Interview: Sam McTrusty of Twin Atlantic
The riverside city of Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, and the fifth largest in the UK behind London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. Beneath the sport, comedy and heart-warming malt scotch whiskey which Scotland is renowned for, there is a hidden treasure of musical depth which, thanks to numerous outfits, has ultimately demanded the world’s attention. Bands such as Simple Minds, Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, Travis, Primal Scream, and more recently, Chvrches, Glasvegas and The Fratellis have seized well-deserved interest essentially charming their way into the hearts and souls of music aficionados on a global scale.
Joining this prestigious list is Glasgow’s own alternative rock luminary band known as Twin Atlantic, who have just released their fourth album, GLA, attributed to their hometown. But before the notion of success had even come knocking at the quartet’s door, the band had to build their own identity. Following from a rather humble beginning – as vocalist/guitarist Sam McTrusty explains with a hint of Glasgow patter, the original plan for Twin Atlantic was basically non-existent.
“We definitely didn’t start the band to be pop stars or anything like that – that wasn’t the intention,” he says. “Truthfully, we didn’t have any dreams; we just wanted to be in a band. I had that voice screaming inside my head, telling me that I had to make music as it has a profound effect on me when I get the chance to do it. I actually became obsessed with trying to make it happen.”
He continues – “I don’t know if it was the music industry changing under our feet but the goal post kept shifting; when we started our band in 2007, you could probably earmark that as the year the music industry crashed [laughs]. Streaming and YouTube videos became so prevalent. Then, social media came out of nowhere and we had to adapt to that. We were continually adapting and snaking our way through this crazy fucking rock ’n’ roll daze. This literally happened just after we started a rock band; it was pretty easy to be pissed off about it.”
“If it just takes a one percent connection to music that brings you to the point of being a fanatic, we weren’t getting that from our own band.”
This anger and adjustment was certainly a challenge for the four-piece, however it was a fundamental motivator and included into their assault on the musical world. Within seven years, Twin Atlantic had three albums under their belt with Zane Lowe declaring single “Heart And Soul” to be the Hottest Record In The World on BBC Radio 1 (the track would subsequently go on to win Best Independent Track at the Association Of Independent Music Awards), supporting roles to some of the greatest musical acts of the last two decades – including Blink-182, Taking Back Sunday, The Gaslight Anthem, Thirty Seconds To Mars and Smashing Pumpkins – as well as countless festival appearances on an international scale, plus global chart success. By the end of 2015, Twin Atlantic had crafted their rock ’n’ roll fairytale.
The common conclusion to fairytales, though, is that famed line: “And they lived happily ever after” – upon returning home to Glasgow, the band were so overwhelmed with accomplishments and exhausted from their worldwide endeavour that an ending was surprisingly quite sought after. As McTrusty further elaborates:
“I mean, we had our most successful album, chart-wise, we had a Top 20 single, and we were playing arena shows and headlining festivals. The first thing we said when we finished all of that was, ‘I don’t think we can do better than that’. Most other bands would be inspired to carry on for another twenty years, but we were more like, ‘I don’t think we can do that again.’ We were in a joint mindset that it was good while it lasted, but it was mostly just from the fact that we loved the music we were making and loved being in this band. However, on an extra level, if it just takes a one percent connection to music that brings you to the point of being a fanatic, we weren’t getting that from our own band.”
After some well-earned downtime back in Glasgow, the creative encouragement began to trickle into the quartet’s collective minds. While these musical creations began as merely ideas, they quickly ascended to songs. Astonishingly, within weeks, the four-piece had the blueprints of three albums’ worth of material to work with. What was it, though, that injected monumental inspiration into Twin Atlantic to craft an abundance of songs, especially when the band was facing a probable conclusion?
“It’s made these interviews a lot easier, because I love talking about where I’m from, whether it’s just lightly suggestive, something abstract, or even just post-rationalising it six months later.”
