“You’ve got fifteen minutes and it’s gonna be in the tourbus. Sorry.” – I hate these words, because in theory it means that an artist doesn’t have time for me, he/she’d rather do something else, but has to do it so at least we’re doing it his/her way. Well, not this time – even though a super nice tour manager spoke these words right after our greetings. James Graham – lead singer of Twilight Sad – hosted me in the kitchen/living room area of the tourbus. And even though he was tired, he didn’t mind talking and at some point even suggested to disregard that fifteen minutes rule. Even when I switched off my voice recorder, we still had some time to chat about Adidas clothes. We’re both huge fans (and this post is not sponsored). Rules, eh?
At the beginning I have to admit – I read a lot of interviews with you to prepare for that one. What struck me is that in each and every one you’re asked about two things – The Cure [The Twilight Sad are famous for being Robert Smith’s favorite band and they are very often touring with The Cure] and Scott Hutchinson [late singer of Frightened Rabbit who was a huge friend of The Twilight Sad]. Aren’t you tired of that?
It’s a part of our history so I understand why people ask me about it. I don’t know… i’m very proud of both connections, you know? So I wouldn’t say I’m tired of this. These are just questions that come up a lot. They are the major things that happened to us and… yeah, I’m not tired [laughs]. I’m just tired in general.
But apart of those two topics, what would you consider as a defining thing or moment for your band?
There’s been quite a few… When you’re a Glasgow band and you play at the venue called The Barrowlands [Barrowland Ballroom to be more specific] that’s like a defining moment in any band from that area career. We’ve done that a few times so I’d say the first time we’ve done that and sold it out was for me as someone who went to that venue as a young man and loved it… Also my grandfather laid the floor there and it’s very famous because when you step on it kinda bounces, because it used to be a ballroom, so there’s a bit of history there as well… There were lots of defining moments, but there’s also been moments that I never thought would happen. I wouldn’t say they defined us, but I’d be like “how is this happening to me?” [laughs] So many times with The Cure there were the moments of just going “This is insane. Why are we here? There are so many bands out there. Why is this happening to us?”. And I know why is this happening – because Robert loves our music and we are friends now but at the same time you’re still pinching yourself. Like in Mexico recently – we played on a stadium and there was like 65 thousand people and we were on just before The Cure so it was 90% filled by that point and you step out and you’re like “Oooooooh”. Moments like that… I don’t know if they define us. In my head, I don’t know if there has been a defining moment yet. I like to think that’s still to come.
In one of the interviews you’ve said that making music is now your job. So, apart of touring, do you wake up everyday and have a lot of band stuff to perform?
I have a 1,5 year old son so my day when I wake up is looking after him and then… I mean with these devices [points on his phone] that we’ve got I can keep up with everything. But as far as the enjoyable parts – for me it’s writing music and since our last album I hadn’t write anything. That’s because I don’t write when i’m touring and I have to be home for a while and I have to love life a little bit. Because this isn’t real life, you know? I love touring and stuff, but as a day to day… you know – I sleep in the back there [points at the back of the tourbus], I wake up in different place, I go to the venue, I soundcheck, I may got a chance to go and look around but I may not, then I’m back here after the show and then we’re off to the next place. But that hour and a half that we play – that’s great, I love that. But my head is not in the right place to write on tour. Yeah, the day to day life when I’m back home will be: look after my son and when he goes on a nap, maybe write something [laughs]. Yeah, I’m not quite in the headspace for that at the moment whereas Andy [guitarist and main composer of The Twilight Sad] has been writing a lot. Next year – I would answer this question better next year [laughs] when I’m home. Also there’s something quite unhealthy in being in a band – because of these devices that we have [once again points on his phone], you can see exactly what people are thinking and saying about you. Sometimes it’s good to switch that off, because that’s not the reason that we write music. We write music for personal reasons and I would say the influence of these things is annoying, if you know what I mean. But also I love them because I can get to talk to people that like our music. So… Catch 22, yeah? [laughs]
I was about to ask you about those challenging and pleasant things in touring…
Yeah, it changed as I’ve got older. When we first started, I wasn’t sure about touring. I didn’t know if I liked it or not. I enjoyed playing the gig but there was something about touring that didn’t click with me. And as I’ve got a little bit older – in my mid-20s – i’ve started to love it. I loved going to see different places. And now I’m in a different place where I have a son back home… I’ve always changed my feelings about touring but there’s one thing that didn’t change – this is how much I love playing a show. And I love meeting people who like our music and I love that people come to see us – I think that’s amazing… But everything surrounding that – that’s the job for me. That’s the taxing part but when you perform – that’s not taxing at all. That’s why I’m doing this. But travelling and stuff – that for me is the job. Because the rest is fun. Well, as fun as miserable music can be [laughs].
I’ve started that topic, because you address mental issues in your songs and there’s a lot of talking about mental health of musicians at the moment. For example – Live Nation announced the Tour Support programme. Do you see any changes in that topic in music industry?
