Last month, The Twilight Sad re-issued their astonishing debut Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters as a special deluxe double vinyl package for Record Store Day. Here, vocalist James Graham and guitarist Andy MacFarlane gave Drowned In Sound a track-by-track guide to the album and how each song developed.
They've also recently completed a short UK tour, playing the album chronologically in its entirety alongside a selection of rarely heard b-sides and EP tracks. It was before their sold out (Yes, SOLD OUT) show at Manchester's Deaf Institute over the May Bank Holiday weekend that DiS caught up with the band. There, as well as discussing the album's origins and reasons for reissue, the band also talked about Record Store Day, touring and their as-yet untitled fourth album, scheduled to come out in October.
DiS: What persuaded you to tour Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters again seven years after its initial release?
James Graham: We were asked to do two gigs in Glasgow around Christmas time and it was suggested that we perform the first record. We thought about it and eventually decided why not. We've always done Christmas shows in Glasgow so thought it would be good to do something a bit different. Plus the band was ten years old last year which was another reason to do it and after that things just steamrolled. The vinyl hadn't been available for three or four years so it made sense to get that back out there again. We had people writing to us all the time asking where they can get Fourteen Autumns... from and we didn't know ourselves...
Andy MacFarlane: I don't think I've got a copy of it.
James Graham: It was after that when we decided rather than just repressing the same one again why not put all the demos together and make it a nice package instead. So then Record Store Day was suggested as a possible release date and then the tour was suggested and here we are now!
DiS: Quite a few of the reissued albums appeared on eBay straight after Record Store Day, which is quite sad especially for hardcore fans who've waited so long to be able to get hold of a copy. Do you think Record Store Day's lost its concept and meaning now?
James Graham: Definitely. It was bad enough the reissue was only limited to 500 copies in the first place. We wanted as many people to be able to get hold of a copy as possible, and we are looking into putting it out again in the future.
Andy MacFarlane: Record Store Day used to be a good idea but it needs a change now. Every day should be Record Store Day. Maybe it could be spread out through the year or something? It seems like every label puts out something just for one day and then people end up buying it just to flog it on, which means genuine fans end up missing out.
James Graham: There just seems to be a lot of pointless releases associated with it as well. The idea of it is great. People going into a record store and buying music. That's what everybody wants. But then seeing Fourteen Autumns... on eBay for £130 an hour after the shops have opened makes your heart sink. Somebody out there really wanted that record and you've been out and bought it just to make money for yourself.
Andy MacFarlane: Record shops do make a lot of money out of it which keeps them going for the next year. I don't want to see record shops shut down in any way. There aren't that many left now as it is. You go to a place like Aberdeen and there is no record shop. So for them it's great but there must be another way they can spread Record Store Day out? Because at the moment, people are being ripped off and not getting the music they want. I'll leave it to someone far more intelligent than me to come up with an idea for that but it has to change. I don't think we'll do another full-on release for Record Store Day again while it's like it is. For me, that release should have gone to anybody and everybody who wanted it. I don't like seeing people not being able to get something they really wanted.
DiS: Since its release in 2007 the album's gained recognition to the point where many publications and critics now cite it as one of the greatest debuts of the century. Did you ever think it would be held in such high esteem?
James Graham: No, not at all! It's nice to hear. It was the first opportunity we had to introduce ourselves to the world and that record did everything we wanted it to do. It's a bit daunting to think people regard it so highly but then it definitely connected with a lot of people. Not in their hundred-thousands but people that actually got to hear it seemed to cling on to it. And they're the kind of records you want to make. Ones that people really cherish and will always go back to year upon year. It's a nice feeling. We're very lucky that the kind of people who like our music are also very passionate about it.
DiS: Looking back, is there anything you'd do differently if you had the chance to record Fourteen Autumns... again?
Andy MacFarlane: I think we'd record it a lot better. We were all very inexperienced at that age. I wouldn't go back and change anything though. That's where we were at that point. If you listen to all of our records in chronological order it shows how we've gradually progressed.
James Graham: I think if we did it now it would be a totally different record. It documents a certain space and time, and that's where we were when we made that record. I've never really gone back and listened to it since. I'm not one for looking back once we've finished something. I prefer to look forward and move on to the next record. So before we started this tour, I had to go back and listen to it again because I'd forgotten quite a lot of the songs. It ended up being quite nostalgic, bringing back memories of being on tour around that time. It also made me wish I'd appreciated that record more back then, taken it all in. It also made me feel quite depressed because we sounded really young on it! But I wouldn't change anything because it represents who we were at that time. When I listened back I was actually really proud that we'd managed to achieve something like that knowing what idiots we were at that time! It was nice but weird listening to it again.
DiS: It was also the first time you'd worked with producer Peter Katis. What did he bring to the recording process?
Andy MacFarlane: We tracked it all in Glasgow at CaVa and Chem 19 studios. Then we took it to him. He knocked it into shape as it was the first time we'd ever been in a studio, so we didn't really have much of a clue. He turned it into something. We just carried on gigging while he was doing it.
James Graham: He made this really good pasta as well!
Andy MacFarlane: Again, the record would have been very different if he hadn't been involved. I remember falling asleep on his mixing desk one night because we were just so knackered!
DiS: Were any of the songs which ended up as b-sides on some of the earlier singles and EPs ever considered for the album? For example, songs like 'Three Seconds Of Dead Air' or 'Watching That Chair Painted Yellow'.
Andy MacFarlane: At that point, those songs weren't really developed enough because we'd written the majority of them just a couple of weeks before we went in the studio to record the album. A lot of it was underdeveloped; certainly 'Three Seconds Of Dead Air'.
James Graham: Going back to your earlier question about whether I'd do anything differently with Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, I'd probably include 'Three Seconds Of Dead Air' this time around. We didn't record it during the album sessions. We recorded it on another session. The version we're playing on this tour is more like the way we intended it to sound. We just became so annoyed with it, so looking back, if we could have made that song bigger and better than it was there's every chance it would have ended up on the album. At the same time, it does seem to have developed a life all of its own. Whenever we play live there's always someone who'll shout for it, which is kinda nice. We all like the actual song.
Mark Devine: It's just the recording process we didn't like. I couldn't touch that song for years.
James Graham: There was a time when the mere mention of that song was like somebody punching us in the stomach.
Andy MacFarlane: The album turned out great and we're happy with it but if we could have recorded a definitive version of that song; not only for Fourteen Autumns... but maybe even somewhere else it would have been cool. So to see it getting a bit of a resurgence on this tour is nice.
DiS: Fourteen Autumns... also manages to capture the intensity of the band's live show, which is some achievement considering it was your first time in a studio and recorded in just three days. Was it your intention to try and record it as near to playing live as possible?
Andy MacFarlane: We hadn't actually played many gigs up to that point. I think we'd only done three or four shows spread over three years or something so we didn't really know how to play live either. It really was a case of being flung in at the deep end. We went in the studio to record the album then flew out to America to play some shows. It was a big learning experience for us.
DiS: The re-issue also includes several demo recordings including a couple of untitled tracks which have never been released before. Were you intending to go back to these at a later date or had they just become lost in the archives over time?
Andy MacFarlane: They were just demos that we left with Fat Cat Records.
James Graham: It's basically the first demo we ever made. 'That Summer At Home I Became The Invisible Boy' was #1 and then there was 'Untitled #2' and 'Untitled #4'.
Andy MacFarlane: They were that good we couldn't even name them!
James Graham: All four tracks were untitled at the time, and Andy did some nice packaging with it and we sent it to Fat Cat. That's what got us signed in the end. And then the other ones were recordings we made in our studio in Cumbernauld. We just realised you could make them in your house! There's something about them that sounds rough and lo-fi, which is really cool.
DiS: You've been through a couple of line-up changes over the years. Who's in the band now? Will The Twilight Sad remain a core three-piece for the foreseeable future?
James Graham: We're a five-piece for the purposes of playing live. John Docherty plays bass and Brendan Smith plays keyboards. He used to be in The Unwinding Hours. He's also Martin "Dok" Doherty - our old keyboard player's - best friend as well. So we're a bit of a gang whenever we go away on tour. As far as writing goes it's just the three of us.
DiS: Your most recent long player No One Can Ever Know came out in 2012. Are you in the process of making a follow-up?
James Graham: The new album's being mixed right now by Peter Katis.
Andy MacFarlane: That's nearly done. There's just a couple of things to finish here and there then it will be ready for mastering. Hopefully within the next week or two.
DiS: When are you planning to release it?
James Graham: Hopefully before the end of October.
DiS: Will there be a tour for the album?
Andy MacFarlane: Yeah, there'll be a tour for it as well.
James Graham: We're a band that likes touring. I didn't really enjoy it to begin with. I didn't know what to expect from it if I'm being honest. I guess that's another regret from the band's early days. Not enjoying touring more. Now I realise it is a lot of fun and great to do. I miss touring when we aren't doing it. So yeah, we'll be out getting drunk in every fair city that wants to take us.
DiS: Is that because you've achieved a certain longevity and regularly sell out venues in some cities?
James Graham: Selling out venues isn't a common occurrence, honestly! This tour has been an exception to the rule rather than the norm. The past two nights in London and then here playing to rooms full of people have been great. It gives us a bit of confidence as well. It was nice at the start when we felt we had to win people over but when we're still trying to do the same thing seven years later, you do sometimes think to yourself don't people like us yet? As Andy was saying earlier, when we first started we didn't know what touring was all about. Getting in the back of a van and not knowing how it worked. The whole business of what it was about. Now we know what it's about and having the feeling of playing gigs in front of people that know and like our music and want to see us play has become really addictive. That's one of the reasons why we're still going. Bands at our level might not get the opportunity to make four albums. We might have some low moments but then it only takes that one amazing gig to remind us why we're doing this. Why we're putting the work in. At the moment we're striving to get that feeling every night. If there's a room full of people wanting to hear your music that's the best feeling in the world. So we're working hard every night to make sure that happens. It's not about making money. It's about making enough money to be able to keep on doing it.
Andy MacFarlane: If you have to work for something then you appreciate it more in the long run. You fight to keep it, whereas if you get something too easy you become complacent. So I'm happy that we've got to this stage purely through hard work and nothing more. If we ever become a success it's nice to know we did it this way.
DiS: James, you've been playing some shows with Aidan Moffat as part of his "Where You're Meant To Be" project. How did that come about and will you be collaborating with him again in the future?
James Graham: I'll be collaborating with him again in the pub that's for sure! I'm surprised I've survived some nights out with him. I've always said from day one that Arab Strap were a massive band for me. We're all friends with Aidan now and Malcolm (Middleton) too. He just asked me to sing on this project he was doing. He's been adapting old Scottish folk songs, largely sticking to the traditional arrangements but then adding lots of Aidanisms like "fucks" and "cunts" here and there. I'm mainly just singing on the choruses but it's been a lot of fun and I've got to see parts of Scotland I'd never seen before. It's also been filmed for a documentary. I think they're taking it to a few film festivals. He's mic'd up all the time, so I'm kinda worried what I've been saying about these two! It was just one of those opportunities that came along when Aidan asked me to do it. It fitted in with what we were doing and it's been fun. It can only benefit our band in the long run if any of us get the chance to branch out and do different things every now and then.
DiS: You're playing two shows at this year's Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. Will they be Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters based or a mix of new and old material?
James Graham: We got told about these the day we sold out our Glasgow show. That sold out in about two hours which was amazing and then we received an offer to play at Primavera which was just incredible. It's probably the most prestigious festival in the world. We're doing one show on the Friday night which will be a mixture of all the albums and some new songs as well. Then we're considering doing Fourteen Autumns... for the Saturday afternoon show in the park. We just need to make sure the stage is sufficient to be able to do that. It just seems daft not to take the opportunity to try and do something special at an event like that. Although just getting the opportunity to play it and be a part of that line-up means so much to us anyway.
DiS: Which bands are you looking forward to seeing?
Andy MacFarlane: Television playing Marquee Moon should be good. I want to see Arcade Fire, I want to see The National, I want to see Mogwai and Chvrches as well. I'm going to drunk a lot.
James Graham: Nine Inch Nails are playing too. It's just an incredible bill.
DiS: You recently played a couple of shows with the Manic Street Preachers. Their fans can be notoriously difficult to win over as a support band. What kind of reception did you get? Are you all fans of the Manics?
James Graham: We're all massive Manics fans so we put ourselves forward for the entire tour not just the Scottish dates. Everything Must Go was the first album I ever bought. I remember sticking it in my mum's shopping trolley underneath something so she didn't see it until we got to the checkout and she was like, 'What is this?' The first gig I ever went to was also the Manics at the SECC with The Boo Radleys supporting. That was before I went to high school, so when I finally went there and met Andy I found out he liked the Manics as well. When we all started playing together it turned into a bit of a Manics tribute band. We played pretty much every single Manics song that came out. So it was massive for us, especially in the year where you're revisiting your debut album and then you get to support one of the bands that got you into music in the first place. It was a massive deal, and the fact James Dean Bradfield watched both our soundchecks and both gigs from the side of the stage then told me afterwards he was focused on my moves. We've been at Manics gigs where the support band hasn't been well received, the cases in point being Ian Brown, the Boo Radleys and Starsailor. Having that in our minds, we were a bit unsure whether they'd like us but to be fair the audiences were great. I think we won them over. People that didn't know the band before those shows are now fans. We didn't really do those shows for that reason. It was more about being able to say we'd played with the Manics, but then to come away with more people liking our music was the icing on the cake. What makes it even more special is that Dave McGeechan, who runs DF Concerts for King Tuts in Glasgow has a really great relationship with the Manics. He went to see them last year and managed to get us into the gig. He was chatting away to Nicky Wire and told him he was working with this band called The Twilight Sad, and Nicky replied he had all our albums and thought we were great. When Dave came back and told us we were all speechless! Andy celebrated in fine form...
Andy MacFarlane: I can't remember that night!
DiS: You're also headlining Drowned In Sound's Independent Music Awards show at London's Lexington on Friday 25th July. What can we expect from that show?
Andy MacFarlane: I'd like to think we'll be playing a lot of the new songs by then. When I listen back to the album it's difficult to decide which of the new songs not to play. There are songs on the record I want to get playing right now. That's how confident I am in these songs. I'm even prepared to knock some of the old ones out the set they're that good.
James Graham: It will be a mix of everything but with an emphasis on the new material.
DiS: Are there any new artists you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
Andy MacFarlane: No they should just listen to us!
James Graham: This year we've been that tied up in writing and recording so we haven't heard that much new music, which probably sounds quite bad. It's true though. We've been concentrating on what we do. I really like Eagulls. I went to see them at Nice'n'Sleazys and they were great. No bullshit or attitude, they just came out and played. I like them a lot actually.
Tickets to the Drowned In Sound/AIM Independent Music Awards show at the Lexington on 25th July can be purchased here.
For more information on The Twilight Sad visit their official website.