Never meet your heroes, they say. But try telling that to The Twilight Sad‘s James Graham. The Kilsyth band are still on a high following a tour with ’80s icons The Cure.
Although that does mean the band entering the PR and media circus.
“I think the next hour and a half’s me talking mince,” the singer says brightly. “People who know me know I can talk the ears off folk.”
The “surreal” experience after that US tour saw Graham along with guitarist Andy MacFarlane fly straight out to Amsterdam and Paris for “a conveyor belt of interviews – like when you see someone promoting a film on TV,” the singer recalls. “We were pretty shellshocked!”
Having once described his band’s music as “folk with layers of noise”, Graham isn’t too surprised that their music can confound more mainstream critics. “I don’t know where we fit in,” he admits, “We were always overlooked, possibly because you couldn’t pigeonhole us.”
Aside from the music, the band’s strength is Graham’s heartfelt lyrics, which so many of their fans relate to. But could their new-found fame set them apart from those long-term supporters ?
“I don’t think so,” Graham replies. “I’ve found with the new songs, people have been able to connect more than anything. I was back home for a year after going round the world with The Cure, and went through a hard time and didn’t like myself very much to be honest. There’s a song called ‘Keep It All To Myself’, while writing that song I was getting it all out – I only write when I come back home, real life is much more interesting than touring.”
“There’s a funny thing,” Graham continues, “the sayings in the lyrics – I’ll hear someone saying something in the supermarket, and say ‘that’s in one of our songs!’ “I heard a couple saying ‘don’t you start on me’ in an argument, that’s where I got that (‘Videograms’ lyric) from, there must be loads of local dialect stuff subconsciously sinking in.”
Despite – or perhaps thanks to – Graham’s thickly-accented vocal, the band have garnered fans across the globe.
“Some people just don’t like (the accent), which is fine,” he laughs. “With every album I’m getting older and develop the way I sing and my songwriting, so I don’t think about it, what comes out comes out.”
“But I’m very proud to be Scots, it makes me who I am, and I never shy away from it – I’m not walking round with a kilt on or saltire round my neck but it’s part of who I am and proud, just developing as a person and a singer but I’m going to have this accent no matter what!”
“I think people can tell the emotion and passion I’m trying to get across; people have said ‘I don’t have a clue what you’re singing about, but I can feel it!’ That’s amazing.”
And despite the recent globe trotting, the band’s next string of live dates will mainly be in the UK, affording them some time to lead a more normal life.
“I’m very lucky to have a family back home who support what I do,” Graham says. “Once they knew that it meant something to me and they saw the reaction of people they fell in love with it and understand why I do it. It’s cathartic and I need to do it to get things off my chest.
“I’ve got a brilliant support system at home – I’d not be able to do it otherwise – I was living with my parents for years as I couldn’t afford to stay anywhere else.”
The Scots four-piece will also be on the bill alongside The Cure in Glasgow in August. But Graham and his bandmates still aren’t entirely sure how they ended up on Robert Smith’s radar.
“Stuart from Mogwai mailed Robert, and said ‘you’ll like this’. (Smith) replied: ‘I’ve already got all their records’. Stuart forwarded the email, and I ran about the house screaming!”
Following four albums with London label FatCat, the new record will be with Rock Action, the label run by Glaswegian post-rock superstars Mogwai. Which sounds like another dream-team partnership. “I come up with a lot of my lyrics when I listen to them, because they’re instrumental – feelings and thoughts come into my head… Mogwai are a major influence on the way I write.”
So, with the band touring with The Cure and actually working for Mogwai – we have to ask, which is his favourite?
“This is what a diplomatic answer sounds like,” Graham laughs. “Mogwai and The Cure are the pinnacle of the kind of band I grew up wanting to be in. Mogwai are a really important band, but for me Robert’s one of the best songwriters of all time – the genres he covers, from the dark early albums to the massive pop songs he’s written, all with complete integrity.
“For me, the fact those bands even knew who we were is massive,” he continues, “so the fact that we’re releasing on Mogwai’s label, and the fact that Robert cares so much about our band, I couldn’t have dreamt it… if someone had told me this 10 years ago I’d have told them to bolt. It does sound diplomatic but without those two bands, we wouldn’t be a band.
Despite that careful answer, will they have to keep their new bosses in Mogwai sweet? “We’ll just continue to do what we do – they give us a free rein, they just said ‘go and make the record’ and once it’s made they’ll give us advice, as Mogwai know what they’re doing… the infrastructure is set up for a band like us – so hopefully when we come back with our reggae album next they’ll be fine with it!”
‘It Won/t Be Like This All The Time’ is out on January 18th. More at www.thetwilightsad.com.
The band play the following live shows:
17 Jan – Monorail, Glasgow (instore)
20 Jan – Jumbo Records, Leeds (instore)
21 Jan – Rough Trade, Nottingham (instore)
22 Jan, Rough Trade Bristol (instore)
23 Jan – Marlborough, Cafe Thirtys (instore)
24 Jan – Rough Trade East, London (instore)
29 Jan – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
30 Jan – Clarks on Lindsay Street, Dundee
27 Feb – Manchester Gorilla
28 Feb – Electric Ballroom, London
02 Mar – Barrowland, Glasgow
16 Aug – Bellahouston Park, Glasgow (with The Cure, Mogwai & The Joy Formidable)
out now. This article originally appeared in the Kilsyth Chronicle.