In the process of setting up an interview with James Graham, lead singer of the Twilight Sad, the PR says it will definitely be worth a chat because, between you and me, new album ‘Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’ will be the band’s last.
Though this comes as a surprise it seems plausible. The Scottish miserablists are a pretty full on lot who take their music with a serious dose of doom and gloom so it’s imaginable they might just pack all it in to spite themselves. “Fuck this pish,” they might say, drain their pints and leave.
“Ah no, sorry. James says he wrote the album AS IF it were their last,” the PR clarifies. That’s better. It didn’t quite add up for a band who have found their swagger to chuck in the towel. Earlier this year the Twilight Sad celebrated their tenth birthday with a vinyl reissue of debut album ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’, complemented by a run of full, start-to-finish album gigs. These concerts showcased a band entirely comfortable with themselves and brimming with the same energy and commitment they poured into writing that debut. Listen to the new album, ‘Nobody’, and you can hear the stability; that total and impassioned understanding of what the band is about and why it hasn’t thrown in the towel. So why did Graham feel the need to anticipate his demise to write it?
“I thought, ‘This could be the last time I write a record. I have to put everything into this.’”
“We had just toured our third album and things weren’t going great,” says Graham. This is surprising. “We were working pretty hard and it just didn’t seem like we were progressing. We’re not in this to make money but you need to make money to be able to do it, to survive, and the people we were working with at the time just didn’t seem to get that. We just didn’t feel like we were progressing.”
The band returned home after touring ‘No One Can Ever Know’, a menacing album that saw a shift away from the guitar-led noise rock of the first two albums towards a darker electronic sound. “We were home and returning to normal life for the first time in seven years and I had a lot of time to reflect on what we’d achieved and what we haven’t” says James. “I kinda felt, ‘Does anyone give a fuck?’ I know I do but that was where my head was when I started thinking about this record [‘Nobody’].”
He explains how as much as you don’t want the external pressures of life to affect how you approach your life in a band, it’s unavoidable: mortgages, families, careers. “I’m not getting any younger,” says the 30-year-old. “I thought, ‘This could be the last time I write a record. I have to put everything into this.’”
It feels though the band, and Graham as song writer, approached the record with a do or die mentality, only lacking the confidence to know which it would be. Yet such insecurity is not audible on the album – quite the opposite, there’s an apparent tinge of optimism.
“The last record was very much… well, it was fucking bleak, but with this one, somehow there’s more a sense of hope,” says Graham. “It feels like a band that’s comfortable writing to its strengths. We were in our own surroundings. We were back home and we were able to remind ourselves why we’re in a band together and why we do this.”
“We’re not a singles band, with hits for the chart - but this is the most dynamic album we’ve written.”
He says he still has no idea where the band “fit in the industry”. Graham laments the state of the industry and admits concerns that new bands won’t make it past their debut in the future. “There are kids growing up right now who don’t even know you’re supposed to pay for music and that’s fucking terrifying,” he says.
“We write music for ourselves and would never write for the market, but you have to reconcile that with needing to make money to be able to do it,” he says. He explains how this musical climate contributed to his doubting the point in continuing to make music – the does-anyone-give-a-fuck attitude.
He set about writing ‘Nobody’ with an uncertain mindset, writing what is now the last song on the album first, ‘Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep’. “Once I had written that song and got that out, I knew where the album was going. Everything looked like it might fall into place,” he says. “When I listen back to the album I can see we got everything out of it we wanted to.”
Watch a Twilight Sad live show and you can see how much Graham puts into this music. He skulks around the stage, arms outstretched, gnawing at the mic, or gurning at the audience, eyes rolled back into the top of his skull as if possessed. It can be frightening. But it’s incredible. It’s clear what this means to Graham – and perhaps this album is the first time he’s been able to admit that.
“I know how much I’ve put into it so I’m a mess at the moment. It keeps me up at night, thinking about how it’s going to be received,” he says. He explains the difficulties of understanding what “making it” even means but admits if things were “to kick off” for the band now it would feel right. “Hopefully this album will be able to reach people who haven’t listened to us before. We’re not a singles band, with hits for the chart, you need to put the time into our records, but this is the most dynamic album we’ve written.”
For all Graham’s soul searching and talk of finality, it’s clear to see it’s because of the importance he places on creating music. He ranks it above all else. When he was 16 he drew up a list of all he wanted to achieve with music – tour America, tour Europe, play certain festivals – all now ticked off. “We have achieved things I never thought we could. Things that the money of a big label can’t buy,” he says. “Robert Smith said he was fan – that’s fucking ace. And I wouldn’t swap all we’ve achieved and all we’ve been through for anything else.” But it’s obvious he’ll always want more for his music, it’s just not clear exactly what that is.
The Twilight Sad’s new album ‘Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave’ is out now via FatCat Records.