It’s sometimes the case that you don’t appreciate things for what they are, if indeed such things are to be found on your doorstep.
I guess music can sometimes be like that, and maybe sometimes in Scotland we take it for granted just how rich, varied and profound the music scene is in the country, with Glasgow its beating heart.
A city that, where once locomotives and ships once crossed seas and continents, now its bands and their music.
And when I think of bands, none to me are as Scottish as The Twilight Sad.
A band – whose beginnings can be traced back to Glasgow’s 13th Note Cafe – who once self labelled themselves as ‘perennially unhappy’, yet who have brought many a smile and warmth to fans the world over thanks to their music.
And, 12 years since they sent their four track demo to Fat Cat, I was keen to dig deeper into what makes them the band that they are in the minds of their fans. Was it, as Pitchfork once noted, Andy’s ‘torrential downpour’ of guitars, or was it James’s ‘heavily accented howl’? Or was it something deeper than that?
Is it the fact they are a band whose songs act as cathartic night caps, wrapped up in the sombre, Scottish secrets that are James Graham’s poetic, dark and moody lyricism – akin to buried guns under a derelict, remote, ruined castle (if you’ll excuse the Out Lines hat tip).
A band who so readily attach themselves to that Scottish aesthetic. That rough and dark, desolate beauty, like a daffodil growing out of the concrete cracks of a council scheme pavement. The layered nuances that you have to scrape the surface to find, and one that when you do, swallows you whole as just reward.
So how do The Sad travel? I spoke to 12 fans from across the globe, via The Fans Of The Twilight Sad Facebook group, on the influence the Scottish band has had on them, how they discovered them and what it is that really makes them so special.
Rita Azevedo, Porto, Portugal
“Behind my Twilight Sad story there is a real case of “tragedy”. The person that first introduced me to the band, when I lived in Edinburgh, was someone with whom I shared something so intense, yet so foggy, like the city, that it could never become something real. I carried these songs with me and listened to “Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave” album repeatedly. And so for me, “It never was the same in this old town” spoke of Edinburgh. I first saw them live in Yorkshire during a visit to a friend that was studying there. I also saw their free acoustic gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow. After that, the band grew so much in me that those linked memories eventually faded away. As for the feeling, it might never retire.
“I started appreciating the band for what it is: a beautiful shadow in the skyline, an awareness on life and death and what is in between. I still don’t understand how they are not as well known as The Cure. However, selfishly speaking, it is better like that. We keep it to the true fans, so it doesn’t fall into poisoned waters.
“The synths. The light. The misery. The in-between. The bounty of taking joy from sorrow. The Twilight Sad have in them the attributes and the formula of what is being Scottish – which can be very similar to the Portuguese culture. The feeling of nostalgia, the sadness, or the “saudade” (a Portuguese word with no translation that speaks of the feeling of revisiting the past and wanting to go back there; melancholy and/or even missing someone).”
Dorota Witkowska, Dublin, Ireland
“My adventure with the sad family started roughly year and a half ago. Ahead of the impatiently expected The Cure concert in Łòdz (Poland), my companion sent me a link to “There’s A Girl In The Corner”. …and I melted. One thing led to another and soon I was pretty fluent in their repertoire. And suddenly the Oran Mor session exploded in my searches… And if felt as of someone poured warm honey straight on my soul.
“Obviously James’ accent attracts attention, significantly contributing to the uniqueness of the band. I love the base line and how it builds the atmosphere of the songs. At the same time the acoustic versions blow my mind every time. How it makes me feel? It soothes me. They make me believe that I’m not alone in my sadness, loneliness, my aches. It is all doom and gloom, but it gives me courage, as if there’s still someone who knows how it feels. They are my “happy sad”.
Mykhailo Balashov, Ukraine
“My first Sad gig was at the OFF Festival 2012 in Katowice, Poland. Initially it wasn’t a surprise to see them in the line-up and I didn’t really get in their music at the time. I’ve listened to the first album on the year of release, and found that sound and cover weird. In a good sense. But they still didn’t touch me. And even their sophomore album has passed beyond my radars. Until I went to that gig.