“Really, the whole record is about home,” McTrusty laughs. “It’s made these interviews a lot easier, because I love talking about where I’m from, whether it’s just lightly suggestive, something abstract, or even just post-rationalising it six months later. I mean, we wrote when we were at home, and personally I was completely falling in love with the city again. A lot of people who are from here have encouraged a resurgence and revitalisation to the place. There are a few specific lines that are about exact locations and very specific things that can only be experienced in Glasgow. But then there are broader references which are bolder, and a constancy that could just be referring to the comfort of home. Glasgow is one of the toughest cities in Europe, but it is also the kindest.”
“There are a lot of people here who would be the first person you wouldn’t want to cross, but also the same person that you would go to if you needed help [laughs]. That sums the whole place up; the attitude and state of mind. If another band were to write about their hometown in a song, I don’t think it would come across as tough, fun, heartfelt or intimidating, to be honest. They are conflicting things – they shouldn’t go together, but somehow they work quite well here.”
The swiftness of GLA’s construction was not just felt in the writing process – matter-of-factly, it maintained a continuity right through the recording phase, with more direction and less stress than the quartet had ever encountered before.
“Y’know what was nice? We actually didn’t try to do any of it. It just occurred to us. We recorded the album in two blocks of three weeks – it was extremely quick, the album before this took around six months to record. About halfway through the process, we started picking out the songs from the 35 demos we had, and we were missing what I guess some people would call ‘better’ songs, because they were poppier than the rest and probably more likeable with more people. But, we started to clock on that the record was going to have a certain edge to it – a certain swagger and boldness. We started to realise that we had been reflecting without deliberation; I really think it was because we were doing it at home – it was the first time we had stayed home in a very long time.”
In hindsight, abandoning the arena-sized anthems for honest indie rock was a gamble. This wager, however, has returned with impressive rewards, which took the band by surprise to say the least. Reaching number one on the UK Rock Chart, number three in the Scottish charts and number nine in the UK charts, it would be a fair summation to say that Twin Atlantic could set their own rules.
“When we were down in Australia, we met more like-minded people than we had anywhere else in the world. You guys have an amazing ‘fuck it’ attitude.”
“Yeah, that was quite the surprise – and very cool,” McTrusty says. “For the first time ever, we actually didn’t care about any of that stuff at all, but we saw what happened upon the album’s release in the UK, and suddenly the charts became a credible thing. We were amongst The Beatles, Nick Cave, and even Meat Loaf. There was also an abundance of manufactured pop bands in the charts – it got quite exciting as time elapsed. We were amongst all of these legends of music, and it made us genuinely happy. It wasn’t our aim to achieve that amount of success, but all the same, what we did accomplish brought about some sort of vindication in a way.”
Having only experienced Australia once in their near-decade existence, the four Scotsman only recall the best memories of their Soundwave experience. In retrospect, though, McTrusty does recall a rather discomforting facet about our fine nation that he did suffer worse than anywhere else the band had performed.
“Soundwave was honestly great, but it was a little too hot – I know, I’m being a little bitch about it [laughs]. We were playing at 1:30pm on the main stage and obviously outdoors; a couple of our tech guys discovered that their converse shoes started melting to the stage in the middle of our set, but we loved it. That was the only challenge: it was our first trip to Australia, and in a way, it reawakened our band. That was the last thing we did on the previous record’s tour cycle. It kind of made us realise how insanely lucky we are.”
So, with that said, do the band have any plans to return?
“We have been asking – to the point of pestering – when we can come back; if nothing else, just to get a coffee. Your coffee is stupidly good. The priority was obviously to get the album out on our side of the world and seeing the reaction to it, though. I mean, people could have hated it and not wanted us to be a band anymore. We are going to start making plans to visit you again in the new year. I’m not sure how realistic or soon it will be, but you are definitely in our sights. Funnily enough, when we were down in Australia, we met more like-minded people than we had anywhere else in the world. You guys have an amazing ‘fuck it’ attitude.”