INTERVIEW: Twin Atlantic

We talk to Twin Atlantic's Ross McNae about their new record 'POWER' and the freedom of change.

INTERVIEW: Twin Atlantic

By Yasmin Brown

Mar 5, 2020 13:52

Twin Atlantic are mid-way through their manic release week schedule, playing live shows every night since the eve of ‘POWER’, but chatting to the band’s bassist, Ross McNae, it appears that, for now at least, adrenaline and excitement are winning over exhaustion.

While the band – which now consists of Sam McTrusty, Craig Kneale and Ross McNae – have continued to appear on festival bills over the past year and a half, it’s been much longer since they’ve toured properly in support of an album and so they have to admit, it feels “good getting back into the swing of it and actually playing the new songs”.

Despite the time they’ve taken off from touring, Twin Atlantic have undeniably grown since the 2016 release of ‘GLA’. Their relentless drive and unwillingness to settle for mediocrity has seen them travel along a steady upwards trajectory that has allowed them to consistently appear on main stages at the country’s biggest festivals and play sold out shows at increasingly bigger venues nationwide. Even with that growth, however, these release weeks ultimately remain the same for them. “For us as fans of music – what it’s always been about for us making music is that connection between somebody that’s not been with you – somebody else – and the music that you make.” These release week shows, then, are the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with fans and embrace the energy that surrounds a new album and the connections that this new music allows them to forge.

As well as seeing a growth in their fanbase and a huge change in sonic direction with ‘POWER’, a lot has changed both personally for the band and in the music industry as a whole since their 2016 release. They’ve found it’s been “a lot to get [their] head around” but luckily, despite the whirlwind these three Scotsmen have found themselves caught up in, the response to their brave new release, ‘POWER’, has been “totally unanimous” among fans, as those that have shared their opinion through in-store signings or on social media “seem to like it as much as [they] do, so ultimately that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

It’s a response every band wants to hear when putting out an album, but with this release, Twin Atlantic were lucky in that they had more space and time than ever to put ‘POWER’ together, and couldn’t have been more sure of what they were about to unleash on the world. As a result, even before the record was released, the nerves that had come in the lead up to their previous releases “just weren’t there” because  they “felt like [they] were really expressing [themselves] honestly and truthfully and weren’t trying to be anybody else”. In that sense, there was less reliance on fan validation with ‘POWER’ because they were simply so comfortable with what they had created.

This comfort came from a number of factors, including a new recording environment and moving away from Red Bull Records. While the band’s longtime label “never made [them] do anything they didn’t want to do”, having to travel to LA to record in previous years meant that it was “really hard not to get swept up in the whole thing” and “hard to get a grasp on who you were in those kind of situations”. This time round, Sam, Craig and Ross were able to stay close to their homes in Glasgow, which allowed them to move at their own pace “surrounded by [their] own life in Glasgow and [their] friends and family” which resulted in an album that was more “genuine” and reflective of their real lives, as the environment was entirely their own.

Naturally, this new found freedom and authenticity of the writing and recording environment meant that they had time to experiment and work around their normal, everyday schedules to find a sound that worked for them. The defining moment of this new era came with ‘I Feel It Too’ – not the first track to be written for the album but once finished, it “definitely knocked down all the barriers straight from the word go”. But while ‘POWER’ is a confident shift away from anything Twin have done before, McNae is keen to remind fans that “it’s not just like we’re standing in the middle of the desert banging tins or whatever”, and that these songs, including ‘I Feel It Too’, are “still in the form of a rock song”; listen carefully to any one of the 10 tracks, and you’ll hear the same underlying structure that Twin have always started with. Still, the track was a turning point for the band, taking them places that they’d never been before as a band, allowing them to move forward and “do what [they] wanted after that”. The result is Twin Atlantic as you have never heard them before, and at the rate they’re evolving, it’s Twin Atlantic as you’ll never hear them again.

While ‘I Feel It Too’ was a turning point, it was ‘Volcano’ that started it all. Being the first song written for ‘POWER’, it had “more of a thread between where [they] were” with GLA, meaning it felt like “quite a natural point to start”, particularly since last summer when the song was first premiered, release dates were still up in the air and it “would have been quite confusing to play something else” at that intermediary place in the band’s career. This rings true as you make your way through the album, as while ‘Volcano’ fits perfectly into ‘POWER’, it also wouldn’t have felt out of place on ‘GLA’, and, despite the fact that with hindsight, fans are just as moved by this record as they’ve ever been by any Twin release in the past, the band weren’t sure when (or even if) fans would hear more new music. This decision, therefore, was tactical to avoid rocking the boat too much, too early on.

There was also a time, in between ‘GLA’ and ‘POWER’ where Twin Atlantic weren’t sure if they were going to release new music at all. The band are naturally in a different place to where they were when they started over a decade ago, and found themselves contemplating their motivation behind continuing to create music. “There’s a certain time where you can ask yourself like, what’s this for, what’s like… why? I suppose. Are we just releasing new music because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s just time? Or do we really have something to say? You know, do we really want to, do we feel like there’s something new we can try out?”

For any fan, the idea of Twin Atlantic no longer being a band seems unfathomable, and now, as we sit with ‘POWER’ filling our ears, the answers to their introspective questions are glaringly obvious and, thankfully, despite reservations, it didn’t take too long before these answers became obvious to Twin, too. “It wasn’t some big moment where we sat down and were like, “Are we still gonna be a band?” It was more just feeling our way through making and putting the album out”. As they took their time to experiment with new concepts, they found themselves falling “back in love with the band and realising just how important it was to [them]”.

The result of this rekindled love is an album full of surprises and anyone with a long history of being a fan of Twin Atlantic will hear an almost unbelievable contrast between ‘POWER’ and their debut ‘Vivarium’. As McNae notes, though, these songs were written in the same way as they were in 2009, and since they’re written on the same basis as any ‘rock’ song they’ve written before, Sam, Ross and Craig never felt too much like they had to try too hard to maintain their roots with this new sound. While the sonic cohesion of the record suggests it was well thought out prior to the start of the writing process, in reality, the band simply did what felt right for them. “We said whatever we felt we wanted to say in that moment, we didn’t really think too much about it, it’s just I suppose, erm, like just came out that way you know? There wasn’t any premeditation to it, which is nice.”

And this is perhaps why the record feels so genuine, too, as Twin Atlantic only ever restrained themselves when it came to urges to move away from the soaring choruses for which they’ve become notorious. Even with those urges, however, the band can’t help but write for the stage, and this album has always been about doing what they wanted and what felt right. McNae notes that they “actually would sometimes like to not [write big choruses] but er, it’s just so much – it’s just such a pay off, when you get to that point that we just really struggle to not do that. It’s funny because arguably it’s a bit over the top but we just love it so whatever”.

While some things never change – soaring choruses and a classic rock / pop structure – Twin Atlantic are always looking for new, inventive elements that can be implemented into their music. As well as kicking a bin around a car park and playing with endless percussive sounds, the band experimented with a number of other sampled sounds including recording the sound of pushing painkillers out of their plastic packets. While on face value it’s a “delicate kind of sound”, when enhanced, it becomes a “kind of snare drum thing”. These intricate details are what set Twin Atlantic apart from many other bands who choose to take the more dancey route, refusing to rely solely on electronically devised sounds, and always searching for new ways to push their