“So, it’s 5th August, I’m a bit late and slightly drunk, with my friends, and what has happened then… it was a pure magic. I stood there fascinated of the sound, of that psycho frontman. I didn’t recognise songs, but the show was stunning. I was smashed to bits and defeated to the ground, haven’t realised what was just happened there. Awareness came later, I became a fan of the band who like drinking and playing miserable music. Soon after I was craving to see them again anywhere, was even pondering with my friends to organise a gig in my home country. Unfortunately, it never happened. One more thing, ‘At The Burnside’ in the end of that gig was so epic I still can’t breathe watching it.”
Silvia Fucci Brizi, Pescia, Italy
“First track I ever heard of The Sad was “The Room”…bam! I was in love. I ordered “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters” straight away. I had it on loop for months, I couldn’t listen to anything else. In the meantime I started searching for all their releases and I started purchasing them one by one. I’ve always really been into Scottish culture, music and bands, as well post punk and miserable music in general, but they opened a completely new world to me.
“Their wall of sound and the thick Scottish accent used by James in the vocals were the two things which captured me the most. I’ve been through very different dark times since childhood, having lost my mum at 12, but music was always there to help me get through everything. In 2013 I lost one of my oldest and dearest friend, The Sad helped me sink into the sadness to let it all out, but they helped me find a way out too. They have a really special place in my heart. They are one of my favourite bands ever, having meant so much to me in the past, they still connect with the deepest parts of my soul, and seeing them live is just an experience that can’t be recreated by any other means.”
Glenn Chen, Holland
“As far as i can remember i first discovered the song “And she would darken the memory” on a FatCat Records sampler CD in 2007. Apart from the brooding sound and the not so common singing accent the song title, which could be the title of a novel of some sort, drew my attention as well. At first listen i immediately thought: this is unlike i’ve heard before, this is new, this is fresh, this comes at the right time in my space, this is what i need right now. I was going through a tough breakup at that time so The Sad came as the much needed company i needed.
“What i like about them is simple really: their sound and the atmosphere they create accompanied with intense lyrics is just perfect. Very few artists manage to create that warm feeling i get while listening to The Sad. It fits perfectly with the way i live my life, the way i feel and want to feel. I thank them for that. It’s a blessing really.”
Greg LaFave, Leesburg, Virginia
“I saw TTS with the FR tour at our local smaller venue. I really didn’t take note until a few months later FR Scott Hutchison linked to TTS performing “The Wrong Car” with RNSO. That hooked me. I met them after a 2015 show at DCs Rock & Roll Hotel. This might be a bit cheesy but I told James that I had my first of life’s ‘dreading dying’ moments when the thought of not experiencing their music recently hit me. Being in my mid 50s I feel a bit old to be this enamoured with a band but it is what it is. Looking around their concerts there are many men my age so I think their songs connect to someone growing up in the 70s for some unknown reason.
“There are many songs that I can’t comprehend the real meaning of. And James won’t tell. He admitted that he sometimes shares his stories the songs tell but he first has to get drunk up at the pub. ‘The Room’ is one and ‘The Wrong Car’ another.I did ask James if he ever had a normal relationship. He just laughed but didn’t answer. He does admit that his songs are based on life’s pains rather than pleasures. I do wish life wasn’t as painful as it seems for them but the resulting music selfishly gives me calm in mine.”
Nicolas Allen, Portland, Oregon
“I think I got into the Sad when an ex caught them on one of their first tours & naturally knew to tell me to check out a noisey, bombastically depressing Scottish band. I’ve been definitely hooked since their first album & pissing off every subsequent girlfriend for playing them too much.
“I think by now, they’re easily in my top five artists of all time without question. Their music has meant a lot to me & they seem to release an album at around the same time I am going through some dismal state in my life. Plus they’re really nice guys. I remember confronting James after a gig & telling him how much Forget the Night Ahead helped me through a summer of suicidal depression — he seemed more embarrassed that anyone showed up to the show & referred to himself as “rubbish”. I think one of my favourite aspects of The Sad are that they can play either aforementioned setting seamlessly; their output works as folk songs just as powerfully as walls of blistering noise; & for all his constant self deprecation James is a mesmerising force on stage.”
