Twin Atlantic‘s last album saw them cross a major threshold. With their new one, ‘GLA’, they’re trying something different.
Words: Heather McDaid. Photos: Phil Smithies.
In Glasgow there’s a spaceship. It glows every spectrum of the rainbow on dark and drizzly nights, and inside it is a stage that’s a bucket list goal for most bands in these parts. In May 2015, Twin Atlantic walked triumphantly onto that stage after years of hard work, and saw off their ‘Great Divide’ tour run in style.
There were a few other events – the odd gig here or there, and the small matter of headlining the second stage at T in the Park – before the run really ended, but that Hydro show was symbolic of how far the album had catapulted them. “It’s funny,” notes singer Sam McTrusty. “I’ve actually been able to relive it quite a few times because we filmed it all and made a documentary. When I was watching it back, I felt as nervous as I was going out on stage because we’re obviously not a band who signed a record deal a year ago, made an album and then the album got big or something. It’s a seriously long build up to that moment – I felt emotional, proud, scared – it was every emotion you can feel. I was probably hungry, because I was too nervous to eat.
“I’ve got this thing that as soon as I take literally one step on the stage, like [snaps fingers] I’m fine. It’s a bit cheesy, a bit of a cliché, but my adrenaline just spikes so high that I go into like super focus animal beast mode, so it’s pretty good.”
Super focus animal beast mode was activated and Twin rose to the occasion and then some. Job done – for the time being. “We don’t even drink champagne or anything like that,” he laughs, “but there’s always someone who opens one when you do a big gig like that. Even if the band goes for another twenty years or something, that will be a landmark moment, coming off the stage, sitting in the dressing room and just looking at everyone, our friends and family. We got to close down a bit of the Hydro and there was like, I guess, 150 people, all our friends, and their friends and cousins there.”
But when they walked outside the Hydro and back into the real world, the obvious question was, what next? Unlike most tours, they got to close it off at home, “so we actually got to stay in Glasgow. I got a new flat. Ross and I got into the production side of music and we were buying bits and bobs and setting up home studios. Life kind of happened, and then we started digging into music, production, which we’d always kind of done, but we’d always started with a full song and then done it. I had ten or twelve acoustic demos on my phone, and half of them sounded like us, and the other half sounded like this interesting new thing. We just decided – we didn’t even decide, we were just drawn towards the most interesting stuff.”
In a whirlwind week in summer 2016, that interesting new thing was brought to life with a vengeance, a red and black, capitalised vengeance. ‘No Sleep’ was unveiled, a tiny King Tut’s club show was announced, and news of ‘GLA’, their new album, was everywhere – their fleeting break was over.
The 0-100 nature of the album’s unveiling is pretty on point. Their last album took months upon months to record, ‘GLA’ took six weeks. They were on fire, and trying anything that took their fancy “I’ve learned to embrace that it’s 2016 and that I can actually use some of this shit to help us,” he says. “On all of our other albums, we wanted the same experiences as our favourite bands that we’d read about in books. We wanted to make an album the way the Foo Fighters made a record – that was like, what, 25 years ago? It’s kind of stupid when you kind of think about it.
“Once we got over that, Ross started writing songs by himself, which probably gave him a bit more confidence. Like, ‘Gold Elephant Cherry Alligator’, Ross did all of that by himself, and it gave me space to be more like a music producer. Sometimes I don’t play guitar on any of the songs so I got to totally focus on the words, the melody, make it a bit more unpredictable – that’s what made it fun and challenging.
“We always used the studio as another instrument but it wasn’t until we were in the studio, and by then it’s almost too late to hear its influence, whereas this time we kind of used all of that stuff when the song was being born. I had a studio set up in my living room – it’s not fancy, it’s not like all of a sudden we played the Hydro and I’m pure minted and I bought all this shit! I had a laptop, some wee thing that cost about £200 that you get on the Apple Store, and then my guitars and my pedals and stuff – anyone can do what we were doing.
“But I think it was probably inspired by the other ways we’d make music, that we’d done it before. It’s not that we don’t love that – we just didn’t want to do ‘Great Divide’ part two. We wanted to try to scare ourselves.”
They had previously become somewhat caught in the hunt for the perfect song, and ‘GLA’ took it back to basics. It became about the fun of writing without an end goal in mind. “We didn’t even know we were making an album, we were just fucking around with studio gear, and at the end of the day we’d have a new song and go: ‘Fuck, I quite like that’. We were reacting to stuff rather than sitting for hours and thinking it through.”
For bassist Ross McNae, it was a new experience entirely. “I just started writing for fun,” he says. “Sam has such a different approach to it than me because he’s ten years deep in it, I was trying for the first time and it was really instinctual what came out.”
“The honest thing is in some parts I got too good,” picks up Sam. “That sounds really arrogant but in music you can get too formulaic, too correct with what’s expected of pop structured music and that was why this worked so well. Ross was really good at ironing out my crazy parts and I was good at spotting his really good hooks and parts that had huge potential, that usually wouldn’t have gotten noticed because of the way we were working.”
