Glasgow alt-rockers Twin Atlantic have achieved monumental success over the last year with tours worldwide and a debut album, titled ‘Free’ is on the horizon. We chat to drummer Craig Kneale and guitarist Barry Mckenna at Fruit in Hull before their show at the city’s new venue and get talking about the joys of touring and some of the inspirations behind album number two…
“‘We’re a lot closer now than we ever used to be” – Barry Mckenna
S] What’s the plans for this year guys apart from your mammoth dates with Blink 182 and Angels And Airwaves that are coming up soon?
C] “I think that our main priority is getting our album out because that has been on our minds for the longest time. Hopefully we will be playing as many gigs as possible.”
B] “Yeah, the new album is our main priority but also, last year we only had the opportunity to do one headline tour. As great as it was playing with all of these fantastic bands that we are great fans of, and as positive as it is now playing in support of the likes of Angels And Airwaves, we have missed playing our own shows and this year we want to have a lot more emphasis on playing as many headline shows as we can.”
S] How does it feel to be back in Hull?
C] [laughs] “It’s a bit bigger than the venue that we played last time we came here [The Lamp]. We’re glad to be back because that was over a year-and-a-half ago. I came to Hull a long time ago with an ex-girlfriend and we went to The Deep. That’s my main memory of this place and I really enjoyed it. I keep telling the rest of the band to go, but nobody has taken up my offer yet.”
S] As a band who is capable of filling much bigger venues and has toured internationally, is it important for you to come back to cities like Hull that don’t get much exposure to top-level artists?
C] “Most definitely. I mean, we are still very small fish! We understand the importance of coming back to places over and over again. We know that from going to busier cities as well.”
B] “I come from a small town originally and I know what it’s like to not have bands come through. I am not saying that Hull has nothing, but certainly not as many as Manchester or London. I think it’s important for bands to cover everywhere. A lot of the bigger artists will ignore these smaller places. It’s important for us to get everywhere.”
S] Tell us about the new album ‘Free’ and the work that went into that in California?
C] “It was great, and remarkably easy [laughs]. There were a lot of long days though, but it all came together well. We are all really proud of it. It was also really nice to be in a place where Winter was 30 degrees and we were wearing t-shirts outside.”
S] What was it like working with Foo Fighters and Pixies producer Gil Norton?
B] “For all of us, Gil was a breath of fresh-air. His outlook on music…the way he listens, and then the things that he would pick on, I found, were things that other people I have worked with in the past would have completely missed out. He has an amazing set of ears and a real love for music. To have someone who has worked in the industry for so long, and who is still as passionate about it now, working with us was great. You hear a lot of stories about people who have been in the music industry for a while, and how they can get a bit jaded, but I can’t imagine him being any less passionate back when he started. He had a real love for what he did with us. We had a very clear image between the four of us, of what we wanted to achieve on this record and Gil totally got it. He really understood it. It was a pleasure to work with him.”
S] Is ‘Edit Me’ a good indication of what’s coming and the sound on that record – it’s still got an upbeat tone but it seems heavier?
C] “I don’t know. A lot of people have said that the single is a lot heavier, but I don’t know if that’s a good indication of how the album will sound. I think that there are some darker and edgier things but maybe it’s a bit more grown up? That’s something that runs across the record. It definitely feels a lot more sewn together than anything else that we have ever done. Before it’s been a lot more random. We have learned how to write songs better this time around. The single is much more of a taster.”
S] Is there a song that you are working on that you are really excited about showing apart from the single?
B] “On a personal level, it’s ‘Edit Me’ because it’s just coming out and we’re touring. It’s really refreshing to be back playing shows and some new music, because it’s been a while since our mini-album ‘Vivarium’! It’s been really nice to have some positive feedback on what we have been doing, because we have worked so hard on these songs behind the scenes. It’s great to have something out, and people reacting to it so well.”
C] “I would agree. Obviously we went away and wrote all of these songs and we’ve been really nervous about what people would think. We were really happy when people started playing ‘Edit Me’ on the radio, because it let’s us know that people still like us.” [laughs]
S] Talk to us about some of the greatest lessons you learned throughout a very successful 2010 with some great support slots and a US tour, and how you will be moving forward this year?
C] “I think that we’ve just learned to follow our hearts. I know that sounds cliché, but there was a couple of times on the last record where we diluted our ideas a little bit and took other people’s opinions on board too much. We’ve learned to do what we want this time, and then if it doesn’t work, at least we have done what makes us happy and followed our own ‘track’.”
S] You worked with Skrillex for a remix on the last record – will there be any more collaborations on this next record?
B] “I wouldn’t rule it out. Last time we had a couple of remixes done and it was just fun to get a different take on our type of music. Just to hear that cross between electronic and rock music. It was nice to hear a DJ’s take on that traditional rock song [‘What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?]. This time, I think that, because we have such a volume of songs that we have written and we are proud of, we are going to have a more of a traditional style of album.”
