Embraced by a growing legion of fans but shunned by an increasingly chart pop-oriented UK summer festival circuit, The Twilight Sad's frontman James Graham looks back on a bittersweet 12 months
“It's been a strange year,” confesses The Twilight Sad’s de facto spokesman James Graham, ‘still jetlagged oot his nut’ from a successful run in the US alongside sometime touring compadres Errors. Having spent the summer in exile from the UK festival scene, praise for the Kilsyth trio’s chilling, electro-tinged third album was a heartening boost. “There were a lot of highlights,” he elaborates. “We were overwhelmed by how well the album was received. But this has also been one of the hardest years in the band.”
If The Twilight Sad’s swan dive into shoegaze territory with 2009’s Forget the Night Ahead blindsided those hoping for a regurgitation of their startling debut Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, No One Can Ever Know led them further down the rabbit hole. Forward-looking, yet imbued with the DNA of their spiritual ancestors, the album makes tasteful nods to everyone from The Cure (see Nil’s masterfully executed gothic atmosphere) and vintage Manics (the bridge to Don’t Move is pure Holy Bible) to Depeche Mode (Another Bed shows they can create sinister electro anti-anthems worthy of the greats).
Framed by guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s austere musical vision, James’s typically cryptic and evocative lyrics – delivered in that unmistakable brogue – remain a compelling point of interest. “I wouldn't have done anything differently on No One Can Ever Know,” he offers in retrospect. “We produced exactly what we wanted to. I'm still extremely proud of this album.” To boot, the band recently released a remix companion album, featuring radical synth-heavy reinterpretations by kindred spirits and fellow magpies-in-arms such as The Horrors and Liars.
So why the long faces? With three albums and countless successful tours – at home, across the pond and throughout Europe – under their collective belts, you’d imagine that this rock'n'roll caper should be getting easier. “We love what we do and we're very lucky to have been given the opportunities that we have,” affirms James. “[Our] passion to write music and play live is as strong as it ever was, but in a business that craves the ‘next big thing,’ things aren’t going to come easily to a band that writes music like ours. Not that I ever wanted them to; I knew from day one we'd need to work extra hard to make this band work and thought if we put the work in and stayed true to ourselves some pay-offs would hopefully come our way.”
While T4-endorsed Top Shop rock continues to dominate the airwaves, it’s a thrill to see The Twilight Sad roll the dice with such conviction. But the question remains: Where is the upward trajectory for a Scottish band that won’t do the dance with mainstream radio? In Katowice, it would appear. “We didn't play many festivals this year, which was disappointing – we were told on several occasions that we're ‘not a festival band,’” says James. “I think that was proved to be wrong when we played in front of three thousand people at a festival in Poland. We might move to Eastern Europe.”
Undeterred by the fickle politics of the industry, the band’s attention now turns to album number four. “We’re in the middle of writing it just now,” James reveals. “I really hope we can have something new out in 2013. No One Can Ever Know has opened the door to so many ideas and things we can do musically. I think it's going to be a big sounding album. Our fourth album will be very important in deciding the future of this band.”
Before they bunker down to “writing, demoing, moaning and drinking” their way through Hogmanay, there’s the tantalising prospect of their forthcoming headline gig at the Barrowlands alongside Fat Cat comrades-in-arms We Were Promised Jetpacks and heavy-handed West Coast riff-lords, Holy Mountain. “We haven't even played the gig yet but I'm hoping it will be a career highlight,” he says. "I think it will be. The support we receive from home never fails to amaze me." See you down the front?