I think we are very lucky that people working with us are not just working with us – they are friends, so we always know we’ve got someone to go and talk to, which is good, but apart from that… I know about the awareness and I’m right behind that, but I haven’t noticed any difference to be honest. That’s still the same for me and I think there needs to be more of it. We are on the right track and stuff, but I think we’re still learning what needs to be done. But at least people are speaking about it and for example I’m lucky that I’ve got people – also on this tour – that are my friends – like our tour manager and we know we can talk with him but that’s not the same for every band. If I wouldn’t have that, I don’t know who I would be able to talk to. I didn’t even understand before I started doing this how tiring it can be mentally, because every night you want to be as good as you can and you can’t – you’re only human. Things go wrong and for me personally – it obsesses me and kinda wears me down and then there’s the Internet where you can go on and see if somebody says that you were rubbish tonight. And that really affects me. I think there needs to be a change in people’s attitude towards musicians. I’m one of the most grateful people to be able to do this, but there’s nothing worse than when you come off and somebody says something horrible to you, like “you were out of tune tonight”, because believe me – i know that [laughs]. But at the same time it really affects me, and when you’re constantly doing that it builds and builds and builds and builds… and sometimes it can be nice when you’re out there, but sometimes it’s the loneliest place in the world, if you know what I mean.
Your lyrics are very personal. I’ve talked about writing personal lyrics with a lot of artists and they almost always say it’s very hard to write personal stuff. Is it hard for you? And aren’t other topics – like in example politics – tempting for you to write about?
It’s not hard for me. It’s hard because those are tough subjects to write about but I feel I need to write about that, because that’s all I know. It’s easy to come out, it’s easy to write about it. Yeah, those are very tough subjects to write about, but I feel that’s my go-to place. And as far as politics and all those subjects – I try to stay away from it, but I’m writing about myself, I’m writing the world that I live in, so I think subconsciously that comes out at the same time. In example – our last album title – It Won/t Be Like This All The Time – for me it’s quite a statement for the world that we live in at the moment where… it’s not exactly great. You know, with all the political topics and suffering and stuff like that. And when I look at the previous album title – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave – I was writing that around the same time as the Scottish referendum of independence and only a couple years ago I went “Wow!” [laughs]. Maybe subconsciously that stuff has come through, because we’re living it, we see the news each day and we know that it does affect us personally, so I think that’s why it come out, but I wouldn’t go: “Ok, today I’m gonna write about Brexit” [laughs] but at the same time it’s what happening in our lives. Yeah, fuck Brexit, man. People who voted it, didn’t even know what it is.
Yeah, Scotland didn’t even vote for it and you’re made to leave.
Yeah, we’re made to do it. So, I think… I’m not gonna say I think what’s gonna happen because I don’t know, because there were lot of things that I thought would never happen and then “Oh, shit”… But I think it makes a good case for independence and I think that’s happening again so. Fuck… That’s not worth thinking about but at the same time you drive yourself crazy.
Yeah, let’s talk about your last album instead. I can hear that it’s more accessible. I think – and don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily bad – that nearly every band gets more accessible with age. I wonder – why? Did you think about that?
Good question. No. As I’ve got older, I’ve just got more interested in melody. The music I’m listening to has become more melodic. We’re obviously doing it for a long time and I’ve developed the way I sing. I also don’t really want to go back either, because if anyone wants to hear The Twilight Sad from the early albums, they can listen to the early albums and our live shows are still very noisy. There’s that constant drive to do something different and to challenge yourself. And I actually don’t think we’ve ever written a pop song. I think it’s one of the hardest things you could possibly do. I mean – a good pop song. Because there are good pop songs and there are fucking terrible ones. For example – The Cure – they’ve written some of the darkest music of all-time and also written some of the best pop songs ever. I don’t think we have that. We’ve released two songs recently and that’s some of the heaviest stuff we’ve ever done as well. So I think there’s a balance. Everything is about conveying what the song is about and how that emotion comes out. Within our music Andy has been more interested in synthesizers and developing his guitar parts as well, because he just doesn’t want to be known for that loud noisy thing, because we’ve got that. It’s there – why repeat it? The goal of the best bands that I like – like Radiohead – nobody could ever say that they repeated themselves. And if that comes out more melodic or more accessible then ok. I think we know, we’ll never be a pop band, because my singing voice is kinda love it or hate it [laughs]. And i have that Scottish accent. I’ve never wanted to be in a pop band or famous. That’s not why we do that. I actually despise that. For me it’s rather a form of therapy. I’ve never thought we’re gonna be – i don’t want to say successful – but successful as we are… Yeah, I think I went around the question [laughs]
That’s ok, but I think we have to finish. Last question – as I also have to ask about The Cure – what do you prefer – touring with them or headlining your own shows?
It’s very different. I prefer them both in different ways. I like them both in different ways. Tonight the crowd will be there and we can feel it together. And then the feeling of being on stage like this and a massive stage is completely different. It’s fun in a way – as a support you know what you have to do. You’re there to make an impression, to portray yourself the best way you can, but here people will come to see us, so they’ll know our songs. I don’t know what I prefer. When we toured US with The Cure we had some headlining shows in between and it was a nice balance between this and that. And I think that’s why I liked it – doing both of this, because like everything in life – variety is good for you. If you would do that one support for the rest of your life, you would get tired, but doing that, then doing this and then that… It keeps it fresh. I think it helps. When you write and perform new songs – you get a different feeling from those different size stages… But I’ll be honest – there’s nothing better than when the crowd knows who you are and sings your songs. That’s an amazing feeling. And then you go and play in front of 65 thousand people in Mexico and you’re like “Ooooooh”. It’s different.
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