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Shouting With… Twin Atlantic

by Kyle McCormick
Kyle McCormick
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on 13 January 2017 in Features

Chatting with Ross McNae of Twin Atlantic in the dressing room of The Barrowlands was undoubtedly the highlight of my “music journalism career” so far, given my status as a long-term fan of that Glaswegian quartet and frequenter of that historic Glaswegian venue. Conducted during their three-night stint behind those famous lights, you can find the results of that conversation below, with a swift video tour of the band’s back catalogue included for good measure.

*****

2016 was the year Glaswegian quartet Twin Atlantic released their fourth album GLA, an album which signalled a realignment of the band’s attitude towards “something more in keeping with who they actually are.” Taking that fundamental change into account, this past year was therefore arguably “the best year they’ve ever had,” which has in turn resulted in potentially elevating the band to a place of comfort from which to ply their trade in the coming years. Amidst growing concerns about the state of the world, this means on a basic level that this group of music lovers get to indulge in their escapism of choice uninterrupted for a little longer. Having returned to their hometown to conceive this latest record, it was being back in familiar territory which inspired the band’s change of tact, resulting in a decidedly bolder product. After naming the album after the city that nurtured them, it therefore only seems fitting to close the first chapter of this new era at a venue which they hold in such high esteem, the legendary Barrowland Ballroom, at which the band enjoyed a three-night residency in December 2016.

More specifically, the record is named after the airport and its runway which are the first and last point of contact for the band on their international travels, and to be bold, their latest record is Glasgow. This was not the intention however, at the outset the plan was never to compose an ode to the city, rather the city itself influenced the record’s composition in ways the band weren’t necessarily consciously aware of, and only a holistic view revealed where the true inspiration had been drawn from. Whilst not in stark contrast to the pop-rock anthems of predecessor Great Divide or the progressive leanings of debut Vivarium, GLA is certainly distinct in its aggressive disposition. Opener ‘Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator’ sets the tone in no uncertain terms, and the “big” songs of the record such as ‘No Sleep’ and ‘The Chaser’ all exude more swagger than you’d expect from a skim of the band’s back catalogue. “I think the reason the album sounds like that, and is Glasgow, is because we were physically actually here, and it felt like we reengaged with why we loved the city again,” explains bassist Ross McNae, which short of alluding to Glasgow’s violent past, simply attributes the record’s assertive feel to its rougher edges and no nonsense attitude. With the writing taking place whilst settling back into life at home, a change in style is understandable, given that frontman Sam McTrusty has undertaken most of the writing duties whilst immersed in the band’s unrelenting touring schedule until now. Whilst this subtle shift in sound may seem like a natural musical progression upon listening to the album record itself, it represents a more fundamental change in the dynamic of a band who created it.

McNae concedes, “what we’ve been maybe guilty of on the last couple of albums is we’d been reaching and reaching higher to try and make this perfect thing that’d just make the band bigger, instead of necessarily concentrating all of our efforts on making the band good.” Whilst some may be quick to condemn the band’s taking of the “commercial route” it is entirely understandable, and whilst this approach may be evident on some releases, a string of killer singles should surely absolve the quartet of any sins incurred on the road to success. Regardless of this, the band hold unwavering pride for of all their releases to date, and acutely are aware that on the path to perfection, “you wouldn’t get to the next place without making mistakes.” Eager not to lose grip on the notion and taste of a career in music, the band therefore surrendered on occasion to that inner voice urging their minds to make the music they thought was expected of them, rather than that the art which would be true to their desires. But no longer. Inspired once more by the comfort and grounding of home, the band opted to create GLA on their terms, and whilst this is reflected on the musical surface, the change isn’t immediately striking. McNae describes the process in more detail: “It’s not totally, dramatically different but there’s a subtle change where you know, little decisions that you would’ve made, maybe there’s only four or five decisions on a song that you would’ve made differently but they do give it a different feel across the whole album.” Consequently, this attitude shift has resulted in a much more fluid and natural approach to the band, in contrast to the meticulously rehearsed Twin Atlantic of yesteryear. This new attitude had taken the band almost to the point of blissful anarchy by the short clarification given: “I think the brilliant thing is that what we’ve done in all aspects of the band is that we’ve abandoned planning.” Ultimately, this revitalisation of the band was essential after so long in the same rut, and has led to what they perceive to be their most honest, and perhaps overall best, record to date. By rejecting and abandoning those chains they’d wrapped themselves in, they could approach their craft anew, and present their loyal fans with something exhilarating, whilst hopefully achieving that ever-present goal of garnering new fans simultaneously.

From the outset around ten year ago, the band’s primary method of expanding reach is to take the music to the fans, proudly living the following ethos: “Let’s just play our music to people, and if they like it they’ll come and see us, and then more people will come…” At this stage, following two UK Top Ten records, it’s reasonable to say that graft has paid dividends. Throughout all those journeys and shows however, The Barrowlands in Glasgow is probably still the band’s “favourite venue in the world.” Aside from the sentimental value associated with playing a room they visited so many times as a fan, and the indescribable magic of the venue – “it feels like you’re carrying on like a long lineage of people who’ve done it before you” – the size is also perfect. “It’s big enough to put on a good show, and for it to sound good and for you to be comfortable and for the crowd to be comfortable, but everybody’s close enough together that it still feels connected,” explains McNae. He elaborates, “Whereas maybe in a smaller venue you’d have to sacrifice a little bit of the sound and the “show” just for space, and in a bigger venue you maybe lose the connection because you’re thirty foot to the first person. Maybe 1,500 to 2,500, this kinda size of room, it’s the perfect size I think for music to be played in.” Similarly, Brixton and Manchester Academy hold significance for the band as they represent milestones on their path to the now, with the former posing as a London equivalent to The Barrowlands, and the latter representing the first-time people in England appeared to turn out in force to listen to the music of Twin Atlantic. The iconic Troubadour in Los Angeles holds the same importance, being the first venue they sold out in America. Out with this restricted short list, there are various venues across the globe which hold favour in the hearts of these Glaswegians, but for now The Barrowlands is a fitting and rewarding stage to round off this pivotal year.

In addition to their efforts on the live circuit, the backing of their label Red Bull Records has been invaluable during their ascent from the sweaty bars of Glasgow during their formative years, to headlining The Hydro in 2015. Returning to the potential criticisms for taking the major label route and perhaps “selling their souls for fame” in the eyes of some, McNae offer the following explanation to the doubters: “If you want to have a career out of music, the chances are you’re going to need to be signed to label that has a finger in every pie. So, it’s something that’s part and parcel, that you have to give up a little bit in order to have that push to make it.” Whilst he admits the DIY dream is undeniably the dream for all, it’s ultimately unrealistic when it comes to the prospect of making a living from a band. After the years of subconsciously conceding to perceived public opinion, GLA was the point where the band held out on the record label’s intervention, in a bid to bring them around to their way of thinking, and following the success of Great Divide and its flagship single ‘Heart And Soul’, faith was bestowed and a record with a different edge was released. Following this evolution, McNae is aware that “we’ll probably have shed some people that don’t like it, and then we’ve probably made some, gathered some people who do.” In the moment, however, Twin Atlantic are at the pinnacle of their career both musically and personally in light of this cognitive rearrangement, and looking forward to the future the band are content with their new-found fluidity and undefined approach. These closing remarks are perhaps a fitting summary of this new ethos, as well as words to live by as we proceed into uncertain socio-political waters: “I think it’s important to just keep doing something different and also to do something that you like, even if it’s just for a year, until you decide that you’ve grown out of it and you want to make something else, it’s important to make something for you in that moment.”

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