Interview with James from The Twilight Sad (for Spanish website Mondo Sonoro)

Tell us about your memories of playing Primavera Sound in 2014 

“I think it was between our third and fourth record we went over for the first time. We always knew Scottish bands go down really well over there, Like I remember [Teenage] Fan Club going down really well in Spain and Mogwai and groups like that.

“And then I think the first time we got asked to play in Spain was Primavera in 2013 or 2014. And that was just like ‘wow’ folk here knew who the fuck we are but I’m not sure if half of Glasgow was there as well (laughs).

“Do you know it was a really strange…because it was the day after our main headline gig. That headline gig for us was a pretty big thing for us and..we’d never played the festival before, which for me is one of the most prestigious festivals out there and the gig itself went really well and I got food poisoning after the gig and we nearly had to pull out the next day  and it was raining as well at some point and this big dark cloud came over and then you saw the setting and were like wow this is amazing.

“It was so silent when we played and there were so many people there and it was my wife put a ‘throwback’ picture on Instagram and I saw a picture of it and it just reminded me and I was like ‘wow’, man, that was amazing and I remember a lot of people coming up to me and going like, ‘that was really special ’ I did read a lot of people say that was one of their favourite moments. It wasn’t even in the festival!

“It’s one that stands out, to play in the centre of a town and have so many people captivated with what was just a voice and a guitar. It was special. Those kind of moments spur you on, if you ever have one of those down days when you think nobody gives a fuck you just go like, do you know what, it was one of those moments when i was like ill remember this, so that was. And the sun came out. I don’t know what i believe in terms of higher powers but it’s nice to think that sometimes someone is watching over you – when those kind of nice things happen.

“They could look over me at other points but fuck it.”

And then you had Primavera 2018…

“It was another one of those things where a lot of things went wrong on stage. All our new gear broke about 10 minutes before we went on. Emotions were running pretty high. There was a lot of nerves then we just got out there. I don’t genuinely know how well we played i’m just glad we kind of got through it. Obviously we played ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ for the first time at that and that was a real, that’s something I won’t ever forget.

“Primavera seems to have had those moments that will stick with me forever and that was one of them and it was another one of those ones where it was like, should we be doing this, should we not be doing this, we are doing it now and you just saw what it meant to people that was quite a special thing to see. I knew how much it meant to me, I didn’t know how much it would mean to everybody else. And I did see and said like we are playing this from now on .can forever, it was just like that’s it we can’t not play this anymore.

“It was just nice to get through it – i don’t mean get through it but that was just one of those gigs you kind of get through – being away so long. We had a new drummer as well, [Sebastian] playing with us for the first time. A lot of pressure on him and he did amazing – it was just nice to get to the end of it and think ‘We are a band again’.

“It’s always like you know that people who go to that festival are big music fans they aren’t just going on a jolly to get smashed out their faces, they are there because they love music and they want to see us so you’ve got to make a good impression on them, there’s a lot more pressure on you and it’s just nice to go somewhere and be accepted within that kind of community as well. It’s one of those ones that if the offer comes through we’ll bite the hand off every time.”

You also played Mad Cool in Madrid this summer, and from the reports I saw out of Spain it seems the response was great and the crowd was huge. Did you enjoy it?

“We did. People were spilling out of the tent. Which was pretty, I’ve never had that happen to us. It was quite a stressful set. Again on stage we were not sure what as going out was sounding any good. The reaction was amazing. I don’t know if its it was – that was at some points quite a more pop oriented festival although it actually felt they balanced it really well. There was a lot of bands like us and Mogwai then they had some heavier bands and some pop kind of artists, i thought they catered for everybody so i wasn’t sure how many people would come to see us but once again it was great. It was brilliant. Then to watch Mogwai and go watch The Cure after it again young James would be fucking pinching himself constantly. I love going and playing in different countries. And I’ve loved my time in Spain. We haven’t done too many headline shows.”

It seems to be the case that the band is getting a lot of mileage in Europe in recent months and years. Does it surprise you especially given that you sing with a very strong Scottish accent?

“I mean i look at it the way i looked at a band like Sigur Ros, like i had no idea what they were speaking about our singing about but you felt the emotion coming through and the vocals even if you couldn’t understand them and I think that’s what transcends with our music when people from different countries who don’t understand what I’m saying. Even England probably don’t understand us (laughs). Actually see to be honest my wife doesn’t understand half the stuff I’m singing, she’s like whats that your saying. ‘Bread?’ I’m like no it’s not.

“But then I think that’s the thing, you might not know exactly what I’m singing about buying the emotion transcends through that. I mean that sounds really wanky as i say to be honest but there’s no other explanation for me. I don’t know. Obviously the style of music really has an effect on it as well but i think people who relate to the vocals i think its a genuine – they can feel it come through. My only comparison as I said is someone like Sigur Ros or someone like a Serge Gainsbourg or something like that.

