Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Interview: Twin Atlantic

‘This is all a big blag’, not my words, but the words of Twin Atlantic front man Sam McTrusty. Following the release of their first full length album ‘Free’, the ‘blatantly Scottish’ band – again, not my words – have just completed their biggest UK tour to date. I caught up with them at Southampton Joiners to discuss such rock ‘n’ roll topics as Tom DeLonge’s shoes, cats and their ultimate goal; to show that real music still exists…

The UK tour is nearly over, how has it been?
Sam McTrusty (vocals & guitar): Outstandingly brilliant. Full stop. It’s been such a milestone for our band. We released an album and people started coming to watch us. We put music out there and people listen to it. We’ve done UK headline tours before and, not to take any merit away from them because they were as important, it’s just that this one has made us feel a bit more gratified. We’re getting something out of doing this now because more people are coming and were enjoying ourselves more.

You’re pretty far from home right now, what do you miss most when you’re on tour?
Ross McNae (bass, piano & vocals): My cats. They’ve all got rock names. Brody Dalle, Jesse James, Sid Vicious and then Lucky, she’s not named after anyone.

You have some pretty dedicated fans, does the reaction you get still surprise you?
Sam: Yes. I’ve always read about my favourites bands saying that they’re in this little bubble when they record an album and then when it gets released they don’t really realise it all blah blah blah. But that’s actually how I felt. We were so concentrated on making something and perfecting our art that now to be back in front of people and getting that immediate response, it’s amazing.
Ross: Yea because you can record a record and put it out and you only read what a magazine says or what someone says about you on the internet. But when they’re right in front of you, people can’t lie. You can see it on their faces if they enjoy it.
Sam: Yea and it’s the first time we’ve had any sold out shows in England, which doesn’t really happen to us. I’m just waiting for our van to explode or something like that.

How was the recording process for the new album, ‘Free’?
Sam: Beautiful. Simple. It was just so easy. And I think that’s because we had such an experienced producer (Gil Norton - Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Pixies, The Distillers). We just had this focused drive towards what we wanted. We’d made an EP, then a mini-album. We practiced making an album in that sense, so we knew what we didn’t want to do. And when we got into those situations we glided right through them, whereas before, we would not know which direction to go in. Say we had a completely different opinion, we’d usually argue about it for honestly two days and it would just get in the way of the whole process but this time it was just obvious which route we needed to take. And with Gil being there, he just gave us this sense of self belief that we didn’t have before. I think part of it was because we had a mini-album called ‘Vivarium’, and that was essentially our band up until that point and the songs we thought were good enough to let people here. Where as with ‘Free’, we actually set a goal. This is what we want this album to represent. And we want it to fill this gap and be what music fans aren’t getting from British bands right now.

Do you have a favourite track on the new album?
Sam: Well I think there are songs that I’ve made big statements in with the lyrics so I’m proud of making them work in a song. But there are songs that I prefer the music to. So I can’t choose between ‘Free’ and ‘Edit Me’, or ‘The Ghost of Eddie’. I like playing ‘The Ghost of Eddie’, it’s fun, but those other ones are total mission statements for me. But we’ve all got different answers probably. Ross said ‘The Ghost of Eddie’ yesterday but it changes from day to day.
Ross: Yea and then today we played a song called ‘Yes, I Was Drunk’ at sound check and that’s now my favourite.

What songs have been getting the best reaction when you play live?
Sam: The song ‘It’s Time For You To Stand Up’, which is probably one of the most immediate songs on the record. It’s pretty rocking but it’s also really upbeat. It’s got everything. It’s like a short pop song but it’s still rock music if you know what I mean?

What’s the story behind the name of the album?
Sam: Any idea we have always starts as a joke. And we thought free was the cheesiest name we could give the record. But we also thought the song, ‘Free’, on the record was a real focal point. We didn’t really think about it much we just thought that’s a pretty obvious name so we’ll just go for the obvious name and see what happens. And then all those things came up about ‘what if people think they can get it for free? Wont that be confusing?’ But we were just like, well they can get it for free if they want. More people will get it for free than go and pay for it. So our response to that was to just make fun of it.

How do you think ‘Free’ differs from your mini-album, ‘Vivarium’?
Sam: Well, personally I think it’s better. Better songs, I mean. The song writing definitely took big steps forward, probably because we’d experienced a lot more and we were a bit more grounded as individuals. We’d broadened our horizons by travelling a lot and meeting new people every day.
Ross: Something as easy as being a little bit older, and having done music for a little bit longer. Just being two years further down the line of trying to be a professional song writer, they’re gonna be better. So we’re almost winning before we’ve started. Hopefully we’re all better musicians.
Sam: We also just tried less hard. We just chilled and had fun rather than trying to impress people. We just thought lets fucking make ourselves happy and then if people like it then cool. If not then at least we’ll be able to look back at it when were 40 and not be embarrassed.

