Scottish four-piece The Twilight Sad are responsible for one of 2007’s best debut albums, Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters. Released through Brighton-based indie FatCat back in May, the nine-track long-player is both immediate of melodies and alien of architecture, full of broad accents and stirringly epic arrangements which tug at the heartstrings as a diversionary technique, allowing the band’s considerable bombast to pulverise the grey matter into dust. Throughout, a mood melancholic permeates the myriad walls of sound, as lyrical dalliances with matters of morose memories send the soul sinking into the deepest pit of one’s stomach.
It is, undeniably, the first chapter in the story of a band destined for a greatness few indie acts can ever hope to attain. Formed in 2003, The Twilight Sad’s first few shows were restricted to their (almost) hometown of Glasgow, and bordered on the experimental. A break from the stage later, coupled with a focussed period of writing, and the quartet released a demo into the hands of FatCat, whose positive reception and continual displays of faith in the fledgling act eventually produced the aforementioned debut. Fourteen Autumns… attracted praise from across the critical board, with notoriously hard-to-please website Pitchfork awarding the album a mightily impressive 8.6 score; DiS, too, commended it greatly, with reviewer Ben Marwood commenting that the band’s future is almost certainly of the promising variety.
DiS caught up with the band’s Andy MacFarlane – The Twilight Sad are completed by James Graham, Mark Devine and Craig Orzel – shortly after their return from a third tour of the US to talk the past, the present, and the all-important future…
Hey Andy, how’s things?
Oh, okay. How’re things down there? You’re not in a boat or anything, what with all the flooding?
No, not quite. Although DiS is based in a basement, so we were worried for a little while. But anyway: you’re just back from the US…
Aye, and it was really great. It was our third time over there, and things are growing gradually, y’know? We played at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago – we opened it – and there were a good few thousand people there. We also played a night time gig in Chicago, too, at midnight. Chicago’s not that big, but the gig we played at night was completely packed. We were quite happy with that! The crowds there are getting bigger and bigger.
And this is something you’re noticing every time you go back: slowly increasing crowd sizes?
Yeah, things are growing as word’s spreading a bit more.
And is the same thing happening for you here in the UK?
Aye, but we’ve not really done so many gigs over here. I mean, like, we played a gig in Glasgow, and we don’t think all that many people know us there even though we’re sort of from there, as we’re always off everywhere else. D’you know the Oran Mor? It’s a big converted church, and that was completely rammed. We were quite taken aback by that, actually.
You played another church recently, too, right? The Union Chapel in London, with Nina Nastasia…
Aye, that was the second time we’d played there. The first time was with Micah P. Hinson. When we played with Nina we had to completely change our sound – there’s a limiter there because I think the neighbours complained or something at one point. So we kinda strip it down for shows like that. It’s a different side to the band.
It is quite different indeed, as usually your live shows are pretty loud. They’re even more intense than the record is…
I’ve always kinda felt that, if we went out and played a gig that sounded exactly like the album, you may as well have just stayed at home and listened to the album. We don’t find it interesting to perform that way, so when we do play live, we usually make everything noisier – it’s a big wall of noise for an hour, and then we walk off. That’s it, basically! The album’s got more wee layers and parts to it.
It’s as if the album’s more… polite?
Aye, that’s it. Definitely.
But that’s good, as your approach to playing live must blindside some people coming expecting, essentially, an album playback?
Yeah. The gigs we did in America, the best ones were the ones where we played smaller venues, venues that we could really fill. That way everyone’s in, really close, and we deafen them! There was one gig we played where we were so loud the pint glasses at the bar were falling down and smashing on the floor. I was quite impressed by that.
Perhaps you should start selling Twilight Sad-branded earplugs at your shows, or at least some sort of sheath to keep your pint in one piece…
Aye, maybe the glass holders, but not the earplugs. You’re meant to deafen the people, y’know!
The album, Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters: the reaction to it, critically, was almost exclusively positive. You must be very pleased…
Yeah, definitely. We didn’t expect anything like that – we just wrote a few songs to put out a record, but we didn’t expect anyone to particularly latch onto it. It’s all quite surreal – we never expected the reaction to be like it was.
Were you thinking that, maybe, the band would build to that level of appreciation over the course of a couple of albums?
Yeah, maybe. We’ve always seen this first album as just that, the first album. It’s not the definitive release, and we’re always keen to progress and change a bit. To just move on, basically. The band is a work in progress, you know…
But this reception must serve as sort of a vindication? It’s the pat on the back, the reassurance that what you’re doing is good, and now you can push on…
Yeah, and it’s given us the opportunities to open a few more doors, y’know.