“And now I’ve realised that you have to write it down for people so they can go and translate and stuff like that, because I want them to be able to understand what I’m singing about and there are also so many lyric sights on the internet which are absolute fucking wrong and I’m like that’s worse than the actual lyrics! It’s quite nice to be able to go somewhere and play to people who have grown up in a completely different country and a different culture and we can relate through this medium.

“I used to listen to Sigur Ros soundscapes like Mogwai that can transport you to a different place. Like even a lot of music you listen to from countries you’ve never been to, you listen to that it makes you feel like, it makes you crave to go there but at the same time makes you feel like you’re there sometimes. Although I don’t think many people would want to be transported to Kilsyth to be honest! I mean, we didn’t mean it but we sound how we sound because where we are from. Like if we grew up in Hawaii i’m pretty sure we’d sounds we do. I think obviously it’s a subconscious thing that comes through and that’s cool. It’s a pretty cool feeling to turn up somewhere you’ve never been before and someone tells you how much you mean to them.”

Tell us what it is like working with pals Mogwai on their record label Rock Action?

“Everything we’ve asked can we do this, they have said yes. And it’s all realistic, like we’ve never been on a major label or anything like that where money is of no option but also but for us i can see how they worked and how they’ve progressed through their career and how much care and open they were to other artists ideas so i was like i want that. And I’m not saying Fat Cat weren’t like that but like a lot of things, things just come to an end. Our contract finished and it was like, do you know what, it’s time for something new. Stuart [Braithwaite] had said to me since the second record. And then we joked about it loads of times. It was kind of like a given, not to mean i take it for granted but it was one of those things as soon as the deal finished we were like yes cool.

“We didn’t even look anywhere else to be honest – i don’t know if anyone else would have wanted us (laughs). Its proven to be great and it’s been really nice to have the success we’ve had with this record with them and for it to. 

“The Cure and Mogwai are my favourite bands and to sit on Friday there stand at the side of the stage with Robert Smith right there watching Mogwai play ‘Mogwai fear Satan’ and then him just talking to me saying it was great, I was like, this is mental. But that’s the thing with both of those bands, there’s no ego. I mean of course Robert is Robert, he’s got to be Robert but when you talk to him and your just two pals talking about a band that we love and ultimately when you break everything else down that’s what we all are and for me that was so surreal. Surreal because i thought about it a few times but when I was there I was just talking to a mate. And that mate is Robert fucking Smith.”

Is it still difficult to see Robert Smith as a peer?

“Well, Robert is Robert, and he has to be Robert, but when I talk to him it’s just two pals talking and at the end of it all, that’s what we are. But I still slip into that I still go ‘fuck it’s Robert Smith’ but he makes you feel like everything is normal and the way he asks you to play gigs like ‘I’ve got this gig if you want to it’ and I’m like Robert that’s Madison Square fuckin’ Garden that not just down the 13th Note or something! That’s the way people should be it should just be pals playing music together. I know people pay to see bands as soon as you take that away from it it loses something. I’ve not seen the Mogwai guys like that before, they were nervous, and I was like so was I. It was good to have those moments – none of those would have dreamt that that would happen.”

Having toured so extensively with The Cure would it right to suggest that doing so influenced the sound of the latest record, even at a subconscious level? 

“Of course. They have always been one of our favourite bands, I could check our previous catalogue and say that ‘it is ripped from that song of The Cure’, and ‘that it is ripped from another. But then you play with them and see them many times and it doesn’t matter if we had thought about it unconsciously, those things get stuck, even the way the song structures went and the way the audience reacted to that and those things.

“I didn’t think about that when I wrote a song, but it was in my head. Melodically I can see the structure of these songs [from The Cure]. Once you get the idea of ​​what the song is about and you get the important melodies, we understand it but then you have to step back and look at it and voila, but how are you going to make this piece of music? In all the rough melodies and lyrics, you have the hooks or the main inspiration statement behind what that song is and then you go, how can I turn this into a song, can’t you just mix everything? Then, after watching The Cure play three hours every night, you see how you make a song.

“We were also sending the demos to Robert and he told us, well he never told us anything, he actually said ‘try this and try this and try this and try this’. He never said to do this. He said go and try that. He rated them all as 10, I think the lowest was a 7 that could be a 9, they were all emails in capital letters. But most were 8’s could be 9’s and ‘this could be a 10’. And then it was ‘if you could try this and try this’ and we did it. We went and tried everything he asked us and I would say that 80 percent of what he asked us to do is on that record. If you have one of the best composers of all time on the other side of the phone or email to say “what do you think” you will not miss that. Because the idea was there, so it would never change. I sent him all my lyrics and he said they were great, I live them, but I was never going to comment because they are mine, and my experiences, but he even said that “I did have to do it, I will not do it because they are great.” The album definitely had a bit of The Cure and I think that was natural for us. ”

One thing I love about the band is how you are really hard to pin down genre-wise, having touched on so many over the course of your albums. Is that something you take satisfaction in?

