[ROCK] The Twilight Sad is extremely loud in concert. Andy MacFarlane crafts intense walls of sound on the band’s records and James Graham writes mysterious, haunting lyrics that touch on childhood traumas and broken relationships, but the Twilight Sad is best known for something it has little control over.
“I’ve definitely been called Groundskeeper Willie a few times,” singer James Graham says by phone from his home in Kilsyth, Scotland. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. All the songs are about personal things and [about] where I’m from, so it would be unnatural to sing the songs in a different way. A lot of British bands sing in an American accent, and that’s cool, but I think you should not be afraid to be yourself in your songs.”
The Twilight Sad has never really had a problem being itself on record. The group—a base trio of Graham, guitarist MacFarlane and drummer Mark Devine is joined by touring members—started out with a blog-hyped 2007 debut, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. Over MacFarlane’s epic compositions and Devine’s cymbal-heavy drumming, Graham’s lyrics spoke of a shattered childhood in broad strokes (“A strong father figure/ And with a heart of gold/ A loving mother/ They’re standing outside/ And they’re looking in/ Kids are on fire in the bedroom”); the combination made for a rich, shockingly good rock record.
But while the music sounded fully formed from the get-go, Graham says the live band was anything but. “We did two gigs in two years, and then Fat Cat records signed us and sent us off to America to mix our record. We had a residency every Sunday in New York City and we hadn’t even played, like, Edinburgh yet,” he says, laughing nervously as he recalls being intimidated by America. “We didn’t know how to be a band, and we were playing CMJ in front of really important music journalists. We were dropped right in the deep end, and it was quite scary.”
Like a lot of young bands trying to find their bearings, that’s when the Twilight Sad discovered playing really loud. Sophomore record Forget the Night Ahead, released in 2009, is loaded with distortion and even more inscrutable, poetic lyrics from Graham (he politely declines to discuss them in detail). But this year’s No One Can Ever Know is a bit of an about-face. With a strong, dark electronic streak, it reminds of bands like Depeche Mode and New Order (the band lists Cabaret Voltaire and Can as influences). “It makes the whole set more dynamic,” Graham says. And fans who’ve grown fond of the band’s deafening live shows should not fear. “It’s still really loud. To be honest, my ears were ringing more on the last tour than they ever have before.”
That’s not the only way the band stays true to its roots. “I’m still not what you’d call a natural frontman,” Graham says. “I’m not somebody who talks to the crowd and tells stories. But that’s what I like about our band—we’re not trying to be anything we’re not.”
The band’s proclivity toward keeping it real is especially rough on confused fans of the Twilight films. “There was one gig in America where people came dressed as vampires,” Graham says. “We were just like, ‘You’re at the wrong thing. You’re not going to enjoy this.’”