The Twin Atlantic interview
Glasgow band Twin Atlantic have come a long way since TMF last interviewed them nearly a year ago. Their new album Free, produced by Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, The Pixies) is already making a lot of noise with fans and critics alike. Add to that sold out shows and a string of major festival appearances you would think success would have gone to the band's collective head. Nope. If anything, as lead singer Sam McTrusty tells me, it's made them even more grounded and determined in keeping the music "real". Backstage at their Manchester show earlier this month, Sam tells me about the recording of the album, the band's vision and the "seedy underside" of rock and roll.
It’s been abut a year since our last interview when you were opening for Gaslight Anthem. Now you have a new album out. From my perspective it looks it’s been a pretty productive year.
After the Gaslight Anthem tour, what did we do? We went home, we started working... No, what did we do? Had we had done a tour of America by that point?
You were talking about doing some festivals and then opening for ... was it Limp Bizkit?
Oh yeah, we did do that! Did we go on a tour of American after that?
I think so...
You’re asking the wrong guy. My memory’s gone! I know what happened! We did a tour of America last year with a band called Fall of Troy. We got to go to a lot of places for the first time which was really exciting and it kind of broadened our horizons a lot 'cos we were away from home for like two and a half months.
And was that the first time you had been to the States?
Nope. We played SXSW a couple of times, and we recorded our mini album Vivarium there 'cos our label has a studio over there. And that’s where we recorded the new album as well, in Santa Monica. It sounds nice and fancy but all we did was sleep and sit in our recording studio which had no windows, so it could have been anywhere in the world.
So you recorded both your albums in California. Do you think that influenced the sound you got?
No, I don’t think so because before we went there we had...the album was written before we got there. We wrote the songs at home in Glasgow in our own practice space that we set up. We’re really close to our roots. We’re almost in the city centre in Glasgow, so it’s like a patriotic place for us to write our music. We didn’t go to America for any reason other that it was cheaper for us to record there, that’s the honest answer.
So the album was “conceived” in Glasgow?
Ish. But the thing that happened since Vivarium and since the Gaslight Anthem tours was that we’d been on tour an awful lot and writing on the road and taking lots of notes here and there. One day I’ll be in London and I’ll get an idea for something but I won’t finish that idea 'til we’re in Munich when I get a chance to sit down with my guitar. So it’s kind of been written all over the place.
Do you take your roots with you or are you influenced by what you see around you?
I don’t restrict myself too much. I don’t want to be like everything is about me and where I’m from. I think that’s a big part of this new album, because I’ve had all these experiences as a person, not jus a musician, you know traveling all over America with your three best friends is a pretty important thing to have happen in your life. Seeing your dreams come true and supporting some of your teenage heroes...
Yeah you’ve supported some pretty cool bands.
My Chemical Romance, Smashing Pumpkins, Gaslight Anthem, Biffy Clyro. So to be picked by your heroes like that is crazy. It’s kind of life-changing. It’s given me a sense of self-belief, and making the brand new album I think its resulted in a really honest, impassioned record.
It is very impassioned. I mean, I loved Vivarium when I bought it but the new album sounds bigger. Expansive. You’ve taken that and just kind of kicked the door open.
I think so too. I think that’s because that’s what’s happened to me as a person.
It sounds very confident. It's a very confident album. It covers all the emotions; it’s angry, it’s sad.
That’s how people are, that’s what I want people to get that from it. Music is really important, it’s meant to be an escape, people use to have fun or to deal with problems they have. That’s what I use it for. So we try to make an album that would mean a lot to us and have the belief that there would be people out there that would relate to it in the same way.
Now when I wrote these interview questions you had something like 15,900 ‘Likes’ on your Facebook page. Then I went back and it had gone up to over 16,000. And then I went back yesterday ad it was over 17,000. Every time I go onto your Facebook page it shoots up by hundreds. It’s quite an amazing phenomena. How do you feel about social networks like Facebook and Twitter being used by musicians and bands? Are any of you on Facebook or Twitter?
Yeah, I’ve got my own Twitter account, and I used it just to make fun of Twitter and and post stupid stuff on there. That’s what it started off as, I as just making fun of people, but now I’ve got like two and a half thousand followers. So now people know what we’re doing with the band. So it’s become like a little offshoot of the band. I’ve got my own Facebook page. I started so I could keep up with my friends and family back in Glasgow, but people kept searching my name and found it, and they’ve like overrun it, so now it just kind of sits there. It’s like 6,000 people, so it’s crazy.
