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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 12th October 2016 at 11:00 am
Missed part 1 of my interview with Tom Chaplin? No worries, catch up on the previous half of it through here.
Tom Chaplin’s first foray into the industry as a solo artist has been a long time coming. His initial desire to write on his own was the impetus for Keane to announce their hiatus after the release of their 2012 album ‘Strangeland’. “I have a little studio in my garden at home and sort of locked myself in there. But I very quickly ran into a creative brick wall, I think, because as you say, it’s like finding a voice, isn’t it? The songs I was writing about at that point were very observational, they were about other people, other relationships. They were looking outward as opposed to inwards, which is how I ended up. That’s the story of the record now, a very much inward looking record. Yeah, it was a kind of mixture of different songs that didn’t feel particularly cohesive, as I say they were observational, and no wonder that I hit a brick wall creatively.
“Obviously my problems with drugs completely really took over my life and I stopped being creative altogether. I discovered so much about myself and who I am that I looked in such kind of minute detail at my actions and my characteristics and what makes me who I am as a human being, as well as how I developed as a person. I’d kind of almost completely lost touch with being a real human being. All I was obsessed about was getting wasted, and that’s not really a life. That’s the absence of life in a way, sort of living for a drug. It’s about as far away from the essence of being a human being as you can get. So yes, rediscovering or the discovery into who I am as a person was a painful, but at times a really interesting adventure into my inner world. As that inner voice took shape, then the songs flowed out of me. Becoming a kind of authentic individual was very, very important in finding a voice for making this record.”
Tom Chaplin performing with Keane at SXSW 2012
I asked Tom if it was difficult, either literally or figuratively, to find his voice writing ‘The Wave’, either from being the frontman of Keane or coming back from addiction. “One of the main drives in making this record was that up until now, there’s been an undiscovered part of myself that I haven’t expressed as a singer. It’s [‘The Wave’] unveiling the inner voice, behind the outer voice that everyone’s been hearing for a very long time. With Keane songs, I was always interpreting someone else’s world and someone else’s feelings. Obviously, while Tim [Rice-Oxley, Chaplin’s bandmate and primary songwriter of Keane] all the time wrote with me in mind in terms of singing it, nevertheless they were always going to be his personal view and perspective on the world and his experience with life. It feels very difficult to compare the two.”
Chaplin begins a UK tour next week, playing far smaller venues that us Keane fans have been accustomed to seeing their heroes on in recent memory. “I feel like these songs are telling a direct story, very personal story. I’m inclined to think that there won’t be as much a posturing rock show as it would have been with Keane in a way. I think it’ll be much more about focusing on telling the story. I’m sure it’ll suit the small venues really well, in that sense of getting a really intimate story, with everyone being close up. I’m really excited to play these songs in that context.”
A brand new experience for Chaplin, one he grabbed onto with both hands, was putting together a live band for this upcoming tour. “I spent the summer assembling these new musicians around me. That itself has been very, very interesting. Obviously with Keane, our roles were defined very early on and have remained more or less the same for many years. To work with new people, and the album is obviously quite textured and layered and requires lots of different instruments, so figuring out that puzzle has been really fun, actually. Watching how other musicians interpret the songs and how they their parts, and being part of something so brand new for me as a musician has been really cool. So I’m really looking forward to see it working out onstage.
“I’m very excited and I really hope that the story of the record and the sense of going from this very dark place towards finding some sort of sense of resolution is something that is manifested in the live show as well. We will see!” I’d gotten the impression that as the primary songwriter in Keane, Rice-Oxley called the shots. So hearing how creatively inspired Tom became in putting together his own band and how excited he is about having full artistic control suggests to me this is the start of a wonderful new chapter in the career of Tom Chaplin the artist. There is no mistaking his laughter and genuine happiness on the other end of our conversation, from a man who has thankfully found peace from his demons through continuing treatment and is now “rooted in an authentic and real life”.