S] You guys have said before that you write music that you want, to rather than what you think people want to hear – did you feel any pressure after the success of ‘Vivarium’ to copy?
C] “I don’t think so. When we put the band together, we never thought about what other people wanted, we just wrote tracks that we want to hear. It’s lucky that we have always had that ethos, and that has carried through up until now with ‘Free‘ – we’ve constructed the songs a bit more this time. I don’t think that it’s ever been a case of appealing to the people that enjoyed ‘Vivarium’.”
B] “We feel that we have become much more accomplished song-writers. We haven’t been doing it [writing] for that long together as a band, and I feel that we were in a much better position this time around. Of course, there are things similar to ‘Vivarium’ on ‘Free’, but I think that we are such a progressive band in that we always want to move things forward. There’s nothing more frustrating for me as a fan than when a band will produce a great album and then do exactly the same one after that, and then again. I prefer it when bands do try something new.”
C] “We wouldn’t have been able to stomach writing songs like that again. We write one song and then we never want to repeat that.”
S] It was also said that this material is the ‘most important’ that you have ever done – can you expand?
B] “Every band always wants to better what they did last time around, and we feel like we have achieved that on this record.”
S] What do you prefer about the live experience in contrast to working in the studio?
C] “You never know what you’re going to get when you play live – the venue could be great, or it could be horrible. In the studio, everything is so calculated, and we always know what we are supposed to be doing. Every gig is completely different. You can think a show is going to be terrible and then it turns into the most amazing thing ever. I don’t think that the size of the place really matters. Some of our favourite gigs have been in tiny places where it is hard to even fit on the stage, just because there’s a big connection. The bigger ones we have done have been equally as exciting because it seems like a dream coming true.”
S] Do you feel like you have changed as people through the music you’ve been making over the years?
B] “I would say so, absolutely. I will always remember how a good friend of mine took a year out from university and travelled the world, and when he came back, there was this aura about him, and this sense that he had really grown-up. He had experienced so much more than us, because we stayed at home. Now, that is what’s happened to us being a part of this band. We have gotten to experience so much, and that is bound to shape us as people. I think that travelling around has shaped us collectively as a unit. We’re a lot closer now than we ever used to be.”
S] Things have been going very well for you recently, so can you tell us about some of the biggest challenges that you have had to face?
C] “Recently, just writing the record. There were loads of points were we thought that we were ready to record. Even from last Christmas, we were sure that we had the songs. Then, we kept getting told by the people around us that ‘You’re not quite there yet’ – of course, our natural reaction was to argue against that. It was a struggle to keep going when we thought that we had already written the best songs that we could. So, yeah, the main challenge was persevering until the point where everybody felt that we were ready. To be fair, the people that said those things to us were probably right!”
S] What would your advice be to bands coming out of smaller areas like Hull, York or Preston for example, on how to approach achieving commercial success – do they have to move away?
B] “I don’t think so. Certainly for us, a big part of our band is where we come from. Yeah, we could’ve moved to London and it might have accelerated our exposure to ‘the industry’ or music fans because there are more people who live in London. However, we wouldn’t have been as natural or as comfortable there, because it’s an ‘alien’ environment to us. I think that a big part of writing music is being true to ourselves. If an artist comes from Preston, then there’s no reason why they should have to move away. It’s important for people to play to their home town first and then take it out so that it can get to fresh ears. So, if you live in Preston, then drive up to Manchester. Or, York…you can drive through to Hull and play some gigs. Expand it naturally, rather than trying to force something.”
C] “For me, it’s important for any band to practice loads. Also, people will always get told that they shouldn’t be in a band because it never works or stuff like that – don’t take no for an answer. It’s all about perseverance, because nothing gets handed to you. Even if you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere for a year…you have to keep going. People see us and how our profile has raised and they immediately think that it’s all just ‘happened’, but it’s come from hard work. An artist needs to put their heart and soul into it. That’s not just for us, and in our industry but also any other. People that put the work in are the ones that get the most back.”
S] Is there a moment in the last year or recently that you have both had that keeps you motivated – on the days that you find yourselves the most stressed out, what keeps you going?
B] “I can’t think of a single moment. I could name you loads. The biggest thing that keeps me going personally though, is the interaction that we get to have with our fans when we play live. Obviously we don’t meet all of the people that buy our CDs, but when we perform we get to meet the people that really appreciate what we do and have come out to watch us. For me, that’s the main thing that keeps me ticking over.”
C] “I get so many. There are a lot of lows though. Especially on tours for a band at our level who are doing headline shows but they are still pretty small dates. There are a lot of points where it doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere, but then, we’ll have a gig and one person will come up to us and talk about how much our band means to them – that makes the long drives and vans breaking down really worth it!”
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