Two years ago, The Twilight Sad emerged from the Glaswegian underground with Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters, a record that shook the foundations of corporate rock and re-invigorated a scene many thought had long passed its sell-by date. Fusing post-rock and shoegaze influences with scurrilous dark lyrical asides, the album went on to feature in the upper echelons of many serious music publications' end of year lists, and in the process highlighted its creators wares to a whole new audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Since then, between sporadic live shows and the EP 'Here It Never Snowed, Afterwards It Did' (which mainly featured reworkings of older songs among the odd new composition), the band have been busy writing, demoing and subsequently recording their new long player, Forget The Night Ahead, which is due for release in the third week of September. Fresh off a US tour with Mogwai, DiS caught up with frontman and lyricist James Graham before their recent Fat Cat Records showcase at this year's Great Escape...
Your new album is due out in September. What can you tell us about it?
Well I can tell you that the title is definitely going to be Forget The Night Ahead for starters, because I was doing an interview a few days ago with Pitchfork and the interviewer told me what the title was. I asked him "How do you know this?", and he said that our publicist had told him! I was quite taken aback at the time, as we hadn't really discussed when we were going to reveal much about the record. You know, we're not into making big announcements and stuff, we'd rather just have told everybody when we were ready. We recorded it in the same place as last time with Paul Savage (The Delgados) who also mixed it, our guitarist Andy (MacFarlane) produced it, and basically we think it's a big step forward for us.
Are there any plans for a single to precede the album?
Well, you've probably heard the download of 'Reflection Of The Television' which we've just made available. That will be on the record, and we are planning to put a single out sometime beforehand, but we're not quite sure which track that will be at this moment in time. Its like with the first record; 'Cold Days In The Birdhouse' was originally meant to be nothing more than a b-side, and then we kind of...unleashed this monster. I feel the same way about the first track on this record. In fact, we actually recorded fifteen songs in total and at the end we were like, "Shit, what are we gonna leave off the record?" I mean, no album should have that many songs on it but making that final cull was a tough, tough decision. One thing we didn't want 'Forget The Night Ahead' to be was just a collection of songs; we think that this record actually flows more than the first one, and I think people will be surprised that there are more conventional "songs" here than we've previously written.
Video: 'And She Would Darken The Memory'
Radio friendly even?
I wouldn't go that far! I mean, the most obvious choice for me as a first single would be a song called 'I Became A Prostitute', yet just the title alone will have scuppered any chance that little ditty ever had of getting played on the radio.
On the last tour we saw you play in March 2008 you were playing a couple of new songs which didn't appear on the 'Here It Never Snowed...' EP. Have they made it onto the new album?
The two untitled songs that we put on that tour CD, (The Twilight Sad) Killed My Parents And Hit The Road, they're both on the new record. We started playing one of them ('Untitled #27') as a fast song and then we stripped it down to an almost acoustic-type level for the '...Killed My Parents And Hit The Road' CD. We just felt that we wanted to let the song breathe, and that was never going to happen if we hit it at full pelt. Apart from those two, everything else on there is brand new material that we haven't played live before.
How would you compare Forget The Night Ahead in terms of lyrical themes and song structures with those on Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters?
You can definitely tell it's us, but at the same time I feel we've made an obvious progression too. I mean, the first album was recorded in three days, whereas this has been written and recorded over two years, and we're more accustomed now to the whole process. To me, the album itself sounds less produced than 'Fourteen Autumns...'. Its rougher round the edges and far from clean sounding, which is what we've always been trying to achieve rather than a polished record. We wanted to try and create a balance between melody and aggression, which on the surface might seem contradictory but I think that's what defines us as a band, certainly as far as playing live goes at any rate. There's a whole lot more instruments on 'Forget The Night Ahead' as well. In terms of the lyrics, I think the songwriting has moved on as well; it's still quite dark but I think there's a lot more depth in what we're trying to say. On the surface some of the songs might seem obvious but you'll definitely need to look into the words more to understand where we're coming from I think! All the lyrics were written during a six-month period when things weren't going too well for me and I made a bit of an arse of myself at times! It's about how it affected the people around me, and in some ways what happened to them as well. In some ways I guess that's where the title Forget The Night Ahead comes from, almost like a way of blocking out that period of my life.
What do the rest of the band think of the lyrics? Do they have any input regarding the subject matter, particularly if the words directly (or indirectly) reference them?
We don't really talk about it that much. Me and Andy (MacFarlane) always write together to begin with and I always filter my stuff through him, and nine times out of ten he's happy with it. When we're trying to come up with song titles me and Andy will bounce ideas off each other, and sometimes we'll arrive at a name that may have absolutely nothing to do with the song's lyrical content whatsoever. Sometimes Andy will take the piss out of me a wee bit! He'll come up with alternate versions of songs which I guess relieves the tension, but aside from moments like that we never really discuss what the songs are about to be honest.
Video: 'I Became A Prostitute'
Its been two years between both albums. Have your label, Fat Cat been supportive all the way through the process or would they have rather it been ready for release sooner, maybe to build on the back of 'Fourteen Autumns...' success?
I think they would have liked the record to have come out last year, but ultimately we weren't ready. We find it difficult writing new songs while on tour, and the last thing we wanted to do was just rush a new record out for the sake of it that in the long term, neither us nor the label would have been satisfied with; you know, why ruin all the good work that we've done this far? I'm so glad we didn't now as well, because the finished article is so much better than it would have been. The last thing any of us want is for The Twilight Sad to be considered nothing more than just a flash in the pan. If it takes time then so be it.
There must be a heavy burden of expectation placed around Forget The Night Ahead though, particularly bearing in mind how successful Fourteen Autumns... ending up being?
To be honest I'm absolutely shitting myself! I'm proud of what we've done and I am confident and happy with the new songs, and everybody who's heard them has given us nothing but praise, but you never know what everyone else is going to be thinking. It's like, with the first record, not many people knew who we were so there was no pressure or expectation, whereas now there are a lot of people who genuinely can't wait to hear the next record.
The artwork on all of your releases to date has followed a similar, and quite distinctive pattern. Will Forget The Night Ahead and its accompanying singles feature similar images on their front sleeves?
Yeah they will. The artwork for the album is actually being put together as we speak. The same guy as before, Dave Thomas from the label, is doing the sleeve for us. I think we'll always work with him. It would be nice to see five records in a row with a similar theme and you'd be able to tell straight away who the artists were without having to look at the name. We view the artwork in a similar way to how we see our music really; people will instantly be aware its us except we're trying to take it to another level really. It's very 1950s orientated again, except we want it to be quite bold with maybe a shocking image on the front.
Although you've picked up quite a following in both post-rock and shoegaze circles, it's hard to imagine The Twilight Sad ever really being defined by or attached to any one particular scene.
Too right, and that's the way we'd rather it stays! I've never been one to associate myself with any fads or scenes, so I don't see why the band has to be either. I think we're unique in what we do, and therefore capable of standing on our own two feet. I mean, if people wish to categorise us then so be it, but we're not going to play on that or pay too much attention to it.
There's been quite a huge focus on Glasgow's music scene over the past couple of years, possibly emanating from your initial success and continuing via your label mates Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks. Do you think that carries an extra weight of responsibility for the band?
In some ways. I mean, we don't want to be seen as "the nearly men". That might seem like a really crass statement but I do love this band and I genuinely believe we're better than 99% of the shit that gets released these days, and I don't see anything wrong in having that attitude either. I have to chuckle when people comment on Scotland being the hub of new music when in all honesty for every good band there are probably fifty shite ones! Someone once asked me where I saw us in the grand scheme of things musically, and I said that we're not really any more well-known than a band who've just been signed. It's like, we've always been well received by the likes of Drowned In Sound and Pitchfork.
Video: 'Talking With Fireworks' (live)
On your last tour, and also here this evening, (former Aereogramme) Dok is still playing with the band. Has he now become a full-time member of The Twilight Sad or is he still primarily only part of the live set-up?
He does play on the record, although we've still not had that discussion yet as to whether he's permanently involved with the band. Personally, I'd like him in the band; I think he's quite integral to what we do now. I mean, we're struggling to survive as a band at this moment in time...from a financial point of view, and so to include him wouldn't make a difference in terms of five-way royalty splits because there's nothing coming in anyway.
Will you be playing any festivals this summer as well?
Nobody's asked us! Maybe they've forgotten about us? I'm kind of disheartened by the fact that we don't get asked to do many festivals...we are doing one, Hop Farm, but that's not a great line-up if I'm being honest. The other year the headline act was Neil Young; this year its The Fratellis! I mean...we'll still play it, but ideally it would be nice to play as many of these kind of things as possible.
Finally, are there any other bands you think we should be checking out at this moment in time who maybe haven't received the recognition they deserve?
I think most of the bands I like are starting to gain a bit of recognition now...Errors, Remember Remember, My Latest Novel. I don't tend to go to that many gigs at the moment. I'm more inclined to wait for the record and if I like that I'll probably catch a band live but...The Phantom Band are the most recent that spring to mind. Their song 'The Island' is the best thing I've heard this year.
The Twilight Sad will be playing the Hop Farm Festival on 4th July.
The album Forget The Night Ahead is set to be released via Fat Cat Records on 21st September.
For information on the band visit their MySpace.
Photo by Nic Shonfield