I want to ask him about what ‘The Wave’ has become to mean to him. Tom says, “As soon as I wrote it [the song], it always felt like it was going to be the finale [for the album]. It’s a song about finding a sense of resolution, I think the thing for me was that I always felt like I was in sort of opposition to life, always wanting to change how I feel. For example, for when I felt pain or sadness, it was about ‘how do I stop myself from feeling like this?’ And my go-to method was to take drugs. If I felt happy, and actually, this was a common problem for me, if I felt happy and elated and high, and good things were happening, I wanted to extend that. So I thought, ‘how do I keep this going?’ So I’d get good news, and my wife would say to me, ‘I’m worried for you because things are going well’. Seems kind of paradoxical, but truth was, I would then see that as a green light to again go out and take drugs and feel like I deserved a good time.
“[There was] the sense that I was always trying to control how I felt, and I think ‘The Wave’ is a song about developing a sense of going through life with good grace. You are going to experience ups and downs, and you cannot control that stuff, it’s what life visits upon you. I feel like I’ve learnt to acknowledge that stuff. If I feel down, that’s just the way it goes. And if I feel good, then [I’ll] enjoy it, but it’s not going to last forever. The song is really about looking back and acknowledging that stuff and using that as an ethos going forwards. It feels like a great note to end the record on, as that’s sort of my mantra for my life as it stands. And you know, by extension, it seems like a good way of describing the process and the place where the record has taken me to.”
As far as Chaplin has come in this journey, he recognises he’s still a work in progress. “I do still need to force myself a little bit to go spend time with friends, or go on family holidays or get off my backside and play golf, or play football, or whatever it is. But I am aware now that as soon as I do those things, they bring me a real sense of fulfillment and happiness. You know, at the end of the day I suppose, that’s what we’re all looking for from life, it’s what makes it bearable. So those are the vital things that I am now fiercely protective of.”
The days are brighter for Tom Chaplin now, and it’s heartwarming to hear he’s reached a place of more peace, epitomised best by the lyrics “time will sweep these things away / and I’ll be carried by the wave”. Beyond the joy he brought to so many as a member of Keane, that he’s chosen to use the harrowing life experiences he’s been through and put them into song to help others will be an even bigger feat.
Tom Chaplin’s debut album ‘The Wave’ will be released this Friday, the 14th of October, on Island Records. My review of the LP will post today at noon. Chaplin has a series of intimate UK gigs lined up for this month, starting on the 22nd of October at the beautiful St. George’s Church in Brighton, one of the most unique venues used during The Great Escape festival. All dates are now sold out at the time of this writing. The UK dates are followed by a series of larger shows in Belgium and Holland; for a full listing of all his live dates announced so far for this year, visit his official Web site.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 11th October 2016 at 11:00 am
“It’s good to talk about the darker stuff, the kind of stuff that some of us are too frightened to tackle”, says Tom Chaplin matter-of-factly. While he’s most famous for being the frontman of piano rock giants Keane, Chaplin’s recent struggles with drugs and depression have brought him back down to a place far relatable to most people. Relatable, yes. But as we all know, it’s not a state of mind without societal judgment: consider the ostracisation of Pete Doherty and the late Amy Winehouse. “Particularly in British society at least, that’s my frame of reference, there’s still a big stigma to mental health and to talking about shame, addiction and depression, the kind of things that can really roll over many people’s lives and can incapacitate people. In my humble opinion, the only antidote to that is for us to talk about it, to destigmatise these things. My intention and my hope by doing this record and by being so candid, this will encourage people to follow suit. That, in itself, I hope will be the biggest achievement that the record can make.”
As someone who has been in the public eye for over a decade, and with a self-described image as “a clean-living choirboy” with a million-watt smile that provided a convenient façade to his secret, Chaplin is exactly the right kind of person to use his celebrity to bring attention to an important social issue. His debut album ‘The Wave’ is a bold, courageous step to raise awareness and encourage those suffering alone and in silence from addiction to come forward and seek professional help. Out Friday on Island Records, the album as a whole can make for difficult listening at times. The honesty in Chaplin’s voice and lyrics are intensely palpable as he takes you through his darkest days. Conversely, there’s also an optimism that permeates these songs, that things will get better. The biggest takeaway from the LP, then, is one of hope.
Following Keane’s announcement of a hiatus in October 2013, Chaplin fell into his old, bad habits, relying on cocaine binges to get him through the day. It wasn’t until he reached the lowest of lows that he finally decided enough was enough and sought treatment. On the road to recovery, he admits there was a surprise result of this process. “The one benefit of my addiction, it forced me to start communicating. I wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone. In my case – and this is a bizarre chicken before the egg kind of thing – if I had never been a drug addict, I don’t think I ever have been in a position where I was forced to look at myself in a different way, taking down my haphazard defence system as a human being. I needed to find out what was underneath all of that and rebuild something stronger, something more adept for coping with life.
