Twin Atlantic interview
Glasgow boys Twin Atlantic have a lot to be happy about. Not only do they have a string of high profile festival spots to look forward to, but they are also on the road with one of the hottest bands of the moment, New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem as well as future support spots with two other big American acts. Wowing the crowds with their high energy set which includes songs from their excellent debut album Vivarium, this band is definitely one of the best new acts of the year, as well as being some of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Sharing a beer and some Doritos with Barry McKenna - (guitar, cello and backing vocals) and Ross McNae - (bass guitar, piano and backing vocals) backstage before their show at the Manchester Academy, they chatted with me about football, musical inspirations and security nightmares.
We're in the midst of the World Cup, have you been keeping up with the foot ball while you’ve been on tour?
Barry: We have a vested interest. Scotland got what we call the group of death – we had France and Italy, so we didn’t qualify. So we’ve got a vested interest as we’ve both got Fantasy Football teams so basically we’re supporting any team that is not England. Anyone who is playing England we will support.
Who do you think will win?
Ross: Yeah ,or Holland.
How long have you guys been together?
Ross: Three years?
Barry: Yeah. Three years something like that.
Ross: I think we got together in March 2007.
Did you all know each other already?
Ross: I went to school with Sam (McTrusty - Guitar & Lead Vocals) and I met Craig (Kneale – Drums) when we both played for different bands and we played our first ever gigs together on the same bill on the same night, so I met him through that. And I met Barry on our first ever little tour with Sam and we all just joined forces
What influences your music and song writing? Does being Scottish have any influence on your writing?
Barry: I think being Scottish has influenced us as a band because when you’re from Scotland, it’s a very small country, we’re used to being rubbish at everything, we talked about the football, but coming from somewhere that’s really small you always get the sense that you’re an underdog and an underachiever, and that kind of gives us motivation and determination. Coming from a small country I mean with England, everything is based down here so you have to try ten times as hard to be heard north of Hardian’s Wall. Where you come from always has an impact on your art, these things are always influenced by where you come from and the things you see. And the music we write definitely reflects environment. We definitely write about experiences and life in Scotland.
You have opened up for some pretty major acts. Smashing Pumpkins, Biffy Clyro, and now The Gaslight Anthem. Is it ever daunting for you? Do you ever worry about the audience reaction?
Ross: At first I think we were much more nervous than we are now a days. Sam still gets really nervous. I don’t know, do you still get nervous?
Barry: I still get nervous.
Ross: Do you? It’s not…I think it’s a different kind of nervous because we’ve played most of these venues before. We’ve played this venue with a band called The Subways so we’re used to…We don’t play these size of venues but we’re used to supporting people in these size of venues if you know what I mean, and when you know where you’re going and you know the size of the venue you feel much more comfortable especially if it’s somewhere where you’ve been before. I don’t get worried about the crowd either because…it’s just such a strange one, people aren’t there to see you, so if you can win some people over...and the idea is to try and make them fans of your band. Not everyone is going to like you, and not everyone is there to see you. You just have to take what you get.
How has the reaction been so far? Has it been mostly positive or have you ever had a really negative reaction?
Barry: It’s impossible to write music that everyone likes. Music is so subjective, some people love it some people hate it. And crowds are always split. You always got people at the front enjoying themselves and it tends to be the people at the back are like (leans back with arms folded) but then at the end they may be kind of getting into it where as people down at the front become more subdued. But one way or another we always try to provoke a reaction. No one wants to be a paper band. We always want people to either love us or hate us, if they hate us fine as long as they’re show some kind of emotion to our music.
Ross: I think we’ve only ever played one gig where it was total indifference from the whole audience, the one at The [Relentless] Garage….
Barry: Oh that was a horrible gig…
Ross: It was worse than people that loved you or hated you, it was kind of like they just didn’t care, and I think we’ve been lucky that we haven’t had many, touch wood, experiences like that. But that’s really not a very nice feeling. You just think, why am I even here, why don’t we just go.
Any memorable gigs?
Ross: We did our biggest ever show, that wasn’t a festival, in Glasgow, and usually we get “the gig syndrome” where the bigger the gig you play the more things tend to go wrong, but it was amazing because it was one night where nothing seemed to go wrong, it was like….
Barry: The planets aligned.
Ross: Yeah it was perfect, so that was probably the best gig.
Barry: Because normally, regardless of the gig, one of the four of us will walk off stage and go “ahh, that’s happened, or this happened”, but we all walked of stage (look of astonishment). I mean that was the last three years of our life culminating in this massive hometown show, more people than we could ever imagine getting into our band.
Do you have superstitions you do before a show?
Barry: We all touch each other’s heads. We get in a circle, and we all touch heads.
Have you ever forgotten to do it before a show and then gone on stage, “Shit! We didn’t touch heads!”
Ross: Yeah, a few times actually. We’ll never ever do that again. (Laughs)
How would you describe your sound?
Barry: To be honest it’s hard to summarize your music because essentially what you’re trying to do is take an outside perspective on something you’re in and in the middle of, so it’s hard. You know what, we’re just a Scottish guitar band, sometimes we play quiet, sometimes we play loud, sometimes we play pretty things, sometimes we play not very pretty things…
Talk about pretty things, who was playing the cello (during the soundcheck)?
