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June 2020

Twin Atlantic, taking power back: "We want to live life and be adventurous"

Sam McTrusty and co. are embarking on a whole new chapter.
Published: 11:00 am, January 23, 2020Words: Steven Loftin. Photos: Katy Cummings.
Twin Atlantic, taking power back: "We want to live life and be adventurous"

Sam McTrusty doesn't quite know what he's saying. The Twin Atlantic frontman has been too busy building scaffolding around himself and his band to dissect what he's been doing for the last two and a half years.

Instead, it's all driven by an instinct of finding new depths to plunge. Over the last decade or so Twin Atlantic have been pretty much living the dream - which is also why Sam's not too sure how he feels about the release of the band's fifth album.

"I'm a strange mixture, in all honesty, part of me doesn't care," he laughs. "I've put two and a half years of my adult life into learning how to work a studio, and not just writing songs but producing and recording them. Just so much has gone into the making of it that this part of it feels like a bonus."

'Power' is an album that's a solid foundation of darkly euphoric sounds, the kind that resides deep in the duality that life is a rocky shore, but that doesn't mean it can't be filled with youthful lost evenings. Which all, rather handily, became the temple for this new chapter of Twin Atlantic.

They're known for being purveyors of soaring guitar music. Songs that feel just as at home in a grassy field on a hot July evening, as they do in a sweat-dripping club with a hundred bodies compact against each other - now it's a move into the experimental and toward dance floors.

Wanting to bring that authentic feeling to the surface, the template for POWER came from Felix Da Housecat's 'Ready 2 Wear' which Sam "was listening to at fifteen or sixteen or something,"

"That's when Ross and I were first going out to bars or clubs with fake IDs, and it was always the song that was at the end of the night. Or you go back to someone's house, and we'd always put that song on first. So it's kind of an aesthetic dark euphoric memory for the two of us," he recalls through his thick Glaswegian accent.

"For some reason that just kind of spoke to me artistically. Maybe it's got something to do with the backdrop of fucking chaos we're all living in front of just now you know? It's a really serious time. And it's foreboding and worrying, but we're all still so young, we want to live life and be adventurous and some interesting thing that our generation's having to juggle."

"You can't engage with real-life at home and try and live in an artistic landscape at the same time. It doesn't work that way"
Sam McTrusty

Sam's been living in his nostalgic past; in those darkened rooms where all notions of an outside world disappear. It's where the search for the who's, what's, where's and why's naturally led. And slightly more notably, as the old saying almost goes, all roads lead to home.

Whereas previously they'd jet off to the states, immerse themselves in that rock 'n' roll world of creating, living that West Coast dream, this time it was all anchored in their native of Glasgow.

"Any other time we've made a record we've kinda jumped into some sort of rock lifestyle," He says. "Where we go and get a visa for America and are shipped off to Los Angeles. You feel like you're in a movie, and you can get carried away with that whole approach and start believing your surreal surroundings."

With this surreal living comes a removal from real life. While Twin Atlantic were, somewhat ironically, on the other side of the Atlantic, the world at home kept turning - a lesson Sam found more challenging to learn when bringing his work home with him.

"The sad thing is, and this is the sort of ongoing thing with all creative outlets, it's like the sad clown where life is going on, and it doesn't come into [creativity] at all," he admits.

"The surreal, and escapism in songwriting... going to California, or when we made another album. We went to Rockfield and lived in a world-famous studio for the month, and talked about how Queen and Coldplay recorded there - we lived in an alternate reality, but you can't do both.

"You can't engage with real-life at home and try and live in an artistic landscape at the same time. It doesn't work that way - for me, anyway. And so it's sad because you end up getting quite detached from people you care about and are isolated because people are experiencing things in real life and you're not."

But with Sam always seeing the optimistic side of life, he knows that it's all still a position of privilege.

"The other side of it is you have to tell yourself that there are a thousand bands in Scotland alone, never mind the rest of the UK or wherever that would kill for this opportunity," he readily remembers.

"That can keep you keep focused, but it made it harder doing it at home. The studio used to be our rehearsal room for ten years, and I don't know if you've been in a rehearsal room, but they're kinda fucking shit holes! So even mentally going in there and then go home sleeping in your own bed [was a struggle]."

Twin Atlantic, taking power back: "We want to live life and be adventurous"

'Power' is also an important milestone for a band realising that they have two choices; turn around, dissect it all and see what rises from those ashes, or keep going forward on the same path where nothing but falsity and a contrived nature lies.