“My addiction took me to the point of death, it really was that bad. I knew at that point the only way out of it was to start talking and communicating, and I did a lot of that through therapy and through psychoanalysis. During that time, I really examined my actions and who I am as a human being and I talked about stuff I was so embarrassed about, so ashamed of for so many years and always kept to myself. I talked about that stuff to another human being, and I suddenly though, ‘hey, hang on. Life is much more bearable when I’m communicating this stuff.’”
Chaplin acknowledges that the songs on ‘The Wave’ are an extension of the hard work he has been doing in therapy. One of the most moving moments on ‘The Wave’ is the song ‘Hardened Heart’, in which Chaplin sings the poignant line, “I know my hardened heart is beating still / I drove it to the point of madness just to feel / something real”. He explains that with the track, he wanted to articulate the feeling he had shortly after making the all-important choice to properly deal with his substance abuse problems. “When I made this resolution to get myself well again, there was this times a few months afterwards where I felt like I was in this no man’s land. It was a chemically-induced depression, the result of years and years of serious binging. So when I came out of it, I was aware that there was no way I can go back to drugs back again because I know it’s going to kill me. But also, I think I felt like I had no real desire to live. I looked at the world and thought, yeah, I can understand it’s a beautiful world, and I can see it, there’s good stuff to enjoy and things to take from it and I could see how it’s possible to engage in life, but somehow, I’m not there yet.
“The song really is about that particular time, and the song itself has a progression to it, it’s a transitional song, it’s about being stuck in that awful place. But as the song goes on, you get these green shoots of hope that start to appear. ‘Hang on, maybe I can start to believe there are signs that are telling me things can be okay again.’ I really like how it [‘Hardened Heart’] has the beginning of that transition. After a few months of being away from drugs and pushing myself in the studio, even if it was for 5 minutes to go and do some writing, or even if it was anything else, hanging out with my family, things that give normal people lots of pleasure, I began to slowly see that maybe these things can give me pleasure that they should. So the song is about that, yes, still being stuck and finding life very difficult and meaningless, but the song is also about looking to the future and beginning to feel hopeful.
“And I suppose, too, that line about driving myself to the point of madness, it felt like this kind of idea of taking myself to the brink of death that I was able to start to recognise that what was important and what, you know, I needed to focus on in my life. In the last few months of my addiction, I really had no concept of how I was destroying, for example, the relationships in my life. My wife kept saying to me, ‘you don’t have a relationship to your daughter. I can’t trust you as a human being. I don’t know you anymore’. But I was so far removed from the feelings attached to that stuff that I just couldn’t acknowledge it. But I drove myself so close to the edge, it wasn’t until I got there that I thought, ‘oh, hang on, those are the important things’. Being relational, being connected to these people in my life, really, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
The mental health treatment Chaplin has been receiving is Jungian psychoanalysis, which he describes as “quite sort of intellectualised therapy. Very philosophical, very in depth”. On ‘I Remember You’, he chose to profile how therapy helped him reach a place in his formative years and come to terms with its effects on him as an adult. “It’s one of the few places where you can talk about your dreams without the other person getting bored! A Jungian analyst is very interested in your unconscious and what dreams might say about your life. I really like the fact that the song is kind of framed in a dream-like way. For me, there’s a very lonely little boy who was trapped in my past and who needed to feel some love. Part of the process of my therapy was going back to that part of myself.
“I’m still not very good at it at crying, but it was actually one of the few times in my therapy where I had lost it and wept uncontrollably. When I really thought about that lost and lonely little boy, I felt like I didn’t have my emotional needs met by the world. In fact, I used to think, ‘I can deal with this on my own’, and I became very insular and kept my problems to myself. So the song is a dream-like reflection of what it’s like to go back, to make contact with that part of myself, to acknowledge it and give it a place. Lyrically, I think it’s one of my absolute favourites on the new record because of that.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Tom Chaplin, which will post at the same time tomorrow. My review of ‘The Wave’ will follow closely behind, at noon.
