by Paula Mejia
Distinguished by James Graham’s heavy Scottish accent, an accordion, and oodles of noise, the Twilight Sad rose from Glasgow, Scotland, in late 2003 with the lineup of Graham (vocals), Andy MacFarlane (guitar, accordion), Craig Orzel (bass), and Mark Devine (drums). By February 2012, Twilight Sad strayed from their shoegaze Wall of Sound leanings to offer No One Can Ever Know, which adopted a cold, aggressive, industrial-influenced approach with help from influential British producer Andrew Weatherall (Primal Scream).
BYT got to chat with lead singer James Graham about the new album, influences, dreams (or lack thereof), Scotland, and the band’s songwriting process. You can catch The Twilight Sad tonight at the Rock And Roll Hotel.
A certain catharsis seeps into your latest, No One Can Ever Know. What were you listening to when recording the album?
Andy was listening to stuff along the lines of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Can, PiL, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, Wire, Bauhaus, Magazine, D.A.F. etc. at the time which all have similar elements. I was just listening to the same kind of things I always listen to that often inspire me to write lyrics like Daniel Johnstone, Leonard Cohen, Arab Strap, or Mogwai.
I can’t help but draw the traces of a heavy penchant for Joy Division. What was the first Joy Division song that gave you a sort of epiphany moment?
Twenty four hours
What’s a record you wish you would have made?
None to be honest. There isn’t an album that I have listened to and been like “I wish I’d done that.” There’s lots of albums I’m influenced by though. The reason I feel like that is because I write music to get stuff off my chest and it’s very personal so I have a personal connection with every song of ours that I don’t have with any other music.
How have you developed, both as a band and conceptually, since you began to record?
We never want to repeat ourselves so No One Can Ever Know was never going to sound like Forget The Night Ahead just as that album didn’t sound like 14 Autumns & 15 Winters. Although saying that in my opinion this album still sounds like The Twilight Sad. There’s things that we can ever change about this band, I mean influences come and go with each album. The things that will always remain the same are my voice, the way we write and the reason we write songs in the first place. We don’t write music for the sake of having to have an album out, we write because we want to and we have something to write about. I suppose something else that won’t change is that we’re never really going to write a happy song, I’m too much of a miserable moan-y bastard to change that. I’d say the main difference on this album would be the instrumentation with Andy changing his guitar style a bit and the added synths, but ultimately as I say every song is recognizably us.
Your songs are incredibly emotive and cerebral, almost otherworldly in a way. To what extent are you influenced by dreams?
If I’m honest, not at all. All my lyrics are about things that have happened in day to day life unless we live in a parallel universe like the Matrix or something.
What was the last dream you had?
I dreamt that George Lucas hadn’t made Star Wars Episode 1,2 & 3 and the world was a better place for it.
What is your creative process like?
It’s basically the same process with every song we we have ever written. Andy will record some music and send it to me and I’ll come up with melodies and a rough set of lyrics, then I’ll record them and send them over to Andy and we’ll work out a structure for the song. Sometimes the structure I’ve given him stays the same and some times he’ll rearrange things to improve the song. Then Mark comes up with his drum parts and we layer up the production of the song. We always make sure we have what we think is a strong song before we move forward with it. Also I won’t write a song unless I’ve got something to write about. The songs on the first album were the first 9 songs we’ve ever written so I’d like to think we’re still learning about the song writing process and we’ve learning with every album.
In what way do you think the temperaments of Scotland have influenced your sound, both consciously and subconsciously?
I would say that where we stay influences the lyrics but as far as the sound of the band I’d say that it’s more of a subconscious influence. If we stayed somewhere else I’m pretty sure we’d sound a lot different but it’s not something we think about, we just do what comes naturally. All my lyrics are very personal and are about people I know and things that have happened to us over the years. I love where we live but I’m pretty sure I’m not giving it a good reputation with all the miserable lyrics and disturbing images that those lyrics may induce.
How do you work to translate what’s on the record live? What’s different, what stays the same?
We dont like to sound exactly the same as we do on record as we like to make a live set a totally different experience. It’s a lot more noisy and intense I think. Playing a mixture of old & new songs works really well with us. The old songs compliment the new and new compliment the old. I don’t think we’ve ever played better since incorporating the new songs into the set, it’s breathed fresh life into the whole set and there’s a lot more dynamics within the set as well.
What’s the strangest thing to happen to you on tour?
What goes on tour stays on tour.
If you could be any fictional character, which would you be and why?
Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist