Under the Influence: The Twilight Sad

Ahead of their landmark gig at the Barras this month, James Graham and Andy MacFarlane revisit the albums that inspired them to form a band in the first place

Feature by Dave Kerr | 07 Dec 2012

1. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible (1994)
James: The first album I bought by the Manics was Everything Must Go. That would have been in 96 when I was 12; I was in the supermarket and did that old thing you do with your maw when you stick a CD in underneath a loaf of bread and they don’t notice until they get to the checkout. They were the first band I saw live, over at the SECC with the Boo Radleys in 97. Shortly after that I got The Holy Bible. We were in school at that point and I remember we’d had a concert in front of all the parents, who had turned up to see their daughters and sons do their nice clarinet quartet stuff. I got up and sang This Is Yesterday. Was it you who backed me up on guitar, Andy?
Andy: It was 100% not me, because I had to go to another school and do something…
James: Oh right, special school? The School of Rock? But anyway, from that age, that’s the first band and the first album that I still go back to. I bought the reissue recently. It’s pretty dark, obviously, and I think our last record, musically, is more suited to that sort of atmosphere. Everything about it – the artwork, the lyrics – fits the mood of the kind of stuff we write and gets us in that mind frame before we start. They were the first band I properly got obsessed with – like, I’ve got everything they’ve ever done – b-sides, the lot.
Andy: Both of us were.

2. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
James: It’s the tenth anniversary of this coming up. It was actually Andy who gave me it.
Andy: I was trying to expand his mind! Well, just let him hear something else...
James: They came out at a time when there wasn’t much going on in music that I liked – there was nothing striking me.
Andy: Well, it was just after The Strokes, and they weren’t quite so poppy...
James: It still had that New York ‘cool’ thing about it, but there was a lot more to it. I quite liked the Strokes, but then it was just copycats, copycats, copycats. This had a lot of substance to it. I mean obviously, it was in Friends as well, when Joey and Rachel kissed for the first time – Untitled came on. That’s what got me intae it! Ha. Luckily enough we ended up working with Peter Katis, the same guy who produced that album. I remember he was making us pasta, on his fridge he had the notes and chord progressions for each song – like Obstacle One, which he’d kept from the sessions. It was a nice thing to see.
Andy: For me, that first one was all about those basslines. Carlos D wasn’t even a bassplayer, he was a composer! The guitars were almost playing what the bass would’ve been, he was fannying about playing anything, and it sounded amazing!
James: He did look like a cool bastard.

3. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)
Andy: This, to me, is the best Smiths album. Everything about it. From a guitarist’s point of view, it’s pretty unique. The first time I heard this, I rented it out of the library in the 90s. It must have been when What’s the Story came out; I remember Noel Gallagher talking about The Smiths and Johnny Marr’s guitar playing, and when I finally heard it I was like ‘How could he like that? It just sounds like wee jangly nonsense.' So I rented it out, sat and listened and I’m thinking ‘I don’t get it – whit?’ Eventually it just all clicked and I could finally see where he was coming from. I put in a lot of listening time at college!

4. Arab Strap – Monday at the Hug & Pint (2003)
James: Andy gave me this one as well…
Andy: I was trying to talk you into singing! I said ‘Look, you don’t even need to put on a funny accent – listen to this plum!’ He was singing at that point, but it was always Manics tunes. This is when we were about 16.
James: I just went into music class one day and was made to sing Australia by our teacher in front of the whole class. Then youse went ‘Right, we’ll get you to sing in the band.’ Andy made me a mix CD, saying ‘Look, I think these might inspire you,’ and it was Fucking Little Bastards that was on it. I was like ‘fuck – what’s that?’ So, for me, to hear Aidan writing about the normal things that happen to him, in his own dialect, I didn’t so much want to copy him – I just wanted to be brave enough to be myself like he was. Andy was going on at me for years, saying ‘I know you can write a tune.’ I’d just say ‘Och, I dunno, man.’ Me being jolted out of that was definitely something to do with hearing this record. It spiralled after that. Arab Strap were monumental to me.