If you missed part 1 of TGTF’s interview with Syd Arthur frontman Liam Magill, you can find it right back here.
Syd Arthur‘s current opening slot for Jake Bugg‘s North American tour doesn’t afford them the luxury of much time on stage at the moment, but Magill says the band are trying to play a mix of songs from their 2012 debut LP ‘On an On’ and 2014’s ‘Sound Mirror’ along with the new ones. “It’s kind of like half and half, because we’ve got three records to dip into, and lots of material we can chop and change and make different sets up as we go. So we’re experimenting and trying the new stuff out, as well as playing older songs. Sometimes it can be short with an opening slot, but we’ve got like 45 minutes, so there are sections that are open where we can freak out and jam out and stuff. It’s fun to do that every night, you know, and keep it a bit free like that”.
The band sound remarkably clean and tight on the first three singles from ‘Apricity’, especially considering that they’ve recently had a major change in their lineup. Drummer Fred Rother was forced to step away from Syd Arthur before they started recording the new album, due to severe hearing difficulties. Rother is replaced on the album and in the band’s live setup by Josh Magill, sibling to Liam and bass player Joel. “It was a precarious moment, Fred leaving, but Josh sort of saved the day, in a way. The transition was slightly difficult because we’ve been a tight band, you know, us four members, for a long time. That was a big change, and it seeps into the music of this new record and informs the new record, because Josh is obviously on this new album. It’s a different style of rhythm and he’s a different drummer.”
Raven Bush is Syd Arthur’s resident multi-instrumentalist, and Magill says that he and the rest of the band used a broad sonic palette on ‘Apricity’. “There was lots of experimenting on these recordings, trying to get the best sound, and lots of stuff was done and ditched in trying to get to the best thing. Raven’s playing lots of keyboards, he’s playing mandolin, synthesizer, stuff like that.” In this context, Magill specifically mentions an instrumental track called ‘Portal’, which he describes as “quite hypnotic and expansive” before mentioning, a bit wistfully, that the track is “actually sort of like a dedication to Fred.”
For his part, Liam Magill seems happy to have another brother alongside him on tour. “[Josh] has been really good. He’s taking to the whole thing really well. He’s played [with us] before, and he had a band before, but he’s really gotten so involved now, and he’s playing so well. It’s worked out a treat. It can be good to have your brothers around. The joking and the banter is fun, you know, having some family on the road. [And] Raven’s been with us for a long time, we’re a big family. Bands are like that, bands are like a little family unit, you know.”
Touring across North America with Jake Bugg has been a valuable experience for the band as well, despite (or perhaps because of) the difference in style between Bugg and Syd Arthur. “He’s an interesting songwriter, he’s very mainstream”, says Magill. “But it’s about us getting that exposure across America [with] the people that he’s pulling in. It’s a business thing, in a way. But just watching him the last couple of nights, I’ve got a lot out of just seeing what he does. I’m not a massive fan, I wouldn’t go to a show of his, but I’m involved with it all now and it’s interesting. It’s not what you’d expect, necessarily, but it’s working. His fans are enjoying our music when we open up, and we’re enjoying him.”
Following the tour with Jake Bugg, Syd Arthur will return to England in October for a quick tour with Austin, Texas rock band White Denim. Magill describes White Denim as slightly more similar to his own band’s sound: “It’s guitar music, bluesy, rocking guitar music. They are like us, but I suppose we’re a bit more English, and we have a bit more sort of a jazz influence or something compared to them.” I suggest that it might not be possible to find an exact match to Syd Arthur’s unique blend of psychedelic-jazz-rock, and Magill laughs. “No, we’re a bit of an outsider band.”
The middle of October will find Syd Arthur embarking on their own headline tour of England and Ireland, which will extend into early November. The band will celebrate the release of ‘Apricity’ with a special album launch show on the 18th of November in their hometown of Canterbury.
I thank Liam for taking time out of his busy tour schedule to chat with me, and he ends the interview with a neat contextual twist. “It’s fine”, he says, “we just pulled over off the [highway], and I think the lads are having a drink while I’ve been sitting on a bench in the sunshine chatting with you, so it’s all good.” Be it summer sunshine in the States, or winter ‘Apricity’ back in England, both seem to suit Syd Arthur quite well.
Our thanks to Dan for coordinating this interview, and our best wishes to Fred as well.
Syd Arthur’s new album ‘Apricity’ is due out on the 21st of October on Communion (UK) / Harvest Records (North America). TGTF’s previous coverage of Syd Arthur can be found through this link.
It’s been a couple of years since we at TGTF last spoke with Canterbury rock band Syd Arthur. They made a lasting impression on me at SXSW 2014, where I saw them play the Harvest Records showcase along with Glass Animals and Arthur Beatrice. At the time of my last chat with the band, Syd Arthur were in the midst of the promotion cycle for their second album ‘Sound Mirror’ and had just finished an American tour with progressive rock band Yes.
Now, a bit more than two years later, Syd Arthur are back in America, touring through the end of September with singer/songwriter Jake Bugg. They’re also anticipating the release of a new album, their third, titled ‘Apricity’, due out on the 21st of October. Syd Arthur played shows along the U.S. West Coast at the end of last week, and I had the rare opportunity to do a phone interview with the UK band while they were in the same time zone as myself. I caught the members of Syd Arthur at a stop along the road “somewhere between Seattle and Portland” last Friday afternoon, and though they were between gigs, lead singer and guitarist Liam Magill graciously agreed to have a chat with me while his bandmates took a break for refreshments.
Magill revealed straightaway that Syd Arthur had a brand new single released that very day, a groove-oriented track called ‘No Peace’. ‘No Peace’ is the third single from ‘Apricity’, following ‘Sun Rays’ and the album’s title track. I wondered about the sleek, vaguely pop-leaning sound of the three new songs from a band who have often been described as “psychedelic” and “progressive”, but Magill says it’s not really a new approach. “It’s always been a part of something we’ve tried to do”, he says. “We’ve always tried to streamline and condense lots [of sounds] into a small thing. I guess this is just more of that sort of thing going on. But when you hear the whole album, there are expansive tunes on there. And when we’re playing live, we can open them up and do more expansive stuff with them in the live setting as well.”
The full album ‘Apricity’ might be expansive, musically speaking, but its title is quite specific. In case you haven’t yet consulted your dictionary on the matter, the word ‘apricity’ refers to the warmth of the sun in wintertime. “It’s a curious word,” Magill muses. “It’s like the feeling that you sometimes get, feeling the warmth of the sun in the winter. We were feeling [that] here and there, writing the record and tracking the record. We didn’t know the word at the time, we just knew that feeling.” He says they happened upon the name when band member Raven Bush’s girlfriend gave voice to the feeling. “Raven’s girlfriend is quite a wordy person, and she told us the word, and we liked the concept and the word itself, so we decided to use that.”
Eponymous album track ‘Apricity’ has been waiting even longer for a title, and Magill’s explanation turns into a discussion of Syd Arthur’s fluid songwriting approach. “That’s an old song, but it was reworked several times up until it becoming the ‘Apricity’ song on our record. A lot of the time, the music’s been written first and the lyrics will be added in. Or there’ll be some music that won’t have any words associated with it for a while, you know, and then all of a sudden the words fall into place. Sometimes I’ll have a title, and just that one word or two words will springboard a whole tune. Often there’s words that just appear as the music’s being written, and they cling, and then you add stuff to that and it all becomes clear. It all just comes together over time, really.”
Early album single ‘Sun Rays’ fits quite neatly into the ‘Apricity’ theme, but it also played nicely into the more summery vibe of TGTF’s July Spotify playlist. “It is a catchy tune, yeah”, Magill agrees. “It’s fun to play, and it connects well live. It’s quite powerful, and it feels quite modern and sort of supersonic, in a way. We’re enjoying playing that one, it’s fun.”
Stay tuned to TGTF for part 2 of this interview, which will post tomorrow. In the meantime, check back through our prior coverage of Syd Arthur right back here.
Catch up on part 1 of this interview with Twin Atlantic’s bassist back here.
