Glasgow’s Twin Atlantic are back with a gritty new album and a no-nonsense attitude, and they’re all the better for it. We caught up with bassist Ross McNae to chat about the perils of Glasgow, crafting the ‘perfect pop-rock song’, and going back to their roots:
You’ve just put out two new songs – No Sleep and Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator – and it’s fair to say that they’re a little heavier than the songs on your last album (2014’s Great Divide). Was this deliberate?
‘We’d been trying to do a different thing for a long time. When we started, we were more like the band that we are on those two songs – a heavy, gritty rock band. Over the years, we developed, and our songs developed, and we just got further and further towards trying to make the ‘perfect pop-rock song’. Naturally, this meant that things got polished up a lot more, and we started to just iron out any little quips or problems there were with the take. Nothing major – just lots of subtle little changes to polish up the song – but it did mean that the songs lost some of the rawness that they had when we were first starting out.
‘That’s not to say that we’re not incredibly proud of what we’ve already made.
‘It was just time for a change, and it felt like the natural thing to do was to try and do something different. Heart & Soul was a pretty big song for us we weren’t sure that we could do better than that – and get a better response than that – with regards to getting played on the radio. We could’ve gone down the same road again, but we just said to ourselves ‘where’s the fun in that?’ and decided to do something different this time.
‘This album’s much less sentimental than the last one.
‘The theme of it is really just ‘here we are, and this is what we do’, rather than us looking back on things or contemplating the things that have happened to our band. Sure, there are quieter moments on there, but they’re not softer. With this album, we just wanted to take back from rock music what we loved about music when we were just getting started with this band – the big guitar riffs, the bombastic drums, and the idea of just getting in a room and making some noise.
Was there ever a temptation to say ‘okay, we’re going to deliberately turn into a full-on pop-rock band and try to sell a million of the next record’?
‘Well, a little tiny bit of what you’re saying has been in our minds every time we’ve made an album – until this one. The last album was the most straightforward one yet, and we all thought it was pretty good. Okay, so we didn’t sell a million copies of it, but I kinda felt like at the end of it we’d achieved more than we thought we could have.
‘We’re fairly true to ourselves, so the idea of just making music to try and sell albums was totally unappealing to us for a number of reasons.
‘We thought that the best way to stimulate ourselves was to go the complete opposite way and to just try to do something that made us really happy. We didn’t want to ‘perfect’ a song or a genre – we just did what came naturally, and the new album came about as a result of that.
You finished your last tour by playing the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy and the 13,000-capacity Glasgow Hydro, but your first shows back for this album are really intimate club shows. Was this deliberate?
‘There’s been a bit of a refashioning in our own minds with regards to the band. This time, we only had one goal, and that was to be authentic to ourselves, because as long as we stayed authentic to ourselves then we knew that we were going to make an album that we could be proud of. When we first started the band, we wrote together, and it was all about the excitement and the energy and the collaboration. As time went on, we got further and further away from that, but for this album, we started writing together and collaborating again. It was a return to how we used to be, and we just felt that it was best for people to experience these new songs for the first time in a venue like the ones we played those old songs in for the first time.
How long did it take you to write and record the new album?
‘So, this album was actually recorded in six weeks, but the writing process didn’t actually take that long. Once we finished the gigs we had booked (in support of the last album) we’d all planned on taking a while to get it done, but things just came really naturally. I think it probably took four or five months of writing, but none of it intensely – just as and when we could, between mine and Sam’s houses.
‘We just tried to do things differently, really.
‘We didn’t try to have a bunch of finished songs for when we all met up, and we didn’t get the whole band together and make demos before we went in, like we did before. It was more just about ideas, really. When we went to make the record, we had two three-week windows – three weeks in the studio, then home for Christmas, and then three weeks in January. It just went really quickly. We went on instinct and reaction, rather than trying to make everything more pristine.
With the last album, did every take have to be perfect in order to make it a more polished pop-rock record?
‘It’s not like everything we’ve done in the past doesn’t make us proud to look back on now, but we’d kinda got to the point where we’d been getting a bigger studio, with more gear, and a more notable producer with every album. With the last album, we were in a really amazing studio in Wales, and we were in there for three months, and we’d already been writing for a year before we got there. We did three or four takes of everything to make sure it was all perfect, because that was the album that we were trying to make. The idea of just doing the same thing again wasn’t appealing, because we’d already done it, and because we just felt impatient to get something new out there.
It’s interesting how you spent so much time touring the world in support of your last album, but then came back and made a record that’s so obviously about where you came from.
‘Yes, it is. We’d just learned a lot about ourselves over the last two years. We’d travelled a lot, and we’d started playing gigs where there were actually a lot of people there, and it almost felt like the burden of trying to be successful had been lifted. We may not have sold a million albums, but for the type of music we make we’ve done pretty well. We’ve certainly done better than we could have imagined doing. This time, it was more just a case of ‘let’s do exactly what we want to do’.
‘It’s natural that there’s going to be a change – heck, it’s hard to be the same band you were five years ago when you’re sat writing a song on a bus after you’ve just played your first sold-out show in New York. It’s going to work its way into the songs that you’re writing.
‘I think that just being at home and being in Glasgow was the catalyst for making this record as honest as possible. You go down to the shops, and you can’t be too flamboyant, and you can’t throw the big ‘I am’ around, because it’s just not going to fly. Somebody will always take you down a peg. Just being here allowed us to make this album.
Did you ever consider how these songs would sound in huge venues when you play them next to the old songs?
‘Well, yeah, those thoughts do go through your head. Ultimately, we stopped thinking about that because we started thinking about how much we loved the album we’d made. Because we loved it so much, then we thought that some other people might love it too, and as long as some people have the same experience of the music as we do then we think it’s going to be okay.
Out of every song ever recorded, which do you wish you’d written?
‘Bohemian Rhapsody was one of the songs that really got me into rock music, so that would have to be up there. There are loads, though… For a modern song, I’d probably go for Song 2 by Blur. I’ve got to be honest with you; take the sound of that song, and then take the ‘let’s just do whatever makes us happy’ attitude of Bohemian Rhapsody, and you probably get a reasonable flag of what this new album is meant to be.
Describe yourself in three words?
‘Honest, loud rock.