A lot of first albums arrive after lengthy gestation periods, as songs are written over a course of years rather than months and then compiled as a debut. Was this the case with Fourteen Autumns…?
Not really. Four or five of the songs were written three or four weeks before we went into the studio, actually. We had this date marked, so we knew when we needed to have material finished by. We had some songs ready, but we wanted to work under a degree of pressure. We ended up writing what was almost half the album just before we went in.
I guess that can lead to a more focused, more coherent set of songs?
Yeah. Aye, definitely. There are a couple of songs on there that are a little older, but by a little older I’m talking months rather than years. It’s nothing like that, y’know. We haven’t really been into playing gigs for years and years before recording these songs, so we’re not tired of them or anything.
I saw one of the band joke in the recent issue of The Stool Pigeon that your next record could be a trance album. While that’s rather far-fetched, do you see the band’s next album being a marked step forwards?
Erm, I expect it to be a big progression, because we’re going to take a lot more time working on it. Obviously it won’t be anything as ridiculous as a trance record, but hopefully it will be a step or two on. We’ve started writing, but it’s hard to find a lot of time for that what with all the shows we’re playing. We’re chipping away at it, y’know, so hopefully it’ll piece together quite soon.
We’re in the middle of festival season, and I see you’re playing some – Connect in Scotland, and Oya in Norway being two we’ll be covering. How do you find playing these large stages?
Well, we played the O2 Arena with Snow Patrol, which was pretty big, and we’ve just played Roskilde in Denmark. We’ve obviously done Pitchfork, too. We prefer to play smaller places still, but you do get a good few thousand people watching you at festivals. We do like to see the whites of peoples’ eyes, though, and I think our approach is better suited to smaller places. But playing large events can be good – you get a good turnout. But you lose the intensity.
Have you been able to hang around at any of the festivals you’ve been at, or are you ushered in and out again fairly promptly?
It’s quite in and out. At Roskilde, we found out after we turned up that we were headlining one of the tents, which was weird as we were on after Muse and Arctic Monkeys. Because we were on late we sort of missed most of the acts, and the only place we got to see anyone was at the Pitchfork Festival, where we saw De La Soul and Stephen Malkmus. That had a really varied bill – the first day had Slint and Sonic Youth doing their albums, but the second day was pretty mixed, with Iron And Wine, us, Mastodon…
Did you see Mastodon? Awesome live, aren’t they?
Aye, we did. They were great. Cat Power was kicking about, and Yoko Ono headlined, with Thurston Moore playing with her. So it was pretty varied, and very good.
And who knows where all this will lead? Maybe next summer, if the album continues to attract fans, you could be up there on the main stage at somewhere like Glastonbury…
Aye, we’d obviously love to play Glastonbury. Hopefully things will carry on growing, and we’ll build up a wee following or something!
There was talk in the DiS office that, maybe, the album could have made the Mercury Prize shortlist. What are your thoughts on The View being the only Scottish band in the shortlist of twelve?
It makes me think that you need a lot of money to get into things like that! D’y’know, who wants to pay all that money just so you might get nominated for an award? I mean, it might be good to get nominated, but it doesn’t really bother us. We’re not doing this to win awards – we’re here to go out, do our own thing and play some songs.
And it must be a ball right now?
Aye, it is. And America is starting to feel a lot more familiar now, the more we go back. It’s great to get out and see places. The next place I hope we can go is Japan. I’m looking forward to seeing more places. Y’know, you play for an hour, so you get lots of time to go around and see things. There’s no way you could call it work!
To end on something of a trivial note: the record’s characterised by quite broad Scottish accents. Was that something of an obstacle in the States, where they have to subtitle televised interviews with people like the Gallaghers?
It was to begin with, but the more time you spend with them the more they understand. On our first trip there they didn’t have a clue what we were saying, especially when we’d talk amongst each other. Americans never had any idea what we were saying. But it’s not as bad as what you might think… although when James speaks through the mic, there’s no hope of them understanding what he’s saying.
I’m picturing a translator of some sort by the side of the stage, like the sign language translator on the Hollyoaks omnibus…
Aye, we’ll have to put the lyrics up on a screen or something. People often ask us what our lyrics are, and they often get them completely wrong. But people can think what they want…
Perhaps there’s fuel enough for a concept song based on misheard Twilight Sad lyrics…?
Aye, maybe… that’s an idea to keep in mind…
And then promptly forget about! It’s okay, my feelings are hardened… Anyway, thanks for your time…
Oh cool. Thanks for calling man…
The Twilight Sad’s debut album, Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters, is out now on FatCat. A single, 'And She Would Darken The Memory', was released earlier this week. For more information and confirmed live dates, click through to the band’s MySpace page, here.
Photograph by Javier Villegas