Before The Twilight Sad took to the stage at British Summer Time in support of The Cure, frontman James Graham and guitarist Andy MacFarlane spoke to NME about their next album, having Robert Smith as a champion, and ‘carrying on the legacy’ of their late friend, Scott Hutchison. Check out our interview with the band below, as well as new song ‘I/M NOT HERE [missing face]’ and new tour dates.
Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad were close since their early days in the Glasgow music scenewhen they were both on Fat Cat Records, regularly playing together and releasing a split cassette of demoes and covers in 2011. Graham and Macfarlane also supported Hutchison on tour his acclaimed Owl John solo project. They have been playing a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm‘ at recent shows in his memory, and vow to continue to do so.
Described by Robert Smith as “the best band playing the best songs – consistently brilliant, emotional, intense, inspiring, entertaining,” The Twilight Sad were hand-picked to support The Cure on all recent world tour dates. Now, they have the goth icon himself assisting them with the creation of new material.
How’s your summer going?
James: “Primavera was our first gig in 18 months, plus with a new drummer, a new song, and a F’Rabbits cover. We decided to put just a wee bit of pressure on ourselves. We got through it and moved forward, and I think we’ve done alright. With everything that’s happened over the past wee while, getting through it was the main thing. Seeing people’s reaction to us being out and what we did for Scott shows that we need to be doing it and keeping his music alive. As a band, we’re in a place where we’re excited about being in front of people again. I still feel very strange about everything, but the gigs themselves has helped.”
Do you need to find a reason to return with a new record each time, or is it a little more easy and natural than that?
James: “Me and Andy will always write music together for the rest of our lives, whether it’s part of an album campaign or not.”
Andy: “It doesn’t need to be the Twilight Sad, but right now we feel more of a band than we’ve ever been.”
James: “Aye, it feels like it’s important. We have things to say. We came back off the tour from the last album and just wanted to keep going. I don’t know what else we could do. If this doesn’t work out, I’m fucked.”
Andy: “We’ve gone over the threshold of the joke going too far. Shit, we actually need this!”
Do you have any other skills?
Andy: “No. James has got pretty good nunchuck skills. He’ll be in ‘River City’ one day.”
James: “Have I? I’ll take that! What am i doing all this shite for then? But no, it does actually keep me up at night. My uncle’s a baker, so I could maybe join that.”
Andy: “I don’t think you could.”
James: “Aye, I’d probably be shite at that too.”
Andy: “You would. But you couldn’t go to that. We’ve been too spoiled.”
James: “Spoiled? We’ve still got warm Carling on our rider!”
How’s progress going on the new album?
Andy: “It’s finished, it’s done. It’ll be out next January. It all came together really well. To me, it’s like a different band almost. I did a stupid thing of writing loads of music, then giving it to James to write stuff over, then I deleted all the music. So then I wrote another album under it.”
James: “Because what I did was fucking amazing!”
Andy: “Exactly. I think we just needed to shake up the routine. One of our mates bought us those Brian Eno oblique strategy cards. I picked one out and it was like ‘delete everything, must try harder, don’t tell James’. The aim was to try and do stuff that we’d enjoy playing live, to make it more interesting for ourselves as well as everyone else.”
So is it heavier or have you finally become Journey?
Andy: “A wee bit. It’s dead fast. I’d say it’s the most accessible without being cheese.”
James: “Aye, going into it I thought it was pretty heavy in terms of lyrics and themes. It’s all pretty full on but there’s some lighter shades and some hope on there. The first song that we’re going to come back with epitomises the record. It’s got really noisey guitars but it’s pretty melodic. I think it’s the next stage of who we’re meant to be. We weren’t nit-picking, it just came naturally. It feels more like a band.”
Andy: “It still sounds like us. It sounds like us playing in a room and going at it. We made it on a farm in Devon.”
James: “It was 15 minutes away from the Buckfast Abbey. We stayed away from it. That shows how fucking dedicated we are!”
I’m imagining some kind of ‘Willy Wonka’ style set up, but more fucked up?
James: “Fuck. I want that to happen.”
Little pissed Umpa Lumpas…
James: “That’s just Glasgow in the sun! Fuck, there goes the Glasgow audience. Anyway, we were all in there working at the same time. Before we were just… steaming. This time we just got steaming afterwards. You always feel like everything is special and I’m really proud of everything we’ve done, but this one’s a little different.”
Lyrically, what’s the record dealing with?
James: “I won’t say exactly what it’s dealing with because a lot of it might be quite obvious, but I’m not hiding behind a lot of metaphors any more. Before it was ‘the kids are on fire in the bedroom’. This time it’s straight up ‘this is how shite I’m feeling’. It’s just honest.”
Andy: “I mean, we’re not trying to sell records. If we were doing that, we’d have done it by now.”
James: “These records are therapy sessions. I was just having a bit of a shite time, without going into it too much. I’ve got a life that I’m really happy with and I’m very lucky, but I have this side of me that questions things and doesn’t like myself sometimes – for no particular reason. This is my way of dealing with it. Everybody can be happy and sad at the same time.”
Is catharsis easier without having to go through that wall of metaphor?
James: “I’ve done that, what’s the point in trying to do it again? I’m really proud of our lyrics in the past but this is just what came out. I don’t need to hide behind anything any more. It’s a bit of a leap to just go ‘this is actually how I’m feeling’. I think now is the time to just be more open and honest with people. For myself it was important to say these things, but when it was done it was great to share it’s OK to feel that way.”
