Northern Transmissions catches up with James Graham from The Twilight sad to talk a bit about making music today, and a few other interesting topics
NT: Prior recording your latest album ‘No One Can Ever Know’ vocalist James Graham said “The next album will be nothing like the first two” What was the reason for wanting to obviously change directions for the new record?
JG: Maybe I was a bit hasty in saying it will be nothing like the first two albums because there’s thing about this band that we can never change even if we want to. Things like the way we write music/my vocals/where my inspiration for my lyrics come from for example. I think what I ment was that we never want to make an album thats the same as the last as there would be no progression and there’s no point in repeating yourself. I thought our 2nd album was different from our 1st just as this new record is different from the 2nd album. I hate using this term and wish I could think of another phrase but I suppose you could say each of our albums have been a “natural progression” from the last. We never sit down together and discuss how we’re going to start writing new songs, we just get on with it and if we’re enjoying what we’re doing them we just go with it and try to be as honest as we possible within our music. We arnt trying to be anything we’re not, we’re friends who write music together and the day we stop trying new things/progressing and enjoying what we do will be the day we split up. Within these new song and album we used different types of sounds than on previous albums, on this record old analogue synths and programmed drums were used a lot more than on any other previous Twilight Sad songs but I still feel this is still very recognizably a Twilight Sad record.
NT: Have you become a bit more comfortable with the challenge of working in the music industry? I read that in the past you really weren’t sure where you fit in as a band.
JG: I’m probably more uncomfortable now than I’ve ever been in the music industry. It’s a tough industry to be in these days as there’s so many bands out there and the shit ones usually do really well whilst the really good honest hard working bands get left behind. Also it’s pretty hard to make a living in a band these days because less and less people are buying music. I still don’t know where we fit in the industry and it’s maybe a good thing that we don’t in some ways as we don’t want to be following any trends or anything. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining or anything, I’ve always felt we’d have to work really hard and it would take a long time for this band to get anywhere. It’s just hard seeing bands come and go over the years and those bands getting more opportunities than us. In saying that I also feel extremely lucky that we’ve been given the opportunity to write/record/release 3 albums/number of EP’s and been able to visit and tour different countries, that doesn’t happen to people from where we live so i’m very grateful!
NT: Your live shows seem to be a bit more noisier then on record? Do you feed off the energy in a live setting?
JG: When our first record was released we hadn’t had much experience playing live. Before we got signed we had only played 2 gigs in 2 years and Fatcat Records signed us after our 3rd gig and sent us off to America to mix our album and tour the east coast for 3 weeks so we kind of thrown into the deep end and had to learn how to become a live band. I’m not going to lie sometimes we were good and other times we were terrible but we were young and still learning. I think now we can properly say we’re a live band after hundreds of gigs. I know love playing live and playing your music in front of a great crowd is the best feeling in the world, be it 10 people or 1000 people. I think it’s important for our band to be loud and noisy in the live setting because if it wasn’t it would be pointless as the songs are big and supposed to hit you quite hard if that makes any sense.
NT: You worked with Andrew Weatherhall who as worked with many great artists from My Bloody Valentine to Beth Orton on ‘No One Can Ever Know’, did the album turn out the way you hoped?
JG: Yeah we’re all really happy and proud of the record we’ve made. It was great working
with Andrew, he’s a really nice guy and his musical knowledge is vast. Ultimately we produced the album but it was good to have him there to bounce ideas off of and to reassure us we were on the right path with the songs/album.
NT: Some critics have described you guys as perennially unhappy. What do you think about that?
JG: All of our music is pretty dark so I understand why people think that. We’re actually pretty normal guys and I like to think we have a sense of humour. When it comes to music/films etc we all prefer the darker side of things. A few times I’ve met people who like the band and they are really surprised how friendly we were and told us this. Don’t get me wrong I have my down days but when it comes to being out on the road and doing what we love, that 1hr or so when we’re on stage is about the only time we might seem moody or miserable but really we’re having the time of our lives up there. We all enjoy a drink so we like to have fun after the shows and welcome anyone to come have a drink with us after our show. Although they’ll have to buy as I’m skint.
NT: Some of your musical influences include Leonard Cohen, Can, and Magazine. All critically-acclaimed artists, who didn’t or to this day sell tons of records. Are you surprised when acts like Nickelback or Newer acts like Foster The People sell scads of records
JG: Who are Foster the People? I know who Nickleback are, I wish I didn’t but I do. Nothing surprises me in the music business, i mean just look at these people that are touring with just
a laptop and supposedly playing live music and selling out venues across the country. It’s fucking indie karaoke! Yet people go out in their hundreds and thousands and proclaim these people to be geniuses. Rant over! Different horses for different courses and all that. I’m not bitter honest : )
NT: How much has growing up outside of Glasgow influenced your music?
JG: All my lyrics are about where I’m from/friends/family/people I don’t like and the things that have happened to us. I think the music Andy writes is probably subconsciously influenced by
where we live as well.If we lived somewhere else in the world or even 30mins away from where we grew up our music would probably be quite different. I don’t think I’ll ever move away because I love where we live, it’s part of who we are as people and as a band.
NT: The Band’s Blogspot has a drawing of a hand with it’ fingers being amputated, what is that all about, a tad disturbing! Lol.
JG: It’s just some of the samples of artwork from the album. I’m not going to lie it’s definitely a bit creepy. We like to make our artwork eye catching, be it in a “oh that’s cool” or “that’s
fucked up!”. A very talented guy called Dave Thomas does our artwork and has done from day 1. Andy and Dave talk about the style they’d like to take with each album and I send Dave my lyrics and he gets to work.
NT: I notice you guys have given away music for free online in the past. Is it hard for an artist to give his art away?
JG: I suppose it depends on the circumstance in which we’re giving it away. I mean as a band we’re asking people who like our band to invest in our albums/gig tickets/merch etc and we really appreciate that people do that be it $1 or $20. So we like to show our appreciation by giving some music to people for nothing. There’s so many bands out there these days and people have a lot of choice in which band they follow and we’d like to keep as many fans as possible so giving away some things also shows people we appreciate their support. it’s also a good way of gaining new fans as they can discover our band with these free downloads from word of mouth, kind of a try before you buy thing, but I suppose most people just download albums illegally when trying before they don’t buy these days.
NT: Other artists which I believe you guys admire, Daniel Johnston, Phil Spector, and Serge Gainsbourg, obviously all come from a different place mentally than most people. Not to get to philosophical or analytical, why do you think this works out this way?
JG: Maybe it’s just because they think of life from different perspective than most people. I wish I could go into it a bit more and answer your question a bit better but I’m not really sure to be honest.
NT: Can you tell me five albums which really had an impact on your life?
JG: Arab Strap – Monday Night at the Hug and a Pint
Mogwai – young team/happy songs for happy people
The Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
Joy Division – Closer
David Bowie – Low
The Microphones – the Glow part 2
Sorry that’s 6 albums.