Twin Atlantic @ Pinkpop 2015: “We’ve gotten used to being in a band now”

For many UK-based bands, that small bit of water separating them from mainland Europe can make a massive difference. Some bands enjoy more success on the continent than at home (see: Editors), whereas many other bands don’t reach the successful heights that they’ve reached in Britain. One of these bands are Scottish arena-sized quartet Twin Atlantic, whose most recent record Great Divide went down a storm at home but only came across as a drizzle in Holland. Although things are definitely going in the right direction, it’s clear that there’s still a way to go. One song, such as radio mega hit Heart & Soul, can either make or break your status in Holland. All Things Loud sat down with vocalist and rhythm guitarist Sam McTrusty ahead of Twin Atlantic’s set at Pinkpop Festival last weekend. Read on for more.

McTrusty is dressed in all black when we meet, with the gravel-covered backstage area by Stage 4 making for sweltering conditions. Within the confines of Twin Atlantic’s small, port-a-cabin sized dressing room it’s considerably cooler as McTrusty talks us through the last ten months since Great Divide came out. “It’s been pretty busy, and we’ve gotten used to being in a band now. The first couple of times we released a record it was more unchartered territory and we didn’t know what was gonna happens” he explains, adding that the band knew what to expect this time round. McTrusty and his bandmates (guitarist Barry McKenna, bassist Ross McNae and drummer Craig Kneale) are now nearing the end of the Great Divide campaign, with only a few festivals standing between them and another trip to the studio. “We’ve only now realized how much we’ve achieved with Great Divide, and how much it’s taken our band to the next level” enthuses McTrusty. That next level, of course, is the arena stratosphere which Great Divide’s poppier nature has helped the band reach. The main themes that run through the record and tie songs together focus on the “transition from childhood to adulthood”, and in particular how the band can’t pretend to be kids anymore. “All the things that are going on in our lives and stuff, like buying a house or having adult responsibilities, all sort of came at once” he starts explaining, giving good ground to the more mature nature of Great Divide’s lyrical side. The instrumental side, on the other hand, was a more complex process. Sam tells us how he started off by listening to music he wouldn’t usually listen to, such as The Eagles or John Mayer. “It’s stuff that doesn’t actually sound like the album” he laughingly states, taking time to think over how Great Divide’s influences shaped the record musically. “I try not to listen to other music because I’m scared that I’ll copy it” he explains, adding that he’s now trying to listen to as little music as possible because the band will soon start work on a new record. You could assume that a lot of the musical ideas just “come to them”, particularly if no one’s actively trying to listen to music. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though, with Sam claiming that the rest of the band are “more focussed on hearing other things from other bands and trying to outdo them”. He doesn’t necessarily mean that his bandmates are trying to copy the sounds, but rather that they want to produce something that sounds better. An example of this was lead single Heart & Soul, a conscious step into the world of writing pop songs for a rock audience. The song came about following a long spell of serious recording, with the band “wanting to have some fun”, as McTrusty puts it. “We had some really sketchy moments where we didn’t know if the album was going to be finished or even come out” he continues, adding that there were definitely a few ‘crossroads’ moments during recording. Once they reached the end of the first session, they realized that the record wasn’t good enough for their standards. McTrusty explains that they poured all their frustration into writing a fun song. “We though, ‘fuck it, let’s write something fun’ and set out to write something different to the rest of the album” he happily claims. It certainly worked, with Dutch radio station 3fm picking the song as their Mega Hit last March. It was so popular that you could even hear it blasting through the speakers at Pinkpop 2014, right before The Rolling Stones hit to the stage, much to the happy shock of McTrusty.

Of course, Great Divide wasn’t all fun and games though, as there were also serious subject issues to be taken care of. Two songs that demonstrate this are recent singles Hold On and Brothers & Sisters. On the subject of how these songs came to be, McTrusty explains that both songs originated at the end of the whole process when they were deciding which songs would make the cut. Hold On, unbeknownst to McTrusty at the time, reflected extremely well on the whole recording process. Its chorus, which features the line “’cus it’s a risk worth taking”, was considered cheesy by McTrusty, although it also made him think. “Hold On made you reflect on the fact that the band could go on and become a massive success, or just finish that exact day” he says, adding that this whole feeling of risk and hope was drawn on and pumped into various songs to try and inspire people. Brothers & Sisters, on the other hand, was the first song that Sam wrote on tour before the Great Divide recording process began, and it takes a more personal stance on life. “I was feeling a little homesick, and you can hear that in how the song sounds like a call out, or reaching out for someone” he explains. He uses this as an example to represent how their lyrics can help people their age relate to life, in particular everyday topics such as feeling homesick of taking risks. “Brothers’ and Sisters was the first song we wrote and one of the last we recorded. We cared about it so much that we wanted to make that song perfect” he says, smiling. But where does he think that Great Divide sits in and amongst their previous output (2009’s Vivarium and 2011’s Free)? He sees it as a natural progression from the start to where they are today. “You can still hear that it’s the same four guys playing. Our style on this record has come out a lot more, and we’re not getting into each other’s way stylistically anymore”. He explains that Great Divide is the first record where the musical connection between band members has really gelled, and that there is loads of room for further progression. “It feels like our next album could sound like anything and we could get away with it” he laughs, adding that he doesn’t think that the band even listen to the kind of music they want to record. As this happens it means that the band’s influences aren’t controlled by one sole person’s vision; rather, various ideas come together and from then on out the songs could sound like anything. It can hinder recording though, particularly when you “stick the last Foals record on and end up adding two or three minute long jams to each song”. Everyone gets caught up in their own tastes, although McTrusty thinks that Great Divide has given the band more confidence in “not being afraid to write a poppier song, or to write a more personal song”.

A lot of success can be measured in terms of how big the venues are that a band ends up playing, with Great Divide helping Twin Atlantic set foot onstage at the SSE Hydro Arena for their biggest ever show to date. “It [the Hydro show] was nearly perfect, and it was weird” he explains, adding “usually at shows even the littlest thing can piss us off if it goes wrong, but at the Hydro show everything went perfectly”. Can McTrusty see the band go on to play even bigger shows? In short, yes. Hydro was a one-off hometown show, having taken Twin Atlantic three years to get to that level. “You have to earn every single fan” he thinks, adding that it’s always been their dream to headline a festival. They probably won’t do that soon, though, as McTrusty thinks that the band needs to first “get their shit together”. He states this jokingly, adding that he first wants to overcome problems such as money and record distribution so that the band can make a decent living wage off of music. “Hydro won’t be a one off, it’s just the beginning of the next chapter” he boldly declares, before comparing Glasgow with London by saying that the band might have a go at Wembley Arena on their next album cycle. A lot of similar bands in the UK alternative/hard rock scene have had a hand at arenas lately, with Bring Me the Horizon selling Wembley Arena out last December and Enter Shikari announcing an arena tour for next February. McTrusty feels that Twin Atlantic could be the next band to make that step up, also adding that bands like Enter Shikari have gotten there because they’re “interesting to listen to” and take a while longer to get into. The same could be said for Twin Atlantic, in particular their earlier work. When it takes longer to get into a band you tend to become a bigger fan of their music, and that’s something which McTrusty completely resonates with. “When you get it, it stays with you for life, and that’s the kind of band we’ve always wanted to be”.

With that final quote, McTrusty also sums up everything that Twin Atlantic are basically about – sticking to what you believe in, taking risks and ultimately making the best of everything and everyone around you. Combine that with arena-sized chorus, killer riffs and pounding percussion and there you have it – Twin Atlantic. What the future will bear for the Glasgow quartet is still unknown, yet you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll be nothing short of successful.