The Scottish rock quartet Twin Atlantic released their third and most successful album to date, The Great Divide, earlier this year. They began their European tour at the start of the month, and following their UK October dates I caught up with bearded bassist Ross McNae.
The Great Divide hit the UK Rock Chart top spot and made it to number six in the UK Album Charts following heavy coverage from BBC Radio One over the summer. “No.” Ross laughed when I asked if they had anticipated the attention the album had received, “Those things never crossed our mind whilst we were making it. We were just excited about making another record. After it was finished and we were sorting out the release date and that, then maybe it did…it doesn’t matter who you are, if someone says to you that they think your record may be able to get into the charts, it’s amazing. It’s amazing that people want to literally but into what we believe in.”
With this album, the band were mainly focussed on making music for themselves. “It’s the first time we’ve ever properly not actually thought about what anyone else thinks. With Vivarium we were just learning how to be a band, it was the first time we properly got a chance to record. We wouldn’t change it, same with Free, which was the first time we had anybody waiting to hear an album. There wasn’t that many, but there were a few and that’s such a different thing in itself. With the third album, we’d been working with an amazing bunch of fans so we’re lucky that we had people that we knew liked us and I think that gave us the confidence to be ourselves.”
The Great Divide definitely seems to have elevated Twin Atlantic into a sphere previously inhabited by musical legends. The band split recording of the album between Wales and LA. Ross described the former as “an amazing experience in this residential studio where all these amazing records have been made in the past – Coldplay, Oasis, Queen – just so many amazing people have been through those studios. In the country, looking out the bedroom window in the morning and that cows are looking back at you, it was just an amazing experience. In L.A. we got to work with these two amazing producers. They both had a very different style but they both had a rich musical past with massive bands and stories to tell us, wisdom to impart upon us. We fully immersed ourselves in the whole project.”
Although L.A. is where multitudes of creative types and industry experts gather, Ross’ recording highlight has much humbler origins. “With ‘The Ones that I Love’, we were in Wales and it was late one night, it was dark outside on the courtyard and it was summertime. We were just gonna call it a night and do some stuff in the morning, but we just rolled a piano into the middle of the room – the one that Freddie Mercury played in Bohemian Rhapsody, and in all these amazing songs – and we sat and wrote it. It just felt like this amazing thing. I played bass on the song but there’s not much to do, it’s very quiet and simple. It just felt very special, it was a special night and it just felt like we were making something special, a goosebumps kind of feeling.”
It’s often spontaneity and impulsiveness like this that allow Twin Atlantic get started on a song. “For this record it’s been more towards Sam [McTrusty, vocalist]. He’ll have an idea for the structure and the lyrics, and then we’d get together and flesh it out, everyone writing their different parts. When we’re all playing it, that’s when it really starts. Sometimes it sounds pretty similar to how it was conceived, then other times it make this whole other journey. There’s no pre-conceived thing that a song has to be. I think that once everyone knows that they’re settled into that way of working, that’s when we feel we produce our best songs.”
We just rolled a piano into the middle of the room – the one that Freddie Mercury played in Bohemian Rhapsody
As far as bands and artists go, Twin Atlantic are definitely in touch with their fans. They recently ran a competition that allowed fans to submit their own flag designs for the band, as well as producing a ‘Brothers and Sisters’ video compiled of sibling photos that fans submitted. “We feel like we’ve been pretty lucky to build up people that we can call fans,” Ross explained, “When we have a show it’s this amazing experience where we feel like we know the people there now – I mean, obviously we don’t, but it feels like there’s this connection there and a real energy between us. It’s something I’ve always found between me and my favourite acts when I was growing up. Social media didn’t really exist then, so you didn’t really have a connection with the bands that you liked and I would have loved that – that’s part of the reason why we do the fan things. Apart from anything else we all love getting involved with people that like us, so any chance we get to do something like that we try to take.”
It’s this refreshingly humble and grounded perspective of their own band that makes Twin Atlantic so recognisable. Their love of independent music also shows this, and the group bagged best song for ‘Heart and Soul’ at the AIM Music awards this autumn. “It was amazing.” Ross confessed, “We released our first EP on our own little label that we made up ‘cause no one wanted to put it out. The next was a little indie label linked to a famous Glasgow venue. I don’t have much experience on the other side but independent labels feel like there’s more emphasis on the artist and what they want to make. With others because there’s so many more people involved, bands and managers and shares it feels like that’s at the front.” Ross is eager to emphasise the fact he’s just hypothesising with this, reiterating “I don’t have experience with this, but from speaking to friend’s bands I’ve heard more horror stories with major labels than independent; it’s always been important for our band to be part of independent, so to be recognised for our song and to be part of that part of the music world has been amazing, we’re very humbled. We were up against people like Arctic Monkeys and bands we loved, so to be picked over bands with songs that we really love and bands that are bigger than us was incredible, we were in shock.”
It’s definitely not the first time that Twin Atlantic has been at the forefront – in 2012 Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier with his Space Jump to Twin Atlantic’s ‘Free’, a song he chose himself for the occasion. “It’s a crazy thing. We tend not to look back on things, or think about things until a good six months, a year, after. I believe there were a few records out forward for it, and he said that the lyrics to ‘Free’ matched his emotions about what he was doing. That’s a real compliment to Sam and musically to us. It could have gone so badly wrong – the song’s talking about a body being set on fire so it can be free, that could have happened to the guy! Maybe that’s why he chose it,” Ross mused. “I was watching it at home, Sam was watching it in Canada with his girlfriend and her parents, and it was on TV, a small event that had a world interest. It was a big thing to be part of.”
The last couple of years have seen some big Scottish artists emerge and take control of their genres. Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic both have a recognisable sound, largely due to the obvious Scottishness of the band audible in the vocalists. For Twin Atlantic and their stronger accents, this decision and Scotland itself are incredibly important. “Glasgow is where we’ve all grown up. Sam and I grew up together, just outside the city. Glasgow and Scotland is where every experience that we’ve had that we’ve written about has come from, everything starts here for us. We’re really proud of it and it’s made us who we are. But in terms of the accent – I’m not slagging off other people cause each to their own, and I’ve been in bands in the past where I sang with a slightly Americanised accent. You try to imitate – it’s like a karaoke thing, where you try to mimic what you do, you’re trying to exercise and become it, but I think a lot of people maybe never really fully stop trying to be the version that they love. Because people hear what’s familiar they think of themselves as being able to be someone who they look up to. We’ve come to this weird thing where it’s acceptable for people to mimic the things that they love, and then it’s accepted by the people listening to the music, because they’re the same, and then everyone’s trying to do it. When you really boil it all down and distil it, if you’re trying to tell a story, or if I’m going to talk about something I’m passionate about- like this topic right now- I’m not gonna do it in a French accent, its fucking mad! When you really think about it it’s the craziest thing ever. It took a realisation moment for us to think that this was the way to go, but once you have that thought in your mind it becomes really hard to listen to a lot of music when you know where people are from. That’s the hard part to listen to, bands from England or Scotland, and they’re not being honest. I really struggle with it.”
Sam takes a moment to clear his head before apologising for his raised voice – “I got totally heated there, sorry about that!”
The rest of this year looks packed for the Scots. Following the end of their European tour they’re heading to America before heading home for the holidays, and with Sam’s recent announcement of another UK tour early next year, it’s not long before the Scottish tones we love will be back on a stage near you.