(Ross points to Barry, Barry raises his hand)
That was amazing. Absolutely gorgeous
You’ve had a lot of support from magazines like Kerrang....
Barry: And Rock Sound. Yeah definitely, both of them have really have done a lot for us which is nice, it’s really nice to get the support of these magazines, it’s nice of them to give us a wee bit of a thumbs up. I wish it didn’t, but it does make a difference. And because they’re such big magazines with such a large readership there are a lot of people who haven’t heard of us, we’re still a relatively small band, and they pick up the magazine and go "oh they’re documenting the band saying you should go check them out", and we’ve pickup a lot of fans that way.
Are you doing any festivals this year. Now that we’re in the middle of festival season.
Ross: We already played a festival this year in Scotland called Rockness, we got to play before Blondie which was kind of weird, so that was cool.
Did you meet them at all?
Ross: She walked off stage and she kind of got swamped by people. It was really funny, don’t know if I should say it, but fuck it, there was a weird contraption in between the monitors, and it was an autocue, like a newsreader’s autocue with all the lyrics on it. So that was a wee bit of a downer for me but, it was still great to see them. We’re also playing a Scottish festival called Belladrum, we’re playing a festival in Belfast called Belsonic, we’re playing at Heavy Festival, and Redfest, and in Europe we’re doing festivals in Norway, Germany, Belgium, Austria. The one in Belgium is Pukkelpop which we’re really excited about.
What’s the difference between like doing a show like this and doing a festival? Do you have to change your mind-set?
Barry: Yes. The big difference is the preparation, or the lack of. Like at these gigs it’s very much a controlled environment. You know at this time you get a sound check and at this time what time you’re on stage…but festivals it’s all quite mad and chaotic. You’re running about, no soundcheck, so it’s a much more daunting experience because you’re thrown on stage and you’re like “shit I don’t even know if my stuff is going to work!” (Laughs).
Any disasters or has it always worked out?
Barry: We’ve been lucky at festivals.
Ross: yeah again touch wood.
Barry: Although there was the time where Ross had a security disaster.
Ross: Sam decided it’d be a good idea…I don’t know what he was playing at, he came over to talk to me or something and he got his foot caught round my pedal board and then he ran over to his side of the stage and dragged all the leads out of my board so I wasn’t plugged in, so I had no idea what I was going to do at all. And Sam jumped into the crowd, it was at the T in The Park Festival last year, it was like the most people we had ever played to. And this was in the last song so I just thought, you know what, Sam’s just jumped into the crowd, I’m just going to jump into the crowd as well. I didn’t have my pass on because I had taken it off so it wouldn’t get in the way…
Barry: And you took your top off.
Ross: And I took my top off as well so the security guard didn’t know I was in the band and thought I was a punter trying to get on stage, and he wouldn’t let le back on stage. So we ended up having a fight, and the promoter of the whole festival happened to be watching us and he was trying to fight the security guard. Yeah it was funny, it was really funny.
We talked about the big acts that you have toured with. Who are your musical heroes? The bands that influenced you and made you want to become musicians. Do you remember the first album you bought?
Ross: I bought singles, but the first album I ever bought was Definitely Maybe, Oasis…erm I think that was the first record I ever bought. But in terms of music when you were growing up, bands like Queen, David Bowie….
Barry: I had quite an exact moment in my life. Growing up my mum had a lot of like Pink Floyd and Yes, and my dad loved Elvis, so I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. But when I was younger I started playing the cello and piano when I was much younger, so I was kind of immersed in classical music, I love classical music, orchestras and stuff. But my cousin gave me an album called Grace by Jeff Buckley, and I never really listened to alternative music, and he gave me a copy of Grace and changed…I listened to it start to finish and I was like “Holy shit I need to listen to that again…that’s what I want to do." It was that moment, that’s what inspired me to pick up the guitar, and I always wanted to be in a band, so for me it was one guy.
[To Ross] Did you grow up in a musical family?
Ross: I grew up getting piano lessons from a really early age, then I started to learn to play the guitar, then I started to play the trumpet, then I started to play bass, but the bass not very long, that’s like the most recent, even though it’s what I play in this band. But yeah I always in the back of my mind thought I’d love to do something with music, I just didn’t think it would necessarily turn into a proper job, I just thought it’d be more like a hobby. We all got quite lucky I think.
You are currently on the road with The Gaslight Anthem. How long is that going on for?
Barry: We have tonight, London, Oxford, then Amsterdam.
Are they nice lads?
Barry: Yeah yeah. It’s a relatively short tour we’re doing, but they’re really nice, really humble honest people, there’s certainly no like rock star behaviour, they’re very grounded, and for a band of their stature, one who’s been on the same stage as Bruce Springsteen, that could easily go to your head.
What else do you have planned?
Kind of what we’ve been talking about earlier we’ve got a whole bunch of festivals. It’s generally the case that most bands during the summer it’s mostly do festivals, not very many bands tour, but this summer we’ve been quite fortunate in that we’ve got this tour with Gaslight Anthem, and we’re supporting a couple of American bands…Limp Bizkit…(Laughs)
Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh!
Barry: No I laughed when I found out too!
I’m sure they’re great guys.
Barry: And the other band we’re playing with is Blink 182. And apart from that we’ll be writing and working on our next record.
Twin Atlantic's debut album Vivarium is out now on Red Bull records