What do you think about using these sites to promote music? Do you think it’s an essentially positive thing or is it something you just have to accept?
I think it’s a bit both of what you’re saying. I wouldn’t choose to do it that way. "Maybe I should set up an Internet-based page where I can let everyone know I’m doing and join me and follow me and check it out.” I wouldn’t choose to do that but because it’s there and it took off we just embraced it. It started with Myspace first about four years ago. That’s how we got our first interaction, we booked gigs through Myspace before we had a manager. We booked our first recording session on Myspace, things like that. So we embraced it, and without that and word of mouth it wouldn’t be so easy.
The major labels seem to be losing a bit of their power and it seems to be going to these social networks. A lot of people see the Internet interfering with music because there’s the negative side, illegal downloading...
I don’t hate that though, because... the thing is I think it broadened everyone’s horizons if you know what I mean. It’s kind of destroyed the idea of genre and scenes, scenes within genres. How can I explain it? Like when I started properly listening to music I was trying to get into art school. I had no money, I was a student, but I as really interested in music and I wanted to try to teach myself how to become a songwriter and learn as much as I could. There was no way I could afford to do that, and so I would like share i-Tunes with friends and I would download loads of records just so I could learn and soak it up. And I found out that I like certain types of music that I wouldn’t have given a chance because it cost like £10 or whatever, where as if you get it for free... It’s weird the ones that I get and I like I go out an buy anyway.
I think a lot of people are like that. I have to admit I’ve done that too in the end I do buy it, or I’ll go out and see them loads live.
It’s stupid to complain about it because as a musician you’re an artist, and artists don’t make any money. It’s just simple, unless you’re like a phenomenon, like overnight, sell a painting for £1,000,000. It just doesn’t happen. And musicians have been spoiled for years, put upon pedestals and been turned into icons and Gods and it ruins the music industry 'cos what happens is that the distance between the musician and the people [increases] but I feel like the musicians that are the most real, the most in touch with their music are the best because they connect with what people need and want.
This reminds me a bit of this song ‘Free’ from the new album. There’s a line from it, “I fell in love with rock and roll til I found out it was false.” Is that a bit what you’re talking about? This idea of music distancing itself from people it’s actually meant to be for?
The last four years I’ve been around a lot of people who are considered to be a big deal, and been behind the scenes, 'cos you know I was a music fan, going to gigs from when I was 13 to like 17-18, and you just see this completely different thing until you see the seedy underbelly and how everyone over-thinks everything. There’s not one decision that is made because it’s the right thing to do morally or with any feeling, the decisions are usually made for what will sell the most records or what will make us the most amount of fans. Not everyone, this is a generalization obviously, but that is the majority of what I see. People just wore themselves and their morals down to please everyone. And we started to go down that path a little bit, because we’re really driven individuals with massive ambition for our music and our band.
When that starts to drive you, you compromise things here and there, you make your song maybe a little bit more commercial so that someone will pay attention instead of making music for yourself and for other people. And the ironic thing is that since we stopped that we have started getting played on radio.
Your album is really accessible but at the same time it’s a very honest album.
I think what’s happened is all those albums I’ve been studying, all the different songwriters and different types of music, it’s just made me a fan of a well-structured song. It’s an art form. It completely ranges, it can be the simplest structured pop song is like ten times better than something that’s ten minutes long that’s really complicated with all these different layers and parts, 'cos if you just drive the point home really simply it’s a really strong message and that really interests me because that’s essentially what people listen to music for. Where we went wrong is that we were trying to show off before and put weird time signatures and key changes, things that were just showing off rather than making music that will last hopefully forever.
That’s interesting because on the one hand you’re talking about keeping it real and then we were talking about you getting like more and more fans, like on Facebook. Are you worried about being able to hold onto that ideology if you were to...
Holding onto your integrity...
The bigger you get do you think it will be harder to do. Do you think there will be more pressure from the label to say, ”Well, this album did well so you got to do it again.”
