Progress Report: The Twilight Sad
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The Twilight Sad's most recent LP has been out since February; this Progress Report has been on a crashed hard drive since before that. Now that Cole's harddrive is back in commission, we thought we'd run this ProgRep because the Twilight Sad deserve it. Let's go!]
Name: The Twilight Sad
Progress Report: Long-lost interview with The Twilight Sad about this year’s excellent No One Can Ever Know.
Earlier this year I had the chance to speak with the guys from The Twilight Sad about their (then) forthcoming third album, No One Can Ever Know. After a couple of failed attempts, I was eventually able to conduct a lovely three-way Skype conversation (me in NYC, vocalist James Graham and guitarist Andy MacFarlane each in different parts of Scotland). I was happy to talk to the band because I think they are excellent and they have always seemed like very sweet guys (despite the ever-present gloom that hangs over most of their music). Unfortunately, my interview with the band was seemingly lost forever a few days later when my trusty hard drive died a sudden and very unceremonious death. Now, thanks to the kind folks at Tekserve, the interview has suddenly been resurrected from electronic death. Even though the record has now been out for a couple of months we’re running the interview because A) the record is really good and may have slipped under some people’s radar and B) it’s not the band’s fault that my hard drive decided to give up the ghost. The band played a string of SXSW dates last month and is currently making their way across Europe, but here’s hoping they make it back to the states sometime in the fall. In the meantime, go buy their record. It’s excellent.
STEREOGUM: Where are you guys?
ANDY: I’m in the country right now, where are you James?
JAMES: I’m in Glasgow. Modern technology, huh? It’s like we’re all together.
STEREOGUM: How did this record come to be and how long ago did you start working on it?
ANDY: We’d actually finished it and we had been sitting on it for quite a while now. It was finished probably in March and we ended up going down to London in January to record. We were kind of trying to develop the sound a bit more, and we talked to a bunch of people, and we ended up meeting up with Andrew Weatherall and he just seemed to be along the same kind of wavelength of what we were talking about taking the band. We were thinking about things like Can and Public Image and Siouxsie And The Banshees, Fat Gadget, stuff like that. He made us a mixtape sort of thing — which was full of stuff that really mirrored the sound that we had in mind for the new record — so we thought let’s get him on board. It wasn’t so much as a producer, it was just someone to kind of bounce ideas off of and keep us on the right track. So in January we went up to London and just spent the month kind of messing about with synths and stuff, then we went to Ben Hillier’s studio — the place where he works with Depeche Mode — and he had tons of old synths just lying about. We recorded there and mixed it in March. Since then we’ve pretty much been sitting on it and trying to work out how to play it live.
STEREOGUM: People have heard two songs from the record so far and the response seems to be good, though people are kind of shocked that there are less guitars now. Did making this record feel wildly different than previous ones?
ANDY: It felt like before, but on the first album we weren’t really too sure of what we were doing, that’s why we ended up working with Anthony Cutis and Paul Savage. The second one was different, because we had a very specific idea of what we wanted it to sound like so we ended up spending three months or something in the studio because there was such a specific version of what it was going to be. It was good because there was no real plan, we didn’t have that specific idea this time, we just went and put the synths down and the songs worked a lot better the more sparse they were, instead of like in comparison to before where it was just endless guitar and noise and strings and whatnot. I suppose it was more relaxed, this thing, because it was like “Let’s just try it and see what happens” kind of thing.
JAMES: There wasn’t really a point when we sat down and said, “Here, we’re going to try things differently.” We didn’t sit down and say, “Look, we’re changing our sound” or anything — it just kind of happened all naturally. It was really quick as well. We didn’t sit on everything for a while, it just happened really fast. The good thing is that it happened naturally and nothing was forced.
STEREOGUM: That’s how it should be ideally. I think when bands make a conscious decision of like ‘we’re going to do everything differently this time’ just for the sake of doing everything differently … sometimes it really seems labored and doesn’t really work.
ANDY: Either you would say that or just say “Listen, it worked last time so let’s do that again” and you would just get bored. I’m glad we didn’t do that either.
STEREOGUM: I assume it takes a while to work out how to play these songs live, how has that process been?
ANDY: It’s actually been a lot easier than we thought it was gonna be. I suppose in a live context it does seem a bit more kinda full-on. We’ve been playing with loops and there are more synths, but it hasn’t been that difficult.
JAMES: It’s improved — I mean we’ve just done one short tour like this around the UK playing like this, the new songs and my point of view for whatever it’s worth. It’s improved our live set by 100%. There’s a lot more ups and downs and breathing space. You’ve still got the full-on noise element we’ve had since the band started, but with the new songs there’s a lot more room and just a lot more dynamic.
STEREOGUM: I really loved the last record but that sort of wall of sound can be a bit overwhelming, especially for two hours.
JAMES: Yes, it’s just a bit intense. The new record to me is still a pretty intense record, but as Andy says it’s a bit more sparse and there’s a bit more room for the songs to breathe. And I suppose that’s kind of the same now with the live set as well. I’m enjoying playing live more than I’ve ever enjoyed it because of these new songs. And I guess with the old songs it has refreshed them as well. At least in my head, anyway.
STEREOGUM: I was always curious about the way bands work, this being record number three. Do you find that your process for writing songs has changed much? Do you work together or does everybody come with their own parts? How do you typically do it?
ANDY: I’ll just write some music and give it to James and James will come back with a bunch of melodies and we’ll arrange them and then he’ll write the lyrics and then we’ll give it to Mark to put his drums and stuff over. That’s how we’ve done it since Day 1 and that’s how it was on the new album as well. It’s just a more comfortable way of doing it. I think if we all sat in a room together and tried to write we’d just end up talking about how drunk we got on the weekend.
JAMES: Or killing each other or something.
ANDY: We would not get anywhere. Nowadays, If you just send files from computers it’s just a lot more productive that way. Much faster.
JAMES: It gives you the opportunity — if you’re on your own in a room, you’re not feeling self-conscious and you’ve got the opportunity to make mistakes and make mistakes only in front of yourself. Things can happen more naturally rather than being in a room with two other guys just trying to come up with something and hitting your head on a brick wall. And I suppose that if you’re by yourself you can take a break and come back to it. But, yeah, that’s the way we’ve always done it since we’ve started. In the past Andy has kinda worked on the production, we’ve always made sure there’s a strong basic song to begin with. That’s the most important thing is to start off with a good song and then we build it up from there.
STEREOGUM: You guys have such a reputation for being a really dark, very intense band. Does having that sort of bummer reputation become tiresome?
ANDY: Not really because it’s just what we know. James is just kinda writing about things that interest him and his own experience or whatever. I only know how to make music that just sounds like what I like. So it’s not like I’m putting that on or anything. So it doesn’t get tiresome because it’s just doing what we know I suppose.
JAMES: I’m a miserable bastard, so I’ll always have something to write about anyway, something to moan about.
ANDY: All we can do is just develop our music one another and try not to go over the same path again and again you know.
STEREOGUM: What will 2012 be like for you guys? I suspect you’ll be playing a lot of shows.
JAMES: Hopefully. I don’t think we toured as much as we wanted to in the last record, so this record we just want to go out and play as many places as we can and just play to as many people as we can and just keep being able to be a band and be on the road and play shows and hopefully play some festivals. Just go different places and meet people who like our band. Three albums in I start feeling like it’s a privilege to be in a band and get to see the world and play different places. I just want to keep on doing that, I think it’s an amazing opportunity. Trying to think what else we would do other than tour. Just be drunk, or something.
STEREOGUM: I know that the time between when a record is finished and mixed and when it actually comes out is often a weird limbo time for bands. Do you guys have other projects you’re working on or other things you’ve been doing in the interim?
JAMES: Goin’ to the pub?
ANDY: I’ve been kinda trying to write some music. Just a wee bit.
JAMES: I’m not gonna lie, I’m up to absolutely nothing. I’m going to the cinema, I’m going to the pub, and I’m going to gigs back in Glasgow. But we’ve been trying to work out things like videos and touring schedules and we’ve been doing a lot of interviews and things like that. So we’ve been pretty busy every day just trying to organize next year. Apart from that, what I said before.
STEREOGUM: Well, that’s good. It’s good to enjoy the time while you have it because once the ball starts rolling again you won’t have it for a long time.
ANDY: That’s what we were saying. This is the first few months since 2006 or something so it’s weird, we’re not used to it.
JAMES: We’re watching all that shit TV, you know? I’m just really looking forward to getting back out and playing again. It’s been too long since we’ve been in America on our own. Last time we toured in America was quite a while ago, and especially we’ve not done a headline tour in a long time. I can’t wait to get out there and see what people are doing and how they’re reacting to us these days because it’s been such a long time.
STEREOGUM: It’ll be good. I think people are excited about it.
JAMES: I hope so because we’re really looking forward to it.
No One Can Ever Know is out now on Fat Cat.