Mate, we knew ya wanted to hear our Green Day CD, but you didn’t have to shave your ears to do it…
It’s early afternoon on a freezing cold Thursday and Twin Atlantic have already travelled from GLA to W1A. THE former, as anyone who likes their rock on the slick but raw side knows, is the name of the Glaswegian’s fourth album – and, of course, the code for the city’s airport – where the band has flown in from after a couple of days of post-tour decompression.the latter refers to Marylebone, London – specifically BBC Broadcasting House – where Sam Mctrusty has turned up in the none-more-punk get-up of leather jacket, jeans with turn-ups and a pair of Dr. Martens, topped off with a mohawk, ready for a day so busy that he has to take a “speed shit” to stay on top of things. It’s a characteristically straight-talking admission from a man in a band whose attitude to success has grown more complex in the wake of their biggest year to date; 12 months in which Twin Atlantic established themselves as the breakout rock band.
“I’m coming to realise that I’m putting myself here out of choice,” he says upon his return from the speedy mission – with ‘here’ referring to the capital, the recognised home of the UK music industry. “i’m here to be scrutinised, reviewed, scored out of five, and have my photo taken. It’s a conscious decision to be judged.”
Now, however, Sam is here to have water spat at him – and, in turn, to spit it at someone else – as he’s participating in Radio 1’s ‘Innuendo Bingo’. For the uninitiated, it involves a star guest sitting opposite the show’s co-host – both with mouthfuls of water – and being subjected to clips of increasingly edgy accidental double entendres with the resultant laughter soaking both parties.and while Sam insists minutes before playing that, “twin Atlantic don’t operate under anyone’s rules apart from our own,” he’s quick to acknowledge the dichotomy of his band doing their own thing, only to end up in the middle of the spotlight.
“Which is what I’ve always wanted,” he admits, smiling broadly as he pulls at his wet clothes. “we don’t
necessarily put ourselves under the UK rock umbrella. It could just be arrogance or delusion, but we feel like we’re fucking building our own umbrella, and when we finish it, you’re going to want to fucking trade and come under ours, as it’ll offer something of substance and importance.the whole of the fucking [rock] community have been looking at the possibilities with fucking one eye fucking half-closed, obeying the rules and being too respectful of it, when every other band that has ever done anything important has fucking smashed that idea, because it doesn’t mean anything to them.”
Outside, clothes dried and opinions aired, Sam convenes with his bandmates – guitarist Barry Mckenna, bassist Ross Mcnae and drummer Craig Kneale – as we head to a photoshoot with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity working to prevent male suicide in the UK (see p10 for an interview with Sam and Frank Turner about the cause), for which the band has contributed a stirring version of Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising.
Unsurprisingly, given that they’ll celebrate 10 years together as a band in March, theirs is a warm and closeknit union, though one that experienced “turbulence” in the build-up to working on GLA with producer Jacknife Lee, who the band previously collaborated with on previous album, 2014’s Great Divide.
“He wanted me to go into the studio by myself, to isolate the main songwriting part in the band,” explains Sam, his voice muffled by the scarf wrapped around his head in the bracing conditions. “it was a huge conversation and a bit of a rocky road for us all, because it redefined our roles in the band, and cemented the idea that, ‘this is what you do, and this is what you do.’ It was pretty hard going through that whole process of, ‘Why the fuck are you going?’ but that was the moment that we pressed ‘Escape’ and re-launched the browser.”
“It was a shitstorm, but once we got on the other side of it, we had better music, better understanding as musicians, and better knowledge of what we could achieve in the studio,” adds Sam.
His bandmates agree this process of re-alignment paid dividends.
“We spent two weeks setting up the drums on previous records,” reveals the soft-spoken Ross, whose year also heralded the arrival of his daughter, Romy. “When we changed format, the drums suddenly took us 15 minutes. It inspired the way the songs were written, as Sam and I started making little home studios, abandoning guitars and embracing computers, and working completely differently. that’s what reawakened our creative mojo, and led us back to the origins of why we wanted to make music,” he adds as the four instinctively fall into photo pose formation.
“It’s the first time since we first started that there weren’t any prerequisite thoughts,” says handsome, Keith Buckley-alike guitarist Barry at their next photoshoot, with this very magazine.
“On Great Divide, we were consciously writing while thinking about the success of [breakthrough second album] Free, which was a really bad move,” adds drummer Craig from beneath an impressive moustache.
“The moment we started listening back to GLA through the studio speakers, we knew that they had an energy and a rawness that we wanted,” continues Barry. “When we recorded parts, we went with the ones that felt better over those that were played better.”
The band squeezes together to get within the span of the Scottish flag they’re posing with. It was supposed to be bigger.
