The Twilight Sad – Interview
The Twilight Sad is pretty particular beast. They swagger some great music, coupled with a visual motif in most fof their albums’ artwork. After a very intense show in Tramlines 2010, I was set to interview them and, frankly, was worried about this. Some of their videos and album covers might look like a good, optimistic day in Iain Banks (!) head, but the band are quite cheerful, if a bit nesh, but still a nice bunch. They look knackered ( I later find out they had a broken tyre on their way to Sheffield) but still ask if I’m okay to wait for them to get stuff from the stage to their van.
I meet James Graham (vocals) inside the Sheffield city hall. He’s taking some buckfast (for medicinal purposes, of course), telling me about this drink being frowned upon in Glasgow as it is assumed that only criminals drink it. I joke about the owner of a booze shop giving me “the eye” for asking for buckfast. We talk a bit before the interview, telling him that I got to know the band from their track in Saints’ Row 2. I also mention that buckfast was a cheat code in Grand Theft Auto 2 but I remember that we should be talking about music…
Hi, we’re with James from the Twilight Sad and we have a quick question: origin of the band and name?
Basically, I was in school with Andy (guitar) and Mark (drums) lived at the end of Andy’s street, he went to a different school. They were starting a band, like you do when you are younger, and they asked me “do you fancy being in a band?” and I said “yeah, cool”.
We spent five years doing stupid stuff like Guns ‘n’ Roses covers. Then in about 2003 maybe, we decided to take this seriously, recorded a 4 track demo and we sent it down to Fat Cat Records, who sent someone to our show and signed us. So we had a record contact, and then they sent us to America and recorded the album with Peter Katis, who did Interpol’s first album and The National. We toured America for a while, came back home and nobody would know who we were (chuckle).
They would be “Who are you?”, “But we just toured America!”, “Nah, we don’t care!”. So we played a gig and only five friends and family in there. As far as the name goes, it’s one of those things that go: Mark came with to the rehearsals saying “there’s a name!”. And we went “ok”. We were not set on it, but after a few gigs, it stuck, and that was just the name. There was no inspiration here and there and going “yes!”
Inspiration from above?
I’ve been reading some of your previous interviews, about your lyrics and would like to know if you have any literature inspiration for your lyrics, since they are quite wordy.
Me, personally, not really (laughs). I watch more films than I do read books! My English teachers would be “read this book” and I would be “no, I can wait for the film to come out!”. “That summer, at Home, I become the invisible boy” is from “Stand by me”, so films and stuff. We draw more from films than books. I’m not that intelligent (laugh). I’m happy that people think I am!
I’m gonna gush right now, I love the lyrics.
So which films?
People can be snobby when it comes to film. I like Disney films, normal films. I dunno. Andy plays a lot of… I dunno, that album, ‘The Room’, the title is from a film. ‘I became a prostitute’ it’s from Jean Michel Jarre film. That’s him. I go to see shite all the time. I went to see ‘Predators’, to be honest. I got one of those cards you pay 10 pounds for and you can watch whatever you want.
I’ve got the one from…
Yes, I go with a friend which is a big film freak, she’ll watch anything; we do 5 or 6 films on a Saturday…
I know, me and my girlfriend go every Monday, during the day, we’re usually the only people in the cinema. We just watch whatever, it’s great. I’m a big comic book fan, so I’ll watch anything that’s related to comic books.
Right now I would like to be at Comic Con. Instead I came to Sheffield (!).
What do you think of Iron Man 2, since it is dividing opinions?
Y’know? I loved Iron Man. I thought it was great. I went to see Iron Man 2, not thinking “it’s going to be the best film ever” and enjoyed it! I didn’t think it was as good as the first one. It felt they were just setting up ‘The Avengers’, all the way through. Robert Downey Jr. was good, so was Scarlett Johansson. I didn’t go with any preconceived expectations; just “it’s going to be what it is”. ‘Inception’ was good. Have you seen ‘Inception’?
No, probably next week…Chris Nolan is huge for me!
I really like Chris Nolan. One I didn’t expect to like ‘Insomnia’, but I re-watched later and thought “this is really good”.
He’s a great director, can’t wait for his third Batman film.
