Interview The Xcerts: ‘We’re That Fucking Good’

Sarah Jamieson catches up with the band in Northumbria.

Walking into the backstage area for tonight’s show at Northumbria University, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the wrong place. As myself and The Xcerts sit chatting, we’re situated in what is very clearly a boys’ changing room, complete with wooden benches, lockers and that dreaded smell of long lost PE lessons. So, it seems almost apt to ask the band about their alleged formation, way back when they were fourteen year olds. ‘I said that, when everyone was in PE class,” starts frontman Murray MacLeod, ‘Me and Jordan went into the changing rooms and smeared chocolate mousse on everyone’s boxers.”

That, however, is not entirely true. ‘There are a million and one stories that are floating around,” he adds, in regards to the incident that apparently led MacLeod and bassist Jordan Smith to form the band after a visit to their headmaster’s office, but when I ask if he’ll set the record straight? ‘Ohh, no I can’t do that!”

Almost a decade on, and things aren’t going too badly for the trio. Releasing their first album ‘In The Cold Wind We Smile’ in 2009, their follow-up came in the form of 2010’s ambitious effort ‘Scatterbrain’, which propelled them to the top of all sorts of best lists, including DIY’s own Reader’s Album of the Year. For some bands having released an album a year ago, this is usually about the time that things get a little stale, but luckily for The Xcerts, that seems far from the case.

‘There’s still a lot of people talking about that album,” says Murray, ‘I think it took its time, but it’d be a real word of mouth thing. People would tell their friends to just stick with it and there would be some kind of reward at the end of it. I’ve even spoken to a lot of people recently who bought the record on the day of release and are only getting into it now. It’s just taken time for a lot of people and that’s amazing.”

‘The songs have totally evolved from the record now too,” suggests Jordan, ‘with how we play them live and stuff. There’s lots of little bits that are still totally fun.” ‘It was a lot about live,” adds Murray. ‘Would we still enjoy playing the songs live? We’d put that noisy bit in there; think ‘oh, that’d be fun in there.” Mike really helped us with that.”

The ‘Mike’ he so casually mentions just happening to be Long Island producer extraordainaire Mike Sapone; the man behind all the best albums to come from the likes of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday. And whilst it was a dream unto itself to work with him, it inevitably led to a whole host of comparisons between the Aberdeen-based three piece, and the New York residents. ‘It’s tough I think, for bands that work with Mike,” says Murray, ‘because they get it instantly. Crime In Stereo got it on their latest record - which is ridiculous - Sainthood Reps get it… I was saying recently, if someone listens to Brand New and then listens to us, and genuinely believes that we sound the same, then that’s totally fine. That’s someone’s opinion; we can debate it, but that’s their opinion at the end of the day. But, it’s that lazy journalism where someone’s like, ‘They went to New York, where Brand New recorded… Yeah, it sounds like the latest Brand New record.”

‘Brand New’s producer, Brand New’s studio, Brand New’s gear. It’s hard not to sound like Brand New!” pipes up Jordan, as the room laughs. ‘It’s like the first record,” adds drummer Tom Heron, who joined the band after losing their original drummer in 2006, ‘when people just did the lazy thing and said it sounded like Biffy Clyro or Idlewild. It’s like, god, listen to it!”

However, everyone is in clear agreement that, if they had to be compared to anyone, they’ll happily take those few bands: ‘The thing is, they are two of the most respected bands in rock. So, I ain’t complaining! Every band gets a comparison, so if ours is Biffy and Brand New…” Murray summarises, before a debate opens up about who the worst band they could be compared with would be. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion.

