TAP Exclusive Interview: James Graham of The Twilight Sad

There’s something about The Twilight Sad that just can’t be replicated. Be it their enormous, layered sound, their cryptic and beautiful lyrics, or their overwhelming live performances, The Twilight Sad has managed to carve out their own little niche in the vast world of indie rock. We recently had a chance to speak to James Graham, the lead singer of what he calls, “just a small band from Scotland.” James talked about the band’s dark lyrics, the influence of film in their music, Craig Orzel leaving the band and more. Check it out below:

By Mariana Lopez

Your songs are often multi-layered, a hybrid of melody and noise. What is the anatomy of a Twilight Sad song? When writing, where do you start, and how do you know when its “finished”?

Basically where we start is Andy [MacFarlane] will make some music on the guitar and then send that across to me, and I’ll come up with the vocal melodies and some rough lyrics to begin with. Then we’ll piece together the vocal melodies to make some sort of structure. Then, we’ll come together as a band and get the drum part on there, and kind of layer the effects and different instruments up into a basic structure of the song. When we get into the studio its a case of trying out as many weird and stupid things as we possibly can to see what works out. And then I suppose, well, we’ve finished it then I suppose!

Your lyrics are more oft than not dark, but always very mysterious. Is the ambiguity meant to build a wall between the content and the listeners, or the content and yourself?

Content and the listeners, I think. It’s just because my favorite songs are the ones that I don’t know what they’re about, and I can relate them back to myself. You can relate the song back to a time and place or something thats happened to you. It’s just the fact that, I dunno, when you say what the song is about you spoil the illusion of what that song could mean to someone else.

Your first singles from both the first and second albums respectively are titled with lines from iconic films. (“That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” from Reiner’s Stand By Me, “I Became A Prostitute” from Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie) How much does film influence your songwriting?

Andy usually, when he’s writing music, will have a film on in the background but muted, and write music around it. We’re all big film fans, it’s just something we always go back to. Subconsciously it comes out in things, but as far as it comes to lyrics and things like that, not so much. We’re just fans, and those titles just seemed to make sense with what the songs were about.

What happened to the accordion? Will it ever make a comeback?

Accordion. What happened to the accordion? That’s a good question. I think Andy bought a fan organ, and used that in the new record, but it’s quite low in the mix. But who knows, the accordion could come back. Andy doesn’t really know how to play it and kind of winged it on the first record. It could come back, we’re looking to try new things on the new record, who knows, we could dust it off and take it out!

Back in February it was announced that your bassist Craig Orzel was leaving The Twilight Sad. Has it changed the dynamic of the band at all?

Not as far as writing, or anything to do with the creative side, because he didn’t really have much input on songwriting or artwork. Basically the only thing that’s changed is that he isn’t here anymore, and he doesn’t get up to his crazy antics. But it was all very amicable and we’re still friends with him. Now that we’ve got the new guy, Johnny [Docherty], he’s far too overqualified to be playing with us. He’s very good on the bass, so he’s improved the band as a live band. And he’s just as much of an idiot as we are so it’s working out pretty well.

Your album artwork is consistently interesting and well made, though for your most recent releases its taken on a more ominous look. Any particular reason?

What happens is we work with a guy called Dave Thomas, he works with our label, FatCat. Andy and Dave, they talk about what kind of different styles they’re into at that time. I’ll send them the lyrics, to Dave, and Dave will come up with these startling images, I suppose you could say. It has to do with what he feels the lyrics say to him, he comes up with these images through the lyrics. We agree with him. We quite like the shocking aspect to it because its quite eye-catching and its fits in with the lyrics. It’s one of those kind of things that might look quite normal on the surface, but when you look into it theres a lot more to it. I suppose it’s all Dave’s representation of our strange lyrics.

You’re currently touring the US with MONO. How is that going?

Very good! There were a few language barriers to begin with, them understanding us and us understanding them, but we’re there now, and we’re really enjoying touring with them. Yes, its all going pretty well. We play football after every show. It’s Japan vs. Scotland every night.

What is one thing you love about touring, and alternatively one thing you dread about it?

Oh, I dunno. Loads of different things. Being away from home is quite hard. This time it’s been seven weeks since we’ve been home. Traveling in the back of a van for seven hours with five other guys in a smoke filled space is not too comfortable. The food on the highway is not that good either. Thats just things I don’t enjoy. What I do enjoy is meeting new people. We get to play our music each night in different places in the world, and get to see different people in the world. Being just a small band from Scotland, that’s quite something. Traveling is pretty hard, and being away from home- but the free alcohol every night is definitely a bonus, we enjoy that.

What’s one thing you love to get over here that they don’t have in Scotland?

Oh, shit. Um, those things just totally slip my mind! Uh, lets see… our drummer loves Mountain Dew, you can’t really get that that much back home. Andy our guitarist loves Cheetos. The margaritas are usually better over here as well than they are back home. That’s probably about it! To be honest, the candy bars are a bit better in Britain, we feel. We don’t really get a chance to see much or try new things. Just highway food, just rubbish, kind of crap fast food. But when we do get a chance we try to find out the local delicacy, you could say. And I think the milkshakes are better over here as well.

Your label’s website mentions work on a new album meant to come out in the near future. Additionally, you’ve said in other interviews that you never want to make two albums that sound the same. What new things can we expect this time around?

I think this time we’re definitely making a conscious effort to try a lot of different new things. At the moment we’ve got about ten songs, but in basic form. It’s me and Andy that have just wrote some songs, we’ve not layered them up yet. We’re looking to try some electronic stuff, different kinds of sounds to make it more interesting for ourselves. We’ve made two albums and we’re really happy with them but we need to make a step forward. I can’t exactly say what that is right now because a lot of times it’s just when you get into the studio that you start to try different things out. We’re just at the demo stage right now. But we really want to try some new things and and push ourselves forward a bit more.

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