Though the album was produced and recorded in Los Angeles, ‘GLA’ is the first of Twin Atlantic‘s albums to be written almost entirely in the band’s native Glasgow. Savvy travellers among you might already have noticed that ‘GLA’ is the International Air Transport Association code for Glasgow Airport, and bass player Ross McNae says that the identifier is significant to the songs on the album. “It’s not too complicated, as you can imagine. We travel, and [that] was our access point back to all the people that we love, and to all these great memories and adventures that we would go on in different countries with each other. We were just trying to think of something to match the record, and ultimately I think we realised that we didn’t actually need to think too hard. The record had been written at home for the first time, and rather than actually calling it ‘Glasgow’, we thought, ‘Why not just call it that?’ It seemed interesting and straight to the point enough”.
As far as the band’s writing process is concerned, McNae says Twin Atlantic has evolved in that way too, though the core of the band has remained the same for the past 7 years, comprising McNae, lead singer Sam McTrusty, guitarist Barry McKenna and drummer Craig Kneale. “There have been ups and downs. People go through periods where they’re more invested than others, and everybody has their moments where they’re affected by things, but it’s been very important to us that we started the whole journey together. We’re not hasty, some people will just chuck people out of the band and all that kind of stuff, but we kind of think there’s a reason to keep going together. We have something that’s, maybe not the best band in the world, but there’s a good energy there, and when we get together we create something that’s pretty cool.
“We’ve written in loads of different ways. [At] the very start of our band, myself and Sam would write everything, predominantly him writing the majority. Over the years it became much more weighted on Sam writing, and I would suggest ideas, like kind of direct arranging of the songs. For this album, for the first time [and] from the beginning, Sam and myself pretty much wrote as much as each other. I was writing some lyrics, and it was the first time where he was not playing guitar on a lot of songs, and that was giving him the freedom to maybe think about things a bit differently and concentrate on the vocal. It kind of evolved to the point now where it’s much more of a collaboration between the two of us, and that’s kind of exciting.”
One particularly exciting result of the new songwriting pattern is the variety and subtlety in the songs on ‘GLA’. Heavy drums and forceful guitar riffs combine with catchy melodies, graceful string arrangements and surprisingly effective vocals throughout the album, starting with opening track ‘Gold Elephant Cherry Alligator’. It’s a straightforward rock ’n’ roll song, but its lyrics are both exotic and elusive. “Like a lot of the album”, McNae says, “it’s less literal than everything else that [Sam’s] ever written. It’s more about the feeling that things give you in putting words together”.
That kind of raw, instinctive rock sound dominates the first half of the album, particularly in a song called, ironically enough, ‘Overthinking’. “We felt that was definitely going to be on the record, as soon as I heard a demo of it. You know when [a song] has something and it excites you, you just know, and that was one of those moments quite early on. I suppose that thinking inspired the rest of the album to be more free. If it feels exciting, feels right, then just roll with it.”
On the thematic side of the coin, the songs on ‘GLA’ are quite dark and tumultuous, but McNae seems surprised to hear me describe them that way. “I don’t think that we’re particularly dark or angsty people, but we’re certainly not all prim and proper, shiny, nice, ‘everything is all rosy’ either. I think that that’s more of a reflection of the fact that we just have been a little bit more honest and a little bit more real about who we are, and not kind of trying to dress it up as much.” He describes the song ‘Whispers’ in particular as “probably the most literal song on the album,” having been written about experiences with loss and death. “I suppose I kind of felt like that needed to be said in a much more direct and literal way. It’s not really the type of thing for me to be too wistful about.”
Recent single ‘The Chaser’ reflects back on McNae and McTrusty’s early music experiences, once again at home in Glasgow. “Myself and Sam grew up spending loads of time messing about with my dad’s guitars and stuff like that. My mum was always a fan of glam rock, those type of bands, and I suppose that [song] is a throwback to those early experiences that we had. If we were making an album that was inspired by home, it felt like that was the real genesis of the two of us making music together, so it would have been untruthful to miss out on this particular thing because it was so much about where we’re from.”
The early rock influences that have found their way onto ‘GLA’ will likely translate into high energy for Twin Atlantic’s upcoming live performances, and McNae was clearly looking forward to incorporating the new songs into a live set. “Right now, we’re currently pretty much playing everything straight off the record. Trying to put a set together [from three albums’ worth of songs] is pretty exciting, to be able to kind of have ebbs and flows in your show. It’s good to have that diversity.” But in the end, McNae circles back around to what seems to have become Twin Atlantic’s new mantra: “I think that this time we’re going to concentrate and focus on just kind of being a rock ‘n’ roll band, because that’s what’s exciting us just now, you know?”
