The Twilight Sad
I think if your music is honest and you’re not trying to be something you’re not, then it will appeal to people who appreciate good music no matter where you’re from.
story by Garin Pirnia
On the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, reside The Twilight Sad. Comprised of James Graham, Andy MacFarlane, Mark Devine, and new bassist Johnny Docherty, the quartet released its first record — the bleak-yet-swirling Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters — to lauded praise in 2007. Last year they followed it up with Forget the Night Ahead, another pastiche of thick Scottish accents and charged narrative music. From across the pond, Graham spoke candidly to Chicago Innerview about his life…
Chicago Innerview: Do you like to tour?
James Graham: I have a love/hate relationship with touring. I get really homesick sometimes and miss my friends and family, then I tell myself to get a grip and realize that I’m getting to play music around the world with my friends and am lucky to be doing so. Then there’s the other side of it when you’re at home for a few weeks or months and you miss playing every night. I find it frustrating sometimes because when you’re playing in all these amazing cities around the world, all you get to see is the inside of the venue and then the next day you’re up early to travel to the next city. It would be good to get to have a look around them all and get a feel of every town or city, but sometimes it’s just not possible.
Chicago Innerview: Who are some of your musical influences?
James Graham: I grew up listening to all the bands on Chemikal Underground Records such as Mogwai, Arab Strap, et cetera. I think we all listen to different things to be honest. Andy doesn’t really listen to a lot of new music and is really into Krautrock, Mark listens to Appetite for Destruction every two days, Dok [touring member Martin ‘Dok’ Doherty] listens to a lot of modern-day R&B, and Johnny loves Rihanna. Where we live and the people we know influence all of the lyrics. Most of the lyrics are old stories or situations people I know or myself have found ourselves in.
CI: Have you noticed American audiences reacting different to your shows than say audiences in Europe or elsewhere?
JG: I don’t really notice the audience when we play because I am either stuck in my own wee world or drunk. What I have noticed is when we come off is how enthusiastic the American audiences are. The American audiences always come up and say ‘hi’ and buy us beers and are really nice. In some parts of the world — cough, cough, London — people like to think they are too cool for school and aren’t as enthusiastic, but when we tour over here people are far friendlier. I think people perceive us to be pretty depressing and moody because of the music we make, but we are quite the opposite and are only like that for the hour we are on stage.
CI: It seems like in the past few years, a lot of really great bands from Scotland have emerged like We Were Promised Jetpacks, Frightened Rabbit, you guys. Is there something about Scotland that maybe breeds interesting bands?
JG: The weather is shite, so there is nothing else to do apart from write songs and drink.
CI: Were you surprised at how quickly you crossed over to the States and other parts of the world?
JG: Yeah, especially in America. Our fifth-ever gig was in New York at CMJ, so we have probably played more times in America than we have in Scotland, which is a bit mad. The first thing we ever released was an EP that was only released in America. I think our label thought that we would appeal more to the American music market at that time because the British market was too busy concentrating on shite bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian. I think if your music is honest and you’re not trying to be something you’re not, then it will appeal to people who appreciate good music no matter where you’re from.
CI: What do you bring to your live shows that’s different from your recordings?
JG: Both our albums and live performances are pretty intense, but we try to make the live shows more so. We also are a lot louder than most bands as well. We definitely try our hardest to make the live shows different to the recordings. If we didn’t, you could just as well sit in the house and listen to our record instead of paying ‘x’ amount for a gig ticket.
CI: Since you live in a really small Scottish town, have you ever considered moving to a bigger city like Glasgow?
JG: Where we live is about 30 minutes outside Glasgow so we still spend a lot of time there, but it’s good to have the space a small country town has when the city is stressing you out or you need a change. I love where we live; it has a loch and a great country pub with a wood-burning fire and lots of colorful characters. Maybe one day I will move into Glasgow. It’s a cool place and I might see what it’s like to live there, but it’s always nice to know I can come back to Banton.
CI: Your earlier beginnings were experimental, so why did you decide on the more traditional approach for the first album?
JG: To begin with, we didn’t really know what direction to take and were just messing around and experimenting with different sounds, et cetera. Then Andy gave me some music to write to. I had never written anything before and what came out was our first single ‘That Summer At Home, I Had Become the Invisible Boy’. As a band, we have always been fans of traditional songs and that was always going to be the direction we took, but we also wanted to try and be as experimental as we could within those traditional songs. I would say both albums are equal with the amount of experimentation and traditional song structures.
CI: Craig Orzel left the band in February. Since Johnny Docherty joined the band, are things going better?
JG: It was a surprise that Craig left the band but I think he was frustrated with the touring life and that he didn’t have any creative input into the band, so he decided to call it a day. Things are better than ever with the band. We all feel like Johnny playing with us has given us a boost and
we have improved as a live band. We are all pretty excited about the future of the band and the next level.
The Twilight Sad :: with Mono :: Lincoln Hall :: May 22.