Glasgow’s Twin Atlantic have long been an unassuming rock band. Since their 2009 debut album Vivarium the quartet have retained an easy humility in their approach to rock, despite three album to reach the UK Rock Charts top 10, and a reputation for stage shows that throw all the blood, sweat and tears from the floor to the light rigs. Now they’re back with new album GLA, which captures the passion and grit of the band before they broke, with a distilled sense of purpose and a bare knuckle approach to grasping roots.
Once again recruiting producer Jacknife Lee to help set fire to the inquisitive nature of the creative process Twin Atlantic have shared a set of tracks that may be their best album to date.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Ross McNae to discuss the bands choice of recording location, their desire to keep on top of business, and the catalyst behind their return to an edgier sound.
Christopher Friedmann: You guys are about to release a new album, GLA, on September 9th, and will be heading out on tour in October. How are you feeling?
Ross McNae: Pretty phenomenal – We’ve had releases before, but this is the one that feels most like the record that we all most wanted to hear. It’s the most natural record that we’ve ever made. It’s really not about impressing anyone but ourselves. A thing about the last few albums that we maybe got stuck on again and again was pleasing other people, but this time we shut ourselves off from anyone who wasn’t in the band or the producer, and we just made a record for ourselves that made us feel something. Going on tour now we’re now really looking forward to playing the songs, and everyone is feeling dead positive.
CF: You wrote GLA in Glasgow, but recorded it in Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. How did being in the nature of Topanga and being away from home influence the sound of the record?
RM: Y’know, I think it influenced it because Topanga… the environment is actually made of artists and musicians, so being there, just being around it – that attitude can bleed into the way you make music. I mean, obviously it’s sunny and great weather all the time, but it feels like the people there really do let people do whatever they want, so there aren’t the same pressures of being in a big city.
Obviously, not being at home you don’t have the usual distractions of daily life around you, and that was really important to us, to write the record at home – and that was important to us, to be more sincere – talking about and being influenced by friends and daily life that you don’t really get when you’re writing songs in a van or on a bus when you’re away touring. But we’ve done that, and we needed to try something different to us, so I think the process of writing the album was important like that and then getting in to record it, you look around and you’re surrounded by people who don’t really care what society expects from you it’s more like “Do what you want to do” and we just let go, and made whatever we wanted in the moment.
CF: You recently released a video for “No Sleep”. It’s simple, with just the band performing in front of a video screen, which streams textures inspired by the album art. How does making a straightforward music video like this help show off the true nature of the band?
RM: I think you’ve got the idea so far, from the last couple of questions that we got to the point where we wanted to, and needed to cut back, and strip back a lot of out stuff. We wanted to not dress up the music – so it was a no-brainer to just come out with with a straight forward video with the song; the visuals that we thought matched the record. It was important make a this not a story – but the first place that people would see stuff from the new record, so people could go there and get their subsequent ideas about what we were doing. But first we wanted to make that statement – that ‘we’re back but we’re trying something new’, and we’re not too concerned with what other people find, or trying to impress people. I think, subconsciously, that’s why we made the video like that.
CF: So, you’re not consciously trying to please people, but “No Sleep” was recently tagged as “The hottest record in the world” on BBC Radio1 and “Track of the Day” by Q Magazine. So, I have two questions…. During the creative process were you aware that the song was something special? And, do those kind of buzzword accolades actually put pressure on you?
RM: I think we did know… we had a feeling… I don’t know we ever had that feeling like “Oh my god this could be track of the day!” or anything like that, but y’know, that was one of the first things that we wrote for the record and it was a load of music that I had put together and it was then Sam and myself dived into it and there was a real energy there, even before there was any vocal. The only vocal we had was “No Sleep” as a chorus, even with just instrumental and that… we felt “Man, this is exciting.!” and then, for the rest of the album we focused our writing around that feeling.
It was just so much more no-nonsense and back to what it was that excited us about music when we were first getting into it and much younger. When we were first in bands it was all about writing really brash, loud, in your face… noise. (Laughs) and there was something about this song, a rawness of energy which I suppose helped us realize what we needed to do with the rest of the album. This was written just as we were finishing touring the last album and yet it was always a happy mistake – and it gave us a direction.
And as for the pressure, no… because that’s just somebody else saying that. We’ve already written the song! I suppose if someone was there saying “On October the 13th you’ll have the hottest record in the world!” we would probably write one under the pressure, but we already had it… but those accolades come after the fact, you’ve already made it! (Laughs)
CF: You’ve played with Biffy Clyro, Blink-182, Say Anything, and a variety others. Did you notice any commonalities in those bands’ approach to craft that you’ve adopted into your own work?
RM: We’ve probably taken a little bit of everything from everybody. In order to get to the place where we could make this album we had to learn and then make our own mistakes, because it doesn’t matter how much you love what you’ve done you learn from the mistakes. We’ve learned how songs work live, and how they appeal to audiences by watching how other bands play in front of bigger crowds – what are they doing? In the past we really thought about that an awful lot, and I think it got us to the point where we knew how we were going to sound and we knew how crowds would react. So yeah, we’ve learned loads of things from those bands, whether or not it’s ‘how to drop this section’ in a song, for the crowds to sing along, or the production of a band, whatever it is, we definitely learned a little from all of them. But on this album we tried to throw away everything we’ve learned and just get back to instinct and basics and really go out on a limb, and if something made us feel good, to just go with it and to not over think things – because we’ve been guilty of that in the past.