“Sorry,” says K! photographer Andy. “i tried to bring my eight-footer with me.”
“WAAAAAAAHEY!” the band yell in unison at this unofficial addition to the day’s Innuendo Bingo.
By dinner, it’s safe to say that Sam is on one – no doubt galvanised by the fun but forceful debate on the future of the music industry he enjoyed with Ross in the car here.
“The year we formed, 2007, has been earmarked as the year that the music industry ‘crashed’; and the year that the first modern piece of journalism to suggest that rock music is dead, 2010, was when we were right in the middle of recording 2011’s Free,” laughs Sam at
ROCK MUSIC ALWAYS IS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE, THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE” SAM MCTRUSTY
the timing of his band’s career. By the time we descend on the restaurant of London’s Soho Sanctum Hotel, then, he, like the beers, is in full flow. witnessing the pretention-averse Glaswegians reviewing a menu offering such fare as a ‘Mango Encapsulation’ is entertaining, but trumped by the spectacle of their singer unleashing his thoughts on the state of rock – with specific reference to Flea’s notorious quote earlier this year, in which the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist asserted it was dead. while Sam claims not to have listened to the genre himself in 2016, he’s dealt with his fair share of what he calls “wealthy near-pensioners”, having previously toured with “egotistical maniac” Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins, so isn’t shy of a rebuttal.
“I’m trying to remove ego from it entirely,” he says with steel in his voice as he lays his drink (and cards) on the table. “no-one writes a rock song for Flea; who sits down and pens a rock song with a 54-year-old multimillionaire in mind? Rock music is, and always will be, the voice of the people.” The 29-year-old isn’t done yet, though. “It’s not that rock is a dying art form, it’s that those people are closer to death, so it’s not relevant to them. It’s about lust for life,” he adds for good measure.
Twin Atlantic’s own joie de vivre hasn’t only been rejuvenated by stumbling upon the other worlds of musical possibility (“It’s like the first time you take LSD,” recaps the man who sings ‘I take pills and I drink
alcohol’ on GLA’S No Sleep), but in doing the things they never thought possible, like playing Later… With Jools Holland. that’s a feat that even the outspoken Sam “struggles to process”, but one Barry suggests was “a huge and exciting honour, especially when you think about some of the historic performances that have come before, like At The Drive-in.”
Then, of course, there’s what’s coming next: the cherry on the top of Twin Atlantic’s year in the form of three hometown shows at the Glasgow Barrowlands before Christmas.
“They’re at that time of year when everyone is coming home,” beams Sam, with the excitement of a child reeling off his list to Santa. “plus, it’s the place that’s given us the most support and we’ve done our biggest shows, so it’s going to be some next-level shit.”
As dessert menus are handed out – but forgone in favour of more beers – the question of Twin Atlantic’s next musical course arises: a task Sam believes will be enriched by his ventures outside of the band.
“I’m starting to scratch the surface of producing other people’s music, and the concept of making music for soundtracks. that could just be me fiddling around in other areas, so I can channel that into the next one.”
Given the creative “unshackling” the four frequently refer to, what do we think album number five might sound like?
“I think it’s going to be wildly unhinged,” speculates SAM. “GLA was us opening up all of the doors, and now it’s up to us to choose which door we want to go through next. I think now we realise that every option is possible, so it could be fucking chaotic – in a good way.
“The best thing I could do for someone who enjoyed this record,” he continues, his mind overflowing with ideas, “rather than us explaining how we did it and ruining it by peeling the layers away and explaining the magic trick – we should just do another magic trick.”
So there’s no temptation to repeat a formula you now know to be successful?
“Our intention is to be really fucking disregarding of what’s expected or what constitutes a rock record,” he says, as we settle up and taxis are booked. “oh, and one more thing,” Sam shouts minutes later as his head is protruding from a car window, clearly still ruminating on the state of rock (and the world in general).“the next record is going to be called Everything Is Fucked… you got that?”
Message received, loud and clear.
You have to hand it to Twin Atlantic for daring to not repeat themselves, and to go places that often make you go, ‘...the fuck?’. Like naming a recordafter their home-city’s airport. Or ditching the high-flying, arena-courting sound they’d unleashed on 2014’s shiny Great Divide in favour of something a bit dirtier, just when it looked like more of the same would have been an open goal. But that’s just what Sam Mctrusty and the lads did, and then laughed all the way to the charts when it landed in the Top 10 and saw them appearing on Later… With Jools Holland. But if GLA proved anything, it’s that it’s Twin’s personality that people really like about them. And GLA, though a sidestep, still pulsed with their inimitable Scottish charisma. (NR)