“I think that’s why we are still here. I love the fact, people ask me like a taxi driver usually ‘so where you been, what kind of stuff is it’ and i’m like eh … then you’re trying to go…guitar…noise…Scottish…folk…post-punk…I’m like I can’t put my finger on it. But it also shows that we are pushing ourselves and trying new things while keeping it…I mean that thing that’s us will always be in every…If we do a reggae album you’ll still get that bit that’s definitely us.

“I’m really proud of that. We could have replicated that first record over and over and over again and maybe that might have made us more popular quicker i don’t know but we didn’t and that’s why we are still here – i genuinely think that. Trying new things and still be scared. I wouldn’t be talking to you write now if we did the same thing. I wouldn’t be in a band i think the fact we pushed ourselves. You have to make mistakes. I’m proud of every single record – the mistakes sometimes are the best things about them. It’s not like a film like mistakes within films and stuff like that. Film and music are very similar but they are also very different in their creation mistakes within music, can be the best thing about it. 

It’s like a documentation. I never write a song like mind that thing that happened to me 10 years ago, it’s what is happening to me now who am i right now. When I sing old songs it takes me back to who I was at that point sometimes that can be a good thing sometimes that can be a really bad thing. It’s a reminder of how far you’ve come or how not. Like I’m still fuckin’ singing this song. For me anyway that’s what it is. I want to be able to look back at my life at some point and even though it will probably be quite hard to look at it through how sad a lot of the stuff is it’s still who i was at that point and it’s something to be really proud of to go that’s how I felt and I put it down and I can look at it now in retrospect. You know what I mean. And a lot of stuff i’m still going through that I’ve done in the first record. I don’t seem to learn a lot of lessons. It’s a nice manner of who I am and who I used to be and who I’m striving to be at the same time.”

As for future records…

“There’s plenty of shit for me to write about yet there’s plenty more to come. It’s a wild one. What am I 35 now. I have a wife and wee boy and those are the best things that have ever happened to my life but as you get older a lot of shit things happen and in this moment in time a lot of really shit things are happening i’m not talking about how shit the world is  that’s also something that everybody is going through but I’ve got some stuff that’s just fucking shite just now and its just like my only way to go through that is to write music.

“I really don’t know what I would do without it.

“Saying that I’ve realised that i need it but also at the same time I find being in the band really hard sometimes. Because of what we are talking about, because I’m having to go through all of this in public at the same time. That’s my choice you know but at the same time that’s not comfortable every day when you are doing a two month tour and you’re singing that every night and talking about it every day. It’s starting to take its toll. I mean things that were happening to me when i was younger that i was going through and I was singing those songs i was still young going out and getting steaming and saying its fine whereas now I’m like fuck man this really starting to take its toll on me yet I fucking love it. It’s the double-edged sword you know.

“It’s gotta come from somewhere. I’m saying oh he doesn’t want to be in a band but when you put personal-should-be-private-stuff I mean it’s still kind of hard because nobody really knows what I’m talking about but i know what I’m talking about and i’m having to go through that every night and it’s just like fuck ‘is this good for me?’. I do know it is because the greatest things in my life have come from this but sometimes you just need to take a wee step away from it now and again. But ill constantly be drawn back to it to it i know i’ll be constantly drawn back to it.

“The fight between ‘is this good for me’ or ‘is this bad for me’ shows you that it’s not about making money or it’s basically I’ve realised that its a nice way of showing by the way I feel like this and i’m pretty sure loads of people feel the way I feel and it’s nice to know that you’re not just going through that alone. And at the same time there’s a selfish reason because I need to put food on the table but I love playing gigs. I love playing small gigs and Friday night [with The Cure at Bellahouston] I loved doing that as well.

“I look at a lot of bands these days and it seems to be that everything is rushed. ‘I’ll put this out picture out i’ll out this performance out I’ll put his video out of me playing an acoustic guitar so I can get more followers’ add more people will see what i’m doing more people will like this and put this rough kind of thing out. It’s like no, concentrate on what you’re doing because it’s worth more than that. If your truly feel that what your writing down and expressing through your music means something to you it’s not about putting your phone on a stand and playing an acoustic guitar and people listening to it.

“Take your time and make something out of it. Once the songs are done and album’s written. Of course go and do your gigs. A lot of people seem to be doing it to get noticed. If it’s good enough people will stand up and take notice. Don’t sell yourself short. Cause a lot of people we are talking about are talented people and amazing people but it’s the way the world is working right now if you don’t keep giving them stuff people will stop paying attention. Fuck that if it’s good enough and if it’s worth anything, take you time and care about yourself and what your putting out there.

“It’s easy to get stuck in that. It needs to matter.”


This interview originally appeared (in translated form) in Mondo Sonoro.

To read the original, click here

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