5. David Bowie – Low (1977)
Andy: I’ve always listened to Bowie, even since I was really wee. As far back as I can remember – probably since I watched Labyrinth! When you listen to Bowie, he always seems familiar. Low was obviously around that whole Berlin period, when he was trying to sound like Kraftwerk and Neu! It’s just amazing. But that’s David Bowie – he finds a bit of music and thinks ‘I’m going to rip that whole genre off.’ He did it amazingly well here, particularly for being such a mainstream guy by that point. I mean Sound and Vision’s on there, but that’s the one single; then there’s this collage of small, really well written ideas. You’d get to the end and realise he’d somehow written a song that sounds like Steve Reich! He was just moving on and trying to reinvent himself. David Bowie’s somebody I’ll always go back to – none of his albums sound the same. It’s a good reminder to keep on pushing yourself.

6. The Beach Boys – Friends (1968) / 20/20 (1969)
James: This is a weird one, because there’s two different versions of this album since it was reissued. I got the version that comes on the one CD from the fiver wall in Music Zone Direct. Pet Sounds is going to be the obvious one to choose if you like the Beach Boys, but the songs on this one felt like they had a lot less production. A lot of them are demos anyway, but I liked that quality to it. On songs like Anna Lee, The Healer you were hearing the bare bones. It was really simple. You can have the big songs, but when you strip it bare to its elements it works on a totally different level. That’s what I liked about that record, and it’s something we try to do. I wouldn’t like to be in a band that couldn’t. For vocal melodies, they’re the top dogs, but this wasn’t about five voices harmonising at the same time – it’s just one guy singing on most of these songs. When I write I’ll try and reach the kind of notes that were happening here, to try and replicate what they were doing in a way. Some of the lyrics here are pretty heartbreaking too, just listen to Little Bird.

7. Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Andy: I remember when I was in primary school, learning how to play the guitar, Black Sabbath were one of the first bands I’d become engrossed by, trying to figure out how to play their songs. I always thought that if I could play guitar like Tony Iommi and Slash I’d be laughing! It's turned out I don't play like any of them, right enough, but the thought was there. Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard and I still go back to it. I don't know what it must have sounded like at the time, because 42 years later it still has this really massive sound – opening with a song like War Pigs and finishing with Fairies Wear Boots? You can't really better that.

8. Joy Division – Closer (1980)
Andy: Everything about this album is just amazing; from Martin Hannett’s production upwards. You can still listen to it now and it’s really pure and fresh sounding. One of the things I like about Joy Division is that Love Will Tear Us Apart wasn’t even on an album, and there’s no big single here. It’s an album you have to sit down with from start to finish, written specifically for that purpose. It wasn’t a case of ‘we need to put a hit single on this,’ or ‘we’ll need to write three for the record company’ and that kind of shit. They’re not trying to be something they aren’t. Obviously there are songs from it which are played on the radio now, but those tracks on their own don’t have the impact you get when you sit down and take it all in. I probably started listening to Joy Division through the Manics, in the same way I did The Clash. The Manics would walk on to Incubation, and I’d wonder ‘What's that? Sounds brilliant.’

9. The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980) / Faith (1981) / Pornography (1982)
Andy: You can’t pick a single Cure album.
James: There’s been countless arguments in the back of the van over this. Particularly when Dok was in the band. Me, Andy and Devine would argue for all sorts.
Andy: Dok would always say Disintegration without a doubt. But you forget about the whole Seventeen Seconds era.  The 'trilogy' is wrong! They say the trilogy is Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers – it should be Seventeen Seconds, Pornography and Faith – because they’re the three that sound the same. They started with a really poppy album and went ‘fuck that, left turn.’ To me, they’ve got that same atmosphere as the likes of Closer and The Holy Bible – it’s quite austere and gothic.   
James: People are going to read this and go ‘Fuckin’ dicks.’ 

10. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
James: It’s an easy option but it’s fuckin’ brilliant. Music For the Masses was really good; Andy recommended that, but I keep going back to Violator, just ‘cos it had the fuckin’ hits!
Andy: It’s quite a beast. They totally set up the path for Nine Inch Nails, which brought industrial music into the mainstream. Enjoy the Silence and Policy of Truth were the two tracks you always knew, even if you didn’t know Depeche Mode.
James: I was a big Marilyn Manson fan and heard Personal Jesus through that. Johnny Cash does a great cover on American IV too, of course. We covered Enjoy the Silence; Devine started playing the riff and some cunt laughed down the front! Devine was like ‘The fuck?’ He was obviously pretty proud of the job he’d made of it until then.

The Twilight Sad play Barrowlands, Glasgow on 15 Dec http://www.thetwilightsad.com