Graham’s lyrics, which he sings in a thickset Glaswegian brogue, hint at both violence and tragedy, but are kept deliberately obtuse. Both the singles appear on the album. On ‘That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’, Graham, for example, sings, “They're standing outside and they're looking in/the kids are on fire in the bedroom", while on ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ the words include, “And head up dear/The rabbit may die/'Cause I'm putting the boot in tonight.” On another of the album’s tracks, ‘Mapped By What Surrounded Them’, the lyrics contain the lines, "these walls are filled with blades/ and she has cut herself with stained-glass windows/ and is playing with her toys". “It is important to me to keep the meaning of what the songs are about hidden. They are quite personal and private for one thing”, Graham reflects. “It is also what a lot of my favourite songwriters like Van Parks and Daniel Johnston do. You’re never quite sure what they’re singing about. You have to guess, but that’s a good thing because, as a listener, you have to put your own interpretation on them. You are liable to get more emotionally and on a personal level out of them than you would if you are told in the lyrics exactly what they are about.” “There are only two songs on the whole album which are imaginary”, he admits when drawn. “The others are all based on personal experience, and things which have happened to me or friends of mine.” The Twilight Sad’s initial presence was in America. Fat Cat packed the band off to the United States shortly after it signed them to play the CMJ Festival in Cleveland there and to play a brief tour. The group also played on the back of the American only 2006 EP five shows at the SXSW in Austin, Texas last year, and have since been back for other tours, picking up excellent reviews and playing to increasingly large audiences. Impact back home has been slower, but support for the band has expanded dramatically in the last few months. As recently as September, the Twilight Sad were playing across much of their native Scotland to audiences of about 100. Now they are playing almost full halls such as tonight to crowds of about 1000. “‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ didn’t do very well here at first”, admits Graham. “It has been a real slow burner. Sales and interest in the band have really started to pick up recently though. We have been really stunned at how quickly it has suddenly taken off.” Much of this has been down to word-of-mouth. ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ appeared in Drowned in Sound’s poll for the Best 50 Albums of 2007. It was also made Album of the Year by the Scottish music newspaper, ‘The Skinny’ and in the Teletext magazine, ‘Planet Sound’. Part of it too is down to the band’s increased touring schedule. After spending all of 2004 and 2005, and much of 2006, as a studio act, they played 160 shows in 2007 in America and Britain. In the United Kingdom, this has included support slots to Micah P. Hinson, Idlewild and Snow Patrol as well as their own headline tours. On stage they come across a more intense and discordant act than they are on record. “That’s deliberate”, says Graham. “I have been to see many gigs of bands whose albums I have really liked, but what you get on stage is just an almost note-perfect rendition of what’s already on the CD. I have always found that really boring. You might as well have stayed at home and just listened to the record. We, therefore, try to up the pace and make things noisier and more dissonant, and to offer people something different.” Despite this, the group’s next project will be a largely acoustic EP, which will come out in June. “We are working on songs for a second album, but that probably won’t be ready until early 2009”, Graham explains. “In the meantime we thought we would do an EP. We played a gig in a church last year and were asked not to be too noisy”, he laughs. “We, therefore, played the show using entirely acoustic instruments. It went really well, and we, therefore, decided to make that the basis for an EP. It will consist of some new songs, and also maybe one or two re-workings of old songs.” “It is because those were the names we gave our demos”, says Graham, when asked why so many of the band’s songs have such abstract and long titles. “When we first wrote the songs, we didn’t have anything else to call them, so we just used those, as they're all lines from the songs, so that we could tell them apart amongst ourselves. We were going to come up with other titles for them, but it is something that has just stuck. I think it quite a unique touch.” It in many ways this captures the Twilight Sound absolutely. They are a unique act, taking the surreal and making it worldly, and creating music that, while complex and contradictory, is at one level personal and at another universal. After a slow start at home, last year was a good year for the Twilight Sad, in which they released a highly regarded debut album and also, after a long time as a bedroom project, proved themselves as a touring band. This year looks set to continue that breakthrough.

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Twilight Sad - Interview

Twilight Sad - Interview

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Interview (2012)
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John Clarkson speaks to James Graham from brooding Scottish rock band the Twlight Sad about his band's post-punk influenced third album, No One Can Ever Know’

live reviews

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Forget the Night Ahead (2009)
Dark and enigmatic, but evocative second album from much acclaimed Scottish-based post rockers, the Twilight Sad
Here It Snowed. Afterwards It Did (2008)
And She Would Darken the Memory (2007)
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