I think he might do Superman before…
Yes, his brother is writing the script.
Maybe get some help for the script from David Goyer?
Yeah, yeah. Every morning I wake up, I check my email and then after that, check Empire and Total Film to see what’s happening (laughs).
I like Empire! I used to like this magazine you had in the UK before, Hot Dog.
Oh, yeah! It was good. Empire and Total film, they are good for news. The reviews, sometimes they… they gave the new Twilight film four out of five, and unfortunately I went to see it and I thought it was the biggest pile of shite ever. And that comes from someone who sees stuff that says “it’s just really bad, the jokes are rank” (laughs). The one film I’m looking forward is Tron, the next one. I just can’t wait. Tron one was one of my favourite films when I was growing up.
This is probably gonna age me instantly, but when I was a kid I saw the cinema cards and really wanted to steal one, but was only five.
Ah. The thing is that it was great, Tron, the whole story, Disney commissioned a film about computer games, since computers were becoming the next big thing. And the guys make this dark game world where people died and it bombed so much. But it was good and people sensed [this] and watched and became a cult thing.
It was kinda strange, the film bombed but the videogame was huge. I remember 1992 and if you went to arcades, well, they changed a lot, but you could always find a Tron machine.
I saw one the last time we were in Texas and I was like “Good Lord, I could just take this!” It wasn’t even plugged on and I was just “what?” (Feigns disgust).
Speaking of Texas, how did SXSW treat you?
We were there only once, we hope we can go again next year. Our new album is done by the end of this year. We loved it. We really did. This is 5 gigs and 4 days, it can be quite intense but a lot of fun. The only problem is that there’s bands you want to see but don’t get to, but it’s a great time. Hopefully next year (knocks the wall).
Another cookie-cutter question, influences, specifically shoegaze and droning?
I don’t have that much to do with sound, that’s Andy. I’m more into the basic song and work it. We have always been influenced by Mogwai. Sometimes I got stuck in an album, maybe an instrumental song, like Mogwai! But also good songwriters, like Daniel Johnson, even if he’s crazy, but he wrote honest songs. I grew up listening to Arab Strap. Do you know Arab Strap?
I write about people I know. You come from Mexico, so that would make your sound!(laughs). I try being honest with those songs, not be a band that only wants to sell records. We are band that wants to do their songs. Not trying to sell records, just make something you can be proud of. If you like it, you like it, if you don’t, fuck it (laughs).
Now that you mention Glasgow, do you think there’s a Scottish invasion now with you guys, We were promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit?
There’s always a good group of bands that come through from Scotland, but also there’s shit bands coming from Scotland as well (laughs), so you get the good with the bad. I’m personally friend with both of those bands and we’re on the same record label and things. There’s a scene, we are local friends with people, but try to stand in our own two feet and not really listen to what people are saying like “oh, another Scottish band”. We focus on what we’re doing. We are good friends with those two bands [WWPJ and FR].
Frightened Rabbit are getting massive, well not massive, but really big. I was out with Scott (singer for Frightened Rabbit) last night, getting drunk! We are friends from before we were signed and anything, so it’s funny how we’ve grown. So we do the usual, doing texts like “I’m in Germany!” (laughs). Three years ago it was “I’m playing in some shit hole in Glasgow” and I’d replied “I’m playing in some shithole in Edinburgh” (laughs). It’s nice to watch that grow. There’s always a few bands from Scotland that are shite, but I don’t understand it, doesn’t seem like it’s honest. There’s that in all generations, I guess.
I haven’t seen Frightened Rabbit yet, but I saw We Were Promised Jetpacks in November at the Leadmill and they were really intense.
The stuff for a young generation (laughs). We were on tour, having drinks after a couple of gigs and we put some songs to them, put The Smiths on and they never listened to The Smiths, they never listened to The Pixies, they never listened to Pavement. And we were “how can you even be in a band?” You don’t need to like them, you should know these songs.
“You need to know these songs!” and they were “No, ah, I listen to… The Twilight Sad (!)”. “You need to branch out, at least the Smiths and Pavement!” (laughs). They are young, given enough time, they’ll do good.