Helen Dunbar, Nashville, Tennessee
“So, I’m a Young Adult writer, and back when I was first trying to get published, another writer, Jeri Smith-Ready, posted a black and white video of SICK and I just fell hard for it. For me, I was drawn to their overall sound and lyrics. Their music makes me feel the way I want readers to feel when they read my books. Full of emotion and longing. I saw them when they were in Nashville and opened for Frightened Rabbit. I was ill and it was raining and we had to stand out in it, but it was still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. My husband is actually from Glasgow, but left when he was sixteen. Even though his family is all still there, the first time he was in the car when I had TS on, he looked at me and said “What language are they singing in?” and I just cracked up. I think that I’m better at sorting out the lyrics and James’s accent, than he is!”
Ginger Barham, Seattle, Washington
“I’ve always been pretty into sad music and find it very cathartic, and listening to TTS has gotten me through so many rough times in my life. I fell so in love with them that I started a fan website and fan Twitter for them, and eventually the Facebook group that you found. I can honestly say this band has changed my life. I have met amazing people all around the world through a shared love of their music. When they announced they would be playing at The Barras, I decided I had to be there. We ended up doing a meet up for dinner and drinks before the gig at Mono, and there were at least 20 of us. It was absolutely amazing to walk in and get to see all the people I’d become friends with online over the past year sitting at one table, and people travelled from everywhere to be there. Sweden, France, Germany, there was a woman who flew over from Texas and another from Florida. I owe so many friendships to TTS.
“And James’s accent is the best. When I saw them the first time my friend and I chatted with him afterwards and told him how we’d overheard a girl saying “I don’t think they’re really from Scotland, they just don’t look like I expect Scottish people to look.” and he laughed and said in an attempted Southern accent “Nah…I’m from TEXAS!” They are amazing to their fans and I think that also contributes to the love people feel for the band, I’ve heard fans say on more than one occasion that it feels like being part of a family. Connecting with people over something you love that way is such a special thing.”
Kathrin Claaßen, Dortmund, Germany
“I fell in a hole and questioned everything in my life (including myself of course). I started listening to The Sad more and more and although I didn’t get all the lyrics (I still understand things completely different), I felt like this guy spoke from my heart. The first album I bought was “Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave” and when I heard of them playing The Barras in December 2015, I bought a ticket to fly to Scotland.
“I have changed throughout 2015/16 and I surely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been in Glasgow at that gig in December 2015. I have a stronger faith in myself and lots of new and amazing friends. I started travelling more because of music. I am by far not the biggest fan, I know there are so many others in this group who travel far more and have seen them far more often than I have, but that’s okay.”
Sarah Sarti, Bologna, Italy
“I had no idea who The Twilight Sad were. Maybe l had heard them through some friends but l didn’t pay attention. Then in April 2015 a friend of mine who was into them asked me to go together to their gig, it was in a small club in my city, near my house. Why not, l would have spent an evening with a friend at least. Then James was on stage and my life changed. It was AGES since last time an unknown band has stricken me this way. I cannot say exactly what conquered me first place but it was like being hit by a running train: the music, what l managed to understand of the lyrics sung in quite a strong Scottish accent, the awkward guy who was spinning around on stage and ended up falling on an amp.
“What l know is that l went straight home and l couldn’t stop thinking about them. I started sinking fast in their world, albums, songs, interviews, Youtube videos and performances. They announced the last three gigs of the tour in UK, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow and l decided to go to all of them. I ended up seeing the gigs with a boy from the Facebook fanpage who has stolen my heart and become my boyfriend, so it was really a very important occasion for us, a special bond. What can l say is: there is only the Sad like the Sad, that more than perfect balance of melody and noisey rock and moving lullabies.”
Nicolas Huver, Lille, France
“So I discovered the Sad through an Italian friend who was really into them and kept telling me to listen to them. It took me a little while, especially with James’s accent (but now it’s my favorite thing, I keep looking for scottish accents everywhere in music). One day I got hooked to the b side In The Blackout and that’s how it all started. It was just around when NOCEK was released.
“I love their very loud sound, its bleakness, and the dynamics in the music, how it can go from quite soft to suddenly loud, I love the pounding drums too, and James’s very emotional vocals and stage presence. And his accent obviously. The whole package is both miserable and uplifting, it’s weird! Oh and also cinematic if that makes sense? Their music means a lot. They’re my favourite band, I was listening to them on repeat during a difficult time and it kept me going I guess. They’re like a safe place in a way. I remember writing once that they “sounded like the chaos in my head”. It’s hard to explain how personal some of the songs and lyrics are, how close to hole they can hit. It can feel pretty cathartic.”
Featured image credit : Mykhailo Balashov