Interview: James Graham of The Twilight Sad (SCO) opens up on new album It Won/t Be Like This All The Time

It’s a Monday morning in Glasgow, Scotland and James Graham is professing the positives of new fatherhood.

“I love it,” he drawls in his thick Scottish accent, “I have an excuse now when I don’t want to go out. I can sit in the house and watch films and have a drink in the house instead of popping down the pub. But generally it’s usually… his favourite is Moana at the moment. We’ve probably watched Moana for the 50th time now. We’d like to watch something new,” he laughs.

Fatherhood isn’t the only change since Scottish band The Twilight Sad last released an album. Five years after Nobody Wants To Be Here And No One Wants To Leave, the band are breaking their silence with the release of their fifth album It Won/t Be Like This All The Time.

After finishing touring their last album, The Twilight Sad were ready to recuperate before writing music again, but they were given an offer they couldn’t refuse. “We came to the end of the touring cycle and Robert [Smith] asked us to go on tour with The Cure, which added another year of touring,” says Graham. The Scots supported the goth legends across Europe and the US, playing massive venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley Arena. “I’m definitely not complaining,” he says. “It was the best experience of my life. Something we said to each other quite a lot was, ‘Don’t get used to this’. I suppose that’s why the new album title is It Won/t Be Like This All The Time,” he laughs.

The Twilight Sad have changed with each album, from their shoegaze debut to the electronic krautrock of 2012’s No One Can Ever Know, but their break offered a lot of life changes. Along with Graham’s marriage and first child, the band have signed to new label Rock Action Records – run by their close friends in Scottish post-rock band Mogwai – and welcomed new members, bassist Johnny Docherty, drummer Sebastien Schultz, and Brendan Smith on keys. “Everything just felt kind of new and fresh, and in a way like a new beginning for us,” he says. “It was important because after four records people could feel jaded, but when we went into the room to play songs it felt like a new band and it was a great feeling.”

The change in the air also breathed new life into the Graham and co-founder/guitarist Andy MacFarlane’s writing process. “In the past what would happen is Andy would send me the music and I would write my lyrics and melodies,” he says. “Once we’d written most of this record he went and deleted all the music, and then he rewrote it and sent it back to me.”

MacFarlane’s decision caught Graham by surprise – “I was definitely taken back a bit,” he admits. “He definitely knew it would happen because he wrote this email that said, ‘Don’t panic! I’ve done this. I didn’t think what I’d done was good enough, and then I wrote all of my stuff to your melodies. Just give it a few listens, and I’m telling you it’s for the better’. He made the right decision as far as I’m concerned. We do like to try new things and we don’t want our records sounding the same. I thought the music before was good, but we didn’t want to just be good, we wanted to be better.”

Before MacFarlane experimented with the band’s sound for the new album, Graham was experimenting with his lyrics. Earlier albums featured cryptic and fragmented lyrics about vague subjects – eg. “And your face is turning hard through the winter/ There’s nails in our feet”. But for It Won/t Be Like This All The Time, Graham has opened up. “I think that that on the previous records there were a lot more metaphors I was using,” he says. “I don’t know if I was hiding behind them, but I was definitely using them. I think it worked for a while in telling the stories and feelings I was trying to get across. With this one, I just felt that there were some songs I needed to say how I’m feeling exactly. Since I’ve been doing that, people who have heard some of the songs have really related to it. I know that a lot of people are feeling the same feelings that I have day-to-day, and if you can find it relatable then that’s good because it shows that we’re not alone in the way we feel sometimes.”

One song Graham is proud of is ‘Sunday Day13’, the delicate piano ballad that is the album’s centrepiece. “I think it’s something different to what I’ve done before,” he says. “It’s a song about wanting to be a better person and sometimes failing, but at the same time I’m trying. I think there’s some messages of hope in there and wanting to be better. The record itself, I don’t think I’m writing about anything saying it’s just me that’s feeling these things; I know that a lot of people are feeling the same feelings that I have day-to-day, and if you can find it relatable then that’s good because it shows that we’re not alone in the way we feel sometimes.”

‘Sunday Day13’ is the silent middle of the roaring noise, and holds significance due to it being the source of the album’s title and reflecting the hope and despair in Graham’s lyrics. “When we were thinking about album titles it just stuck out to me,” he says. “But over time since we named the record it’s meant so much more. ‘It won’t be like this all the time’ could mean to cherish these moments and savour it, or in a negative situation it could mean that tomorrow’s a new day and you’ve got to get through it because there’s something good over the horizon. It can be positive and it can be negative, but that’s what life is.”

It Won/t Be Like This All The Time and AA-side outtakes single ‘Rats’/’Public Housing’ are out now through Rock Action Records.

Support is available at BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or www.beyondblue.org.au, and at the crisis support service Lifeline at 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au.

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