Since then the band have barely stopped. With countless tours under their belt in 2011, they’ve managed to support a good handful of bands on all sorts of bills, play headline shows, make festival appearances and even be invited to play a special acoustic set on Charlie Simpson’s latest headline tour. ‘That was a big learning curve though,” says Tom, ‘We’d never really done that kind of set before, so…” Very few bands do, I suggest. ‘Yeah, you don’t see it much, do you?” questions Murray, before softly adding, ‘We’re that fucking good.”
‘There’s your sub-headline,” says Jordan definitely, as Murray laughs to himself, ‘Can you see who’s been on tour with Taking Back Sunday? Who’s been hanging around with Adam Lazzara?”

It’s around this point that any and all barely-there fragments of actual interview go out of the window, as we descend into tour stories and in-jokes (including Jordan’s impeccible Lazzara-stage impression, complete with American accent - ‘Motherfucker, have you seen what I can do with this thing? I’ll hit you over the head and not think twice about it!”), most of which cumulate in laughter. There’s even a point in the evening that John Nolan accepts Murray’s friend request on Facebook, and it’s hard not to be that tiny bit jealous.

‘I think I had a moment every night on that tour…” says Murray, when trying to figure out if the support slot had hit home yet, ‘I think it was one of our friends just hit me and was like, ‘You do realise you’re on tour with Taking Back Sunday?!” And it was like, ‘Ohhh… Yeah.. Shit.” ‘The fact that Adam was so generous with his praise from the stage as well,” adds Tom. ‘Every night, they were the nicest sort of shout outs that we’ve ever had from other bands, and it was from a band that we all really like, so it was pretty good!”

‘I don’t think it ever hits us – what we’ve done – until Christmas,” explains Murray. ‘My mum keeps everything we do – since we were fifteen – she’s got everything. Every article we’ve ever been in, every poster, every t-shirt. So, you don’t realise what we’ve done, then you go home for Christmas and sit down, like, ‘I’ve got nothing to do, I’ll have a wee rake through and see what we did this year.” It’s like, ‘Oh, fuck! I just played with one of my favourite bands of all time.””

Speaking of favourite bands, The Xcerts seem to have struck gold with their upcoming tour. Sat tuning his guitar before their set this evening, Murray strums a song and quickly stops, muttering to himself that ‘he won’t be able do that next tour” since it happens to be a song by Manchester Orchestra, the headlining act. When I ask how they’re feeling about the tour, Tom sums it up perfectly: ‘Yeah… that’s gonna be… They’re gonna be our friends!” So, you’re most excited to make friends with them? ‘Well, I think we’re the only support band, so they have to talk to us… They can’t escape!”

‘It’s just surreal getting given all these supports,” adds Murray. ‘I dunno. I think we’ve worked hard. I think we’ve never really had supports consecutively, when a lot of other bands have. We’ve often not suited the bill. People are often like, ‘Oh, you’ve had some great supports” and they would have been great, had we fitted the bill. The only tours that we’ve really suited are Idlewild, TBS.”

Manchester Orchestra, and then possibly Brand New, next year? ‘We just got asked upstairs actually!” But judging from their excitement at just the possibility of attending a Brand New show, they’re not banking on the support slot just yet.

Next for the band comes the re-release of single ‘Slackerpop’ on flexi-disc (Jordan justifying, ‘We still believe that it’s a fucking smash hit!”) alongside a downloadable ‘quiet” EP of ‘Scatterbrain’ tracks. In terms of the next album, the writing process is still in its early stages, with Murray contributing an incredible analogy: ‘I always say writing songs is like visiting TK Maxx. You’ve gotta sift through the bullshit to get to the good.” So, it seems things may be a little more slow and steady on that front, a fairly defining factor of The Xcerts.
‘It’s an exceedingly slow process with our band because we don’t have the money to put us in places where other bands can go. So, it’s really slow and we rely on word of mouth, but there’s always something happening. It’s really slow and steady but we’ve never gone backwards.” And if their achievements of 2011 are anything to go by, they won’t be going backwards any time soon.

Check out the band when they support Manchester Orchestra at the start of October. ‘Slackerpop’ is released via Xtra Mile Recordings on 31st October.

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