You were originally planning to record a concept album, what made you decide to scrap it and record ‘Free’ instead?
Sam: It wasn’t really a concept record, it was more like a theme to a record. Because we’d never written an album before so it was like, lets write an album about something. Then I realised that that wasn’t going to work because I’d not actually experienced much death and stuff. That’s what it was about, the theme of being scared of dying. A pretty fucking grim topic, but I don’t actually have much experience of death in my family or anything like that where as I’ve got loads of experience of being 23 and loving music and getting to mess about with my friends and travel. So I just decided to write a record about that instead. It was a pretty straight forward decision. I think it would have been a pretty morbid album

You’ve done quite a few shows oversees, how was that?
Sam: We did more last year. I keep exaggerating this but I think it was about 20 countries. That’s new countries, because we’ve definitely been around the block once. Hopefully we get to go round the blobk a million times.
Ross: But sometimes you’re only there for a day.
Sam: Yea we’d drive through Switzerland or somewhere like that and say, yea that counts. But we also did a full North American tour and went to Canada which was fucking crazy. It felt like we were in one of those documentary films I watched when I was 14, like The Blood Money 2. We were with American bands which was so weird, playing venues that you’d see on drive through DVDs and shit like that. So it was pretty cool, but a weird experience.

What was the reaction like from the fans abroad?
Sam: It’s been more immediate than the UK. I think being so blatantly Scottish, people immediately pay attention because they’re not used to that. So we kind of stood out I suppose. And especially in Germany, we’ve supported bands over there, and they just love rock music so as soon as you play anything with distortion they get excited. And Americans are just so over the top, they’ll come and chat to you for ages and want to buy you drinks and all that. They’re like the cheesy stereotypical music fan in America. 

You supported Blink 182 for their Scottish shows last year, were you surprised to get the gig?
Ross: Yea because it’s one of our favourite bands when we were younger. It’s weird because it was obviously a massive surprise but for some reason Tom DeLonge decided to give us some shoes from his company, I don’t know why, but he did. So I think it wasn’t as much of a shock because we knew that he knew who we were.
Sam: There were a lot of steps on the way to it.
Ross: It wasn’t like one day my mobile rang and it was Tom DeLonge, but it was a really good opportunity to get.
Sam: It was crazy! 30,000 people over 3 days got to hear us play all because Tom DeLonge asked us to.

What has been the highlight of the past year?
Sam: I want to say this tour. And I’m not even joking. It’s maybe been the biggest highlight of the band. Because we’re standing on our own two feet, people are taking us seriously, people are responding to our music as passionately as we did the first time we wrote a song. But also, the people that are coming to the gigs are music fans.
Ross: It’s not like all 14 year old girls and it’s not all really trendy people. There are some 50 year old men out there too.
Sam: And that’s the real indication that they just love music and want to hear honest songs. That’s why this is the highlight for me. We’ve finally reached a point that we talked about during our first couple of days as a band. This is what we want to achieve.
Ross: Also I think it’s because, not that we haven’t written any songs about relationships, but a lot of the songs have covered more universal things so there’s something for different types of people to relate to. It’s not just the one thing.
Sam: It’s not all ex-girlfriend songs and all that shit.

You all had opportunities to persue different careers when you were younger - Ross played hockey for Scotland in school, Sam passed up a golf scholarship to an American university and dropped out of a prestigious art degree at Glasgow University, Dummer Craig Kneale was doing a degree in graphic design and guitarist and cellist Barry McKenna played cello for the Scottish National Youth Orchestra, - do you ever wonder what life might have been like if Twin Atlantic didn’t exist?
Sam: Nah, we’ve kind of always just winged everything.
Ross: We’ve just taken every opportunity and not thought about the consequences.
Sam: That’s the way we’ve been living since we left school. We had pretty mediocre grades at school so we’ve just tried a bit of everything. So we don’t know any different really.
Ross: I think it was drummed into us by load of people. My dad in particular has always said just do what you’re gonna do. There’s never any pressure to do anything or make money and have a career.

You’ve been involved with the band’s artwork in the past, where do you get your inspiration?
Sam: Well for the artwork it’s usually the songs. Whatever mood listening to the record puts me in. And then I’ll get a picture in my head of something. Because things like that usually come to me really quickly and I don’t really think them through, which is probably why we’ve stopped using my stuff. I think we just make it up as we go along. This is all a big blag.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Sam: Just playing as many gigs as we can and getting the record into as many new ears as we can. Just letting people know that we exist and there are still honest rock bands out there that sing something worthwhile. Basically to show that real music still exists, that’s out mission this year.

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