Oh, I see what you’re saying. I honestly don’t worry about anything because when I start to worry about it that’s when I start thinking too much about it and then I write something that just doesn’t mean anything. The moment I stopped worrying and caring... Not that I don’t care!
But you get too self-conscious.
Yeah, you get too self-aware and as soon as you become too self-aware as an artist... It’s weird 'cos I talk about music in the same way I talk about art. I was like a painter. I used to go to art school, so I learned to talk creatively at art school and I talk about music in the same way. And I suppose if you become self-aware as an artist you just restrict yourself so much and I don’t know, if there’s any pressure it’s only put on us by ourselves if you know what I mean because I think we’ve proven that we do what makes us happy and it’s resonating with people in a bigger way than and a more honest way. Hopefully we’ve proved that we don’t have to listen to [anyone].
I wonder if a lot of the record companies underestimate fans. It’s more like “we know what they want”, where as if you just listen to the band they probably know a bit more of what...
Maybe. Yeah. I don’t even think that the band know. It’s really an element of luck because the music industry and the “cool factor” in music changes so quickly because people have so much access, free access.
Everything has got a really short-term shelf-life now. It’s just like in and out of the revolving door...
It’s the X-Factor phenomenon a bit, instant stardom and instant failure...
Yeah, I mean...you’re saying our record’s been really well received, six months down the line people might be like “Oh, this is really shit”.
I guess you can’t take anything for granted.
You just can’t worry about things too much or over-think things. You just kind of have to, if you’re in a band, and you have something you want to say, just say it, don’t think about it and see what happens.
You recorded the album with Gil Norton who’s produced some pretty interesting bands: Foo Fighters, Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen. How did you hook up with him?
It was through our label to be honest. Our label said who would be your dream person to work with. We gave a list of four of five people, kind of joking, we were like no way we will work with any of these guys. they are just our dream guys, but they sent these demos we made ourselves known to Gil and he got in touch saying that he was really turned on by the believability in our music and he wanted to do the album. It was bizarre. There were like three or four big really name producers who came back saying the exact same thing. We went with him because The Color and the Shape by Foo Fighters is the first record that Gil recorded. It’s one record that we, as a band, all agree on that one record as being a masterpiece, for when it came out. Maybe now people might think it’s a bit boring or whatever, but when it came out it changed the game of popular rock music, and that was just something we aspired to as well. And with The Pixies, they influenced all the bands we supported, they’re in the history books as changing guitar music. It as such an honor that he he came back to us, and he’s from the UK as well so that kept us grounded.
How much of an input did he put in?
Quite a big input but it was in a way we weren’t really prepared for. We were expecting “Oh, this part’s rubbish. Why don’t you try something like this?” or re-write full sections because that’s what produces do so that the songs flow, but what he did to make the songs flow was to simplify the guitar melodies, so that the complicated bit only happened once. The songs pretty much stayed 90% the same, but it was little tiny changes - the performance, especially the vocals and my guitar playing. He’d just make you get inside the song, if you know what I mean, and really feel it.
Your in the midst of a UK tour. How long have you been on the road?
It’s been about a week or something, we’ve got like three more weeks to go. We’ve got a week and a half in the UK, then we’ve got two or three weeks in mainland Europe, Italy, France, Spain, Sweden Austria, Norway.
How has the response been so far?
The first three shows of the tour sold out. It’s crazy, and we’re playing a show tomorrow in Glasgow that’s like 1,900 people and it’s sold out. It's this legendary venue called the Barrowlands. But what we’re noticing is what we dreamed of achieving is starting to happen 'cos we wanted to build up a fan base in each city, of people coming because they care about music and they love music and they want to feel something but not take themselves too seriously. It’s not like this big pretentious important thing. And rather than it being like this hyped cool event, people just coming to be seen to be cool it’s people who really want to be there.
Any festivals planned? I think I saw that your doing T in the Park?
It’s nuts cos we’re on a really big stage. I think we’re on three or four bands before Arctic Monkeys, so it’s a big slot. We’re sharing a stage with Foo Fighters. All our English festivals we haven’t figured out which ones we’re doing yet, we got offers for some and there’s one or two in particular we really want to do but they’re like “we’re not sure”, so probably when this tour finishes and people see how... This is the rock and roll falseness. This is the politics. But fair enough that’s how it works.
Twin Atlantic's latest album Free is out now.