"I've been guilty of that before," he nods. "So I know what that feels like - not for whole records, but maybe moments in songs or a photograph or something.

"You do start to learn, especially if you've got a kind of origin in a sort of DIY ethic that was instilled and where we can start it off from you do start to realise what being genuine feels like."

The heart of this genuine nature stems from the relationship between Sam and Ross. They've "lived in each others' back pocket since we were like twelve or thirteen years old," and Sam's ability to reach deep into the subconscious came from having a close confidant like Ross.

"He's my right-hand man, and him with me when I was writing lyrics just allowed me to go to that sort of late-night 'Had too much to drink' place in my mind where you start opening up to someone." He begins with a laugh. "So, again I realise this right now talking to you about it; I haven't thought about it!"

"I've never really written with someone else in the room before. Me trying to get over the awkwardness hurdle was trying to make Ross laugh. It kind of followed an instinct and it was almost like I wasn't writing lyrics I was kind of channelling them, and that sounds fucking snooty, but it wasn't like cerebral it was more instinctive. Basically on the edge of almost failing and ruining the song, that's where I felt most comfortable."

He continues: "In this new environment with your best friend, where all of a sudden you get serious and start talking about something like that which is intimate, it can be quite funny. It can be quite awkward, and that could start a process where I've ended up being more honest and more open in a real part of my life?

"When I go back through our back catalogue, everything's always about wanting to be free, or running away or dead angsty because I feel under pressure with something that I'm trying to ignore. [Anything I've said before this has been trying to] post-rationalise, because at the time I wasn't thinking about anything, apart from trying to make Ross laugh or can I take this song to a place that would ruin it?"

During the last two and a half years, there's also been a change-up in the Twin Atlantic ranks. Lead guitarist Barry McKenna has moved from permanent member to just touring, and focusing on his creative outputs.

Truthfully, it was the Twin Atlantic de/re-construction that instigated this change. "The way that we began making music was very difficult for a lead guitar player to effect a change in that," Sam recalls.

"It's a very emotional thing to go through, and I'm sure there's some knock-on effect; with the record, the band, [even] the dynamic between the four of us even on stage. I'm sure it's just another kind of a learning experience for us as people."

"Rather than just burying our heads in the sand, let's deal with it and try and come up with something that works for us instead of making it all dramatic and falls to the footsteps of other rock bands before us the kind of Spinal Tap ten drummers running joke. Barry's still a part of the band, and his history in the band is important to us. There's no reason why we can't all still tour together, and also play this new record together."

"Behind the scenes, we changed everything"
Sam McTrusty

Since the new road Twin are travelling is what led to Barry stepping down full-time, has that added any further pressure to an already bold movement for any guitar-based band?

"There's always that annoying person in the back your mind that wants you to doubt yourself or something and then if you do if you're making a monumental shift in the line-up or record label even," Sam says.

"We went through a lot of management, booking agents - behind the scenes we changed everything. Then changing your sound after that, as well? It made it a lot more volatile than if, you know, everything was rosy. We all like putting more pressure on it; we love to live at the edge of failure, that is where the band began. We've always been some sort of an underdog."

As Sam says, this is where Twin Atlantic have always thrived; it's their natural habitat. They want the challenge, yearn for it even. The looming chance of failure breeds the best out of them. Like school children leaving their homework till the last minute - the thrill of the chase is all that matters.

"There's a particular sort of uncomfortable space where joy and fears are up against each other. There's that sort of like negative space between the two," he ponders.

With all the introspection, comes the sacred ability for some retrospection, especially surrounding the growth Sam's been through himself. "Me five-six years ago would've fucking killed to have done this." 

He gestures to the ghostly memory of industry figures and do-gooders. "This person that's telling you this, or suggesting that, is a fucking asshole but, like, go along with it for a sec and see how it go and then the next thing you know you've done something you don't want to do.

"Maybe it's an age thing. We're all just in our thirties, and maybe a light bulb goes off in your head. We're like, 'Wow, I'm in charge of my own life, and you're not an asshole by having an opinion or saying I don't want to do that'- I think that steered us a little bit more into taking control."

Which is where the full-circle of 'Power' comes into play. He might not have realised it until the exploration process begins while promoting the album. Still, Sam and co. have secure the good ship Twin Atlantic on a course that feels right, and they're the ones fully at the helm now - both musically and personally. 

Taken from the February issue of Upset. Twin Atlantic's album 'Power' is out 24th January.

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