“I was also guilty of trying to iron out too many of the interesting parts of Sam’s songs to make them more universal,” admits Ross. “It got to a point where we had to try something different, to start afresh. I just really enjoyed it, because I had never done it before. I didn’t have any expectations or stress, like Sam had a bit of a weight of trying to deliver things, whereas I was just able to have fun. Having Sam look at things that I had been writing rather than the other way around was exciting for [him] as well as exciting for me. It kind of gave the whole thing a freshness.”
Which brings us to that show in Tut’s. It’s not to say that Twin weren’t having fun on their last album run, far from it, but the energy in that room, the show they put on, it just felt that this was kicking off on an entirely different level. It made you feel like they had one hell of an album in their pocket – it was carnage. “That’s actually how we are as people,” says Sam. “See that Tut’s gig – we represented it with our music before, but never had the confidence to just – fuck it, just actually be yourself. It’s probably an age thing. It’s probably not actually being sure who you are. That sounds quite deep. But all the travelling, all the life changing experiences, big gigs or travelling all over the world and stuff like that, you start to be a bit more comfortable in your own skin and making a change, putting the guitars down and not hiding behind the ‘idea’ of a band, and that it has to be this way or the way that all our heroes made music.
“Since we abandoned that, everything’s been so easy and carefree. Even naming the album was funny. I remember we were like laughing when we decided that one. It took like two seconds. I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool, because we’re from there, to call our album Glasgow? So we can call it G-L-A.’ We were all like WAAAAYYY and that was it. Before, I was like ‘Guys, I’ve got an idea for an album’ and I’d sat on it for like two months and totally thought how I was going to tell them. Everything’s just been way more carefree.”
‘GLA’ is by all accounts a massive leap for Twin Atlantic. It’s a little more ragged around the edges than ‘Great Divide’ and is the kind you could pick from the record and plonk on a stage and have a thoroughly nice time over. Like the title of the album, there’s not a great deal of mystery to what they’re doing.
‘Overthinking’, an infectious confessional of sorts, is a prime example. “Sometimes I do this thing where I zoom in on the details of something to the point of how it feels in your hand and then zoom right out and do a full landscape coverage of the idea. ‘Overthinking’ comes in because I realised I am a victim of that big time, I can get lost in my own thoughts to the point of having quite bad anxiety or make myself fucking sick over thinking, basically slagging myself.”
It’s streamlined a lot for the band. There’s no hidden meaning for fans to unravel, no great mystique for interviewers to delve into. It is what it is. “We have taken a lot of the distractions out of the way and simplified it by giving things like the album a pretty obvious name,” explains Sam. “The lead single [‘No Sleep’] – you go into a lot of radio stations and they’re like ‘What’s the new song about?’ and you’re like ‘It’s about not getting any sleep’,” he laughs. “All you have to do is decide whether you like it or not.”
“It’s been quite exciting,” says Ross on the response they’ve found so far. “Some people are like, I can’t believe you are doing this again, this is like the old you.” Those who missed the heavier sounds the first time around are now getting their introduction to this side of the band, which in a sense is just as exciting to them.
The road that Twin have been on over the years has taken them all over the world, but it’s always brought them back to the same place: Glasgow. ‘Mother Tongue’, the album’s closer, is their way of embracing and celebrating all that comes with the city. “It’s what it feels like for me to be from Glasgow, leave it quite a lot to go do this selfish music thing we do, but then coming back and finding my place in the city as an adult, and all the horrible clichés that exist – they’re all in there. I wrote that after we named the record.
“It’s love and hate – or not so much love, more that it’s no matter where, it’s a total omnipresent thing. You’re from Glasgow – that’s it. You have all its bad points follow you around; we would walk into a room and people would talk about really light-heartedly, ‘Rangers or Celtic! I don’t want to cause any trouble, blah blah blah’.
“You’re like mate, it’s funny for the first year or two and then you’re like ‘Fuck, that’s quite embarrassing’. Then another year or two and you start getting passionate about it and you’re like ‘It’s not like that anymore’. I guess it’s my take on what it’s like to be this age, be from there and have Glasgow evolve into this. It’s kind of above all those old clichés people associate with it, but on a bigger scale [‘Mother Tongue’ is] about talking about where you are from and having pride in it but also loving all the shit bits cause it makes it home in a way.”
Glasgow has been many things for the band, and soon it will be where they play a three night stint at the infamous Barrowlands, a venue they’ve packed before. As for what to expect on that run, the idea mill has stopped everywhere from playing full albums to going to other cities and having themed evenings like GLA, MCR, LDN. At the moment, they have no idea, but it promises to be good fun. The scope is limitless when they do think about it, and the general feeling remains doing what they want, seeing where it goes, reacting not planning.
The ‘GLA’ era is here. It’s an album that they agree was made purely to make them happy, and it reflects in every area, from their live shows to just chatting to them about the experience. “Ten years of playing the game and evolving your mind into like a song writing mind and doing all that… Let’s for a change do an album that’s about the music. It sounds so fucking comedy obvious out loud, but we will just react to stuff as it goes. That’s the way we made the record; rather than trying to think ‘How are we going to do this?’ we just fucking did it.”
“We’ve been joking,” Sam says, “saying ‘GLA’ is a pure state of mind, like an attitude, it’s whenever anything comes up, we will just be like fuck it.” On top of a great album and new era for Twin Atlantic, it sounds like a state of mind we could all do with embracing once in a while.