Twin Atlantic will play a full tour of the UK and Ireland in October and December, as well as planned American and Australian dates in early 2017. Their third album ‘GLA’ is due for release tomorrow, the 9th of September, via Red Bull Records. TGTF’s past coverage on Twin Atlantic can be found here.
Special thanks to Carina for coordinating this interview.
Scottish rock band Twin Atlantic are experiencing a rebirth of sorts around the creation of their upcoming new album ‘GLA’, whose early singles are already enjoying commercial success ahead of the album’s official release this Friday. But as Twin Atlantic bass player Ross McNae pointed out to me in our phone interview last week, commercial success wasn’t the band’s main concern with their third full length release. “I suppose we’re not really that bothered this time, as much as we have been in the past. We just kind of concentrated this time on making a record that would excite us, and [that] was what we felt we wanted to hear from a rock band.”
Twin Atlantic’s own rock credentials had come into question somewhat of late. The band’s first releases, mini-album ‘Vivarium’ and full-length LP ‘Free’ established them as a rock band first and foremost, but their sophomore album ‘Great Divide’ left some doubts in the minds of their listeners. TGTF’s own former writer John Fernandez found that album to be somewhat indecisive, with the band straddling the fence between commercially successful mainstream pop-rock and the louder, grittier brand of alt-rock he would have preferred. (Read back to John’s August 2014 review of ‘Great Divide’ right here.)
Whether or not ‘Great Divide’ appealed to your rock sensibilities, it was undoubtedly a turning point in Twin Atlantic’s creative development and a necessary stepping stone to the band’s current sound. McNae explains the evolution in a bit more detail: “The funny thing is, [‘Great Divide’] was a reaction to the fact that our record before that was probably more of a rock record. You kind of just get to the point where you’ve been doing something for 2 1/2 years, and then you think, ‘I don’t want to do that again, I’d rather do something new’. So then you react and make a new record. But yeah, the last album was definitely more toward a kind of ‘perfect pop’ at that point. I think it was more the strive to achieve that than the actual sound of the music. And I suppose maybe halfway through the last album, we realised that as things were going really well that there wasn’t quite as much of a connection as we thought to the actual album.”
McNae reveals that with ‘GLA’, Twin Atlantic made a very deliberate decision to revisit alt-rock. “We haven’t really been listening to much rock music for a while, and I suppose it’s because we hadn’t really heard much that had grabbed our attention. I think that was important to us in making this record, to dial back what we’d been doing and remember what it was that excited us about this kind of music in the first place, and try and make [the] album we were missing.”
Though Twin Atlantic have made an effort with ‘GLA’ to create a heavier, more visceral rock sound with ‘GLA’, they did carry over one important element of ‘Great Divide’, namely producer Jacknife Lee. McNae had asked Lee to do some work with Twin Atlantic on ‘Great Divide’, describing the original collaboration as “a shot in the dark” that happened to have positive and long-lasting results. “We went to him with an album that we, in our heads, thought was finished, but we weren’t sure”, McNae explains. “He found parts of our other demos that he felt would really add something to the record, and it turned out that we really kind of found that energy and that spark when we worked with him. We knew there was something in that with him, like he awakened something in us. I think he just made us question ourselves and what it was that we were doing this for.”
That energy and spark eventually led Twin Atlantic back to Lee’s Los Angeles area studio for the recording of ‘GLA’. “Over the course of the last album and touring it, that [experience] was quite in our heads. The whole recording process with him was really enjoyable, and made us start writing the kind of songs that we were writing for for this [album], so it made sense to go back and try and finish what we started with him. And we knew he was more excited about making something like this, with as much roar, and more of the angst of [the] funk and guitar music that we grew up listening to and also that he grew up listening to. So, it felt like if we went back and worked with him there was going to be something that was new for both of us, and it’s worked, it’s worked out. We were challenging each other.”
Stay tuned to TGTF for part 2 of our interview with Ross McNae, which will post tomorrow. In the meantime, you can check out their live dates in the UK in October and December here, as well as trawl through TGTF’s archive of coverage on Twin Atlantic via this link.
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