I liked their EP, The last place that you’ll look, some experimental stuff and reworkings.
I haven’t listened to it, to be honest. I try to stay away from that kinda thing, cause like I don’t want to be influence. I don’t want to be writing a song, going “dah dah dah da”, liking it and say “oh, it’s a Jetpacks’ song”.
So would you go for the strategy of Led Zeppelin and go into seclusion?
Because stuff just seeps through?
Subconsciously, things can just sneak. There’s times… wrote songs and Andy says “Wasn’t that on radio last week?”, “Oh, God’s sakes!” It’s rubbish! (laughs).
Who does your artwork?
Andy found this fifties old school art, [then] we worked with a guy called Dave Thomas, who works for Fat Cat. Artwork is always an important thing. You’re in a record shop, even if no one buys records anymore (laugh), and you’re looking down, you always want something that will catch your eye. Our outwork, on the surface is very bright but once you look it down it’s very disturbing. (laughs). You see it and go “aaa-ah…” We like that shock factor. It always goes back to the music. And he [Dave Thomas] knows where the band’s coming from.
Is there any reason for the masks on the kids?
(laughs) He [Dave] suggested and we thought “yeah, that looks fucking cool”.
With your new album, Forget the night ahead, it looks like pictures that have been manipulated and vandalised.
Yes, you’ve got in the front cover things like holes in their hands, so even if they don’t want to see they can see. In the back the guy who imposes himself on a woman, hole in his hand. Something you don’t want to see but you know its happening.
We’ll be having a physical copy of the zine eventually and we’re doing this question about album experience. What do you think? Is the album alive or dead and if so, will it come back?
Me, personally? I still buy cds, but recently, I been buying a lot of vinyl. I like watching the artwork (gestures with hands from the size of a cd booklet to the size of a vinyl). Recently, if you buy the vinyl, you get a set of free mp3s with it. I think it’s the way forward. I still like the cd, if you’re in the car and driving. But if you’re a fan of music, you should buy the vinyl. I want a physical release in my arm, stuff you can sense.
[Johnny, the bassist, comes by and jokes a bit. The bottle of fortified wine, buckfast, is tempting not only me, but him too. We still have a few minutes before they go back to Glasgow, with a quick stop to Nando’s for some well deserved food].
We put a lot on this record. It’s disappointing in the music scene right now [that] is more about hype and having one track and tour around it and then wanes. If you make an album, then you have more for it. People can buy into that. Give an album a chance. After the fourth or fifth track you’ll judge. You can go “I like this” or just … “shit!” (laughs).
Any plans to go to Mexico?
(laughs) Mexican food is one of my favourite. We asked for the best places for Mexican food in Texas. Mexico could be good. I know Mogwai went there. Morissey went also there.
Ah, Morrissey… one ex girlfriend was really crazy about him and she said let’s go. We were kind of near to the stage. He started and this barrage of people just pushed us away. He was really good. It was in this big place and he had the star power to demand that no meat was to be sold inside.
In Manchester he paid off all the kebab shops around the arena to close the day of the gig.
Cool! In Mexico you usually get this crap instanoodle soups with prawns or pizzas with pepperoni and when Morrissey played it was only cotton candy and caramel apples.
(laughs) Not a chicken enchilada? I’m not vegetarian. (laughs) Any places in Mexico where it’s good to play? The scene?
There’s not that really that much choice, because, there’s really not that much of a rock market in Mexico. I’m afraid to say, I’m ashamed to say.
What do people listen mostly to?
Pop, salsa, tropical, norteña. But there’s some audience for it. There’s a couple of places, though. And Mogwai played and they were sold out and they were good. If the show’s promoted and the promoter is good, you can get some.
Johnny comes back again, seizing control of the bottle of Buckfast and wondering if we were done. I say yes and ask them if they could do some indents for Anti-fama, a radio show in “El Descafeinado Radio”, a Mexican internet radio station. They graciously do them, even if Johnny has some reservations first, but I assure him that the more the merrier. We bid farewell. I enjoyed the show thoroughly and the interview was a hoot. Can’t wait to see them live again.
About the author: Buckfast. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. It’s monk approved!
The Twilight Sad