CF: You’ve played with top rock bands from both sides of the Atlantic. What are the similarities and differences between the rock ‘n’ roll atmospheres in the U.K. and the U.S.?
RM: For the most part – things are the same. When we’ve been all over the world, with all the bands we’ve played with… don’t get me wrong, there are some that are more theatrical than others, who are just about playing the songs… but for the most part we’ve been lucky in that we’ve played for crowds who just seem to like the music…even the journalists, they’re not trying to be experts or keep up with trends… it’s more just that we’re playing for music fans, not ‘cool’ fans, y’know? They’re more concerned about having a good time rather than being seen at the right place, so we’re lucky that all those bands we’ve played with, and all the people we’ve played for just want to have a good time.
CF: So talking about that more theatrical approach – how do you make that balance in your own performance between a little bit of theater and not become just a straight out ra-ra-ra rock band?
RM: Well, I suppose the whole thing is a evolution. I suppose we all do it in all of our lives… we’ve flip-flopped between what we were, what we’ve tried to be, and things have worked and certain things haven’t. At the end of the day people are paying money to see you play your songs. They could just listen to their album at home if they wanted – so you do feel like you should put extra energy into a song. We’re all really big fans of big arena productions, but I suppose where we are at the moment is at the precipice of something… trying to make it more about the song, but we’re not going to be standing there dead in our shoes, we still want people to have a good time.
CF: Given that the issues you deal with are universal, there are some decidedly ‘Scottish’ attributes to your sound and vocabulary. Are you ever surprised when American audiences respond so favorably to your tunes?
RM: Y’know, it’s hard, after we got over the initial wave of people shouting ‘Braveheart!’ at us, which was quite funny but moderately hurtful, we’re actually culturally vastly different. Scottish people have more in common with the Germans than they do the Americans, really. It’s hard, but it’s a kind of miracle that people know what we’re talking about. I’m not quite sure they like it the way they like it!
CF: On this album you returned to working with Jacknife Lee in the producer’s chair. You worked with him before on The Great Divide. Can you tell us something about your relationship with such a notable producer, and why you invited him back for GLA?
RM: We went with on three songs on our last album, and we got to the point on the last album when we’d finished it but we all felt that was something missing, but we couldn’t put our finger on it. We actually wanted to work with him for a long time, we’d been a fan of his, and then the opportunity came up for him to work on a couple of our songs and it just sort of went so well. The songs that he worked on for the last record are probably the most commercial sounding on the whole album, and had the most successful radio play – all that kind of stuff.
I think the whole band knew there was some kind of unfinished business with him, that he’d brought something out in us; a curiosity that we didn’t even know that we had and we felt if we were to go back and work with him it would be something that it would be a breath of fresh air. I think it really hit it, I think it really has it – he’s reinvigorated our desire to be back in a band working together.
CF: Given the way people now obtain music the concept of releasing albums In the modern music industry can be somewhat daunting. You’re now on ‘album 4’ of your career. Has the landscape of business and commerce changed your opinion on how to release music to the fans?
RM: When our band started to get recognition at home was a thrill to us, it was a time that was dark in the industry, but we were doing better than anyone, and I’m not quite sure how that happened! I suppose people will always want music and business can’t hold music down, and people still wanted new stuff. We definitely found that over the years people buy music much less, and I can count myself in all of that; I stream all of my music from Spotify, and Apple Music – I pay them a tenner a month and just get on with it. But that’s probably bad, I should be supporting and buying music – but the world is just changing and you can’t try and hold back change, you just have to get on board and go with it.
I think we’ll sell a fraction of what we’d have traditionally sold as a band, but that doesn’t mean it’s doing any worse – it’s just the climate has changed. Who knows, maybe in a few years time people won’t be trying to sell albums at all – people will give music away for free and concentrate on touring. I suppose making something and selling it is one of the oldest trades in the world, and there’s something about music that feels like being in a band and having people coming to watch you to perform should be the real product. A recording is cool, but I think ultimately if they like it people will buy a ticket for you show.
CF: With all that in mind, in regard to the album cycle of GLA what do you feel ‘success’ will look like?
RM: I don’t honestly have any idea! We’ve alway been pretty desperate, that’s not the right word – but we’ve always wanted things to go well. But these last couple of years we’ve refocused on what it means to be in a band, and musicians – and that was focusing on what if feels like about what we’ve made. Whether or not in six months time we’ll look back and say ‘oh no – that’s not me’ we don’t know, but when we finished this album and it was mixed, we still love it, so that’s the biggest success. Whatever happens now, whether it’s positive or negative, doesn’t really matter as much now as it did in the past, because this is the best record we’ve ever made.
CF: Aside from the creative accomplishments of the band, and the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ experiences that you’ve had throughout the years, is there one particular memory that was grounding, and of a more human scale?
RM: We’ve been to some pretty cool places, we went to South Africa last year, which was a pretty mixed bag of emotions, because of all these new experiences. I’d never thought our band would be playing there, let alone that there were festivals there, and we’d never expect it to be the same as home, or America, or wherever. But subconsciously I suppose, looking back on that by the nature of where we were and the levels of poverty, we were being driven through these places and we almost didn’t know what to feel. I suppose that bled into our new attitude, and into making music, and what we wanted from the band because we had a focus on grounding realization… we’re really lucky to do what we get to do, to live in the moment and not take it too seriously – but to let it all happen.
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