The Xcerts: Under the Influence
As The Xcerts get ready to release their third album, Hold on to Your Heart, frontman Murray Macleod tells us about the influential songs which helped shape the album
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
[Long After Dark, 1982]
Tom Petty is without doubt one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His craft and class was effortless! His influence is very apparent on our new record but it was the idea of simplifying that really shaped the songs. Once you clock how much breathing space there is in pretty much every single Tom Petty song, you realise how unnecessary it is to overcomplicate and how many more layers and textures you can add to a song. Even though the songs on Hold on to Your Heart are very simple and lean, if you really hone in, you'll hear so much additional production and instrumentation. Simplifying everything proved to be pretty challenging at points as there is a fine line between tasteful and dumb.
Ryan Adams – So Alive
[Rock n Roll, 2003]
I've been a fan of Ryan Adams for years now but I don't think his influence has ever shone through in my/our writing, until now that is. I remember seeing the video for So Alive late one night when I was a teenager, on 120 Minutes – which was the finest show on MTV2 at the time – and I remember the song really connecting with me. It's like a Replacements fan writing a song inspired by U2. Rock n Roll is by no means my favourite Ryan Adams record but this song is so emotive, simple and the vocal take is unbelievably captivating.
Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
[She's So Unusual, 1983]
Cyndi Lauper's writing is so unfathomably good. When I listen to her, I genuinely believe she is a higher being. The way the chorus melody flows in this song is so heartbreaking and lush. Light and dark coexist in a lot of her songs which is something that really inspired my lyric writing for this new record. I used to think in order to be a cathartic writer, you had to write about the dark and the negative which is absolute horse shit of course. Life is full of light, dark, ups, downs, beauty, horror... I really wanted the record to portray life and my experiences in a much more honest way.
The Cure – Just Like Heaven
[Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, 1987]
The Cure have been a ubiquitous force in the rehearsal room, seemingly infecting all aspects of the songwriting process yet leaving no glaring watermark. Just Like Heaven is one of the band's more joyful songs but still has the air of melancholy present in much of their music. Hold on to Your Heart as a record is a mix of ups and downs, mirroring the plots of the movies that inspire it and treading the same path The Cure have always done, encountering both light and shade.
Big Star – September Gurls
[Radio City, 1974]
Big Star are a band I've known of for years, but only really began listening to during the writing of this record. We didn't just decide we were gonna 'go 80s', we just organically moved in to more considered, simple songwriting because we were listening to artists like Tom Petty and Big Star, who made careers on producing well written pop songs that have stood the test of time. If we are ever mentioned in the same sentence as Big Star, or any of our music becomes revered the way September Gurls is, we will be proud boys.
Don Henley – New York Minute
[The End of Innocence, 1989]
Daydream was one of the first songs we wrote for this record and it was certainly the sound that determined the music to follow. Boys of Summer by Don Henley was the vibe that Daydream subscribed to but his 1989 hit New York Minute, I feel, inspired a lot of Hold on to Your Heart's melodic sensibilities and showed us that a chorus can be a bold statement that stops you in your tracks like New York traffic.
Bruce Springsteen – Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
[Born to Run, 1975]
Hands down my favourite song off Born to Run, which is, obviously, mental and wrong, considering the undeniable classics that litter the rest of the album. But [it] clearly illustrates how important a single, pedalled-piano chord, that you can play with one hand, while wearing sunglasses, and, with the other, gesture, coolly, towards the band’s singer, who is Bruce Springsteen, is to me, when I’m making these kinds of decisions... I just realised, right now, that I need to go and start an upmarket mobile-catering company called ‘Spruce String-Bean’.
Tom Waits – Johnsburg, Illinois
This song reminds me of Hemingway and his friends writing six-word stories together (google it, m8). The goal of the exercise was to cram as much information, as much emotional weight into the story as possible using only six words. Tom Waits can make me feel more in a minute-and-a half drunken piano-ditty than some close personal friends have made me feel in our entire relationships together. Figure THAT one out, Mr. Therapist.
Prince – The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
[Sign o' the Times, 1987]
Totally and utterly bonkers song with equally wackadoo production that I will never fully wrap my brain around. “Is that a Clavinet (electric clavichord) and a Rhodes (piano) playing the same part?” “Why is he taking a bubble bath with his pants on?” So many questions... Especially dig the crazy, too-loud-drum-machine snare rolls, and the fact Prince can turn me on by ordering a fruit cocktail.