The last time I interviewed Scott [Hutchison], he said he hated the thought that being open and vulnerable was in any way emasculating.
James: “That’s so true. It’s such an old way of thinking. Fuck that. I’m probably the most over-emotional c**t you’ll ever meet, and I’m fine with that! I’m quite settled. Scott was right. He was right about so many things.”
Andy: “Scott wouldn’t hold back. It was a good way of being. He’d just say exactly what he thought.”
James: “We’re still going through the ups and downs of losing him, and I don’t think we’ll ever stop, but we keep finding these funny amazing little things that he’d do and say. It’s like ‘fuck man, you were so on it there’. You don’t think about while you’re hanging out with your friends. You don’t check in on the big things all the time or talk about depression. Of course we knew of the dark times we go into with our music, but the times we had with him were fucking brilliant. We were looking through some old photos and stuff and thinking ‘fuck, we were really lucky to have him’. That’s 12 years of our lives that we wouldn’t change for anything. We wouldn’t be the same people if it wasn’t for our relationship with Scott. It’s so weird. Like Seb our new drummer, we know him because of Scott. Our booking agent in America and tour manager, we know because of Scott. So we can thank him for that burden!
“But Scott’s mum said that you’ve got to move forward. We’ve taken that on board, but we have a duty and responsibility to keep Scott’s music and keep sharing it. When we’re around touring, we need to tell people about him.”
Andy: “And now that we’ve started covering ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ as least we have one good song in the set!”
James: “Aye, at least people know one tune!”
Kinda like when Matt Cardle covered Biffy?
Andy: “Aye, that’s us! The Matt Cardle of the Scottish music scene.”
James: “We have been playing ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ and I’ve bawled my eyes out and probably will again, but even if there’s one person in the crowd who loved Scott then it’s worth it. I don’t know if other people have had the release that we’ve been able to have. If they see me being a bawling mess on stage, then maybe they’ll realise it’s OK to release these feelings. You can not keep this shit inside. After what’s happened with Scott, it proves that you’ve got to share things with each other. It’s never going to get easy. We phone each other and speak about it every day now and it doesn’t feel real at all, but we’ve got a platform to sing Scott’s songs. If we don’t do that, then shame on us. That song’s in our set forever now.”
Andy: “Grant [Hutchison, Scott’s brother and Frightened Rabbit drummer] says that Scott would have preferred our version any way! He’d think we’re cheeky c**ts.”
The way that Grant has been speaking about mental health too has been amazing.
James: “Aye, I’ve not been through it like he has but still…it doesn’t seem real. I keep expecting to see him walking down the street. It’s brought us all closer together. I wish it hadn’t taken this for that to happen, but that’s a lesson we’ve learned. I wish it wasn’t Scott who made that fucking lesson for us to learn, but he was just brilliant. We keep finding old drawings of us.”
Andy: “He sent me a cheque to the value of ‘one Hulkamania t-shirt’, just signed ‘Scott’.”
James: “That’s when you feel lucky.”
Scott also told me that Robert Smith had really helped you guys out with the next record?
Andy: “He has, he’s helped us in so many ways. He’s basically given us a whole new platform, and it’s only because he’s a fan of the band. He’s the most generous person ever. He’s so good to us.”
James: “We sent him the demoes for the album and he sent them all back with a mark out of ten. He was like ‘7/10, but could be a nine if you do this’. When Robert asked Frightened Rabbit to play Meltdown, Scott text us right away and was said it was one of the biggest moments of his life – to be given the seal of approval by one of the best songwriters of all time. It was just massive for him. Most people like that would just play the gig and fuck off, but Robert really gives a fuck about the music he loves. If you’d told us five years ago that we’d become friends with Robert Smith to just go up to him and slag him and talk shite to him – it’s mind-blowing. He’s just a nice guy who wants people to do the best that he can.”
I’m told he sends emails all in caps lock too?
Andy: “He does, aye. It’s really weird for such a softly spoken guy to send you an email going ‘FUCK OFF ANDY’. I’ve got hundreds of those emails.”
James: “‘Do you think we could support you for the next five years, Rob’, and then ‘FUCK OFF ANDY’.”
Andy: “When an email comes through not in caps lock, that’s when you should be worried. ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’. I’ve had a few of those as well.”
For help and advice on mental health:
- ‘Am I depressed?’ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day
The Twilight Sad tour dates and tickets
The band’s new UK, US and European tour dates are below – with tickets available here from 9am on Thursday July 12.
October 9 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
October 10 – San Diego, CA – Casbah
October 12 – Tustin, CA – Marty’s On Newport
October 14 – San Francisco, CA – Independent
October 17 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
October 19 – Seattle, WA – Crocodile
October 20 – Vancouver, BC – Fox
October 25 – St. Paul, MN – Turf Club
October 26 – Chicago, IL – Theater on the Lake
October 27 – Toronto, ON – Velvet Underground
October 28 – Montreal, QC – Ritz
October 30 – Boston, MA – Middle East Downstairs
November 1 – Brooklyn, NY – Elsewhere
November 2 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle
November 3 – Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall
November 10 – Paris, FR – Point FMR
November 11 – Wiesbaden, DE – Sclachthof
November 12 – Munich, DE – Ampere
November 13 – Vienna, AT – Chelsea
November 15 – Berlin, DE – Musik & Frieden
November 16 – Hamburg, DE – Molotow
November 17 – Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso
November 18 – Brussels, BE – Botanique
November 27 – London, UK – Bush Hall
November 29 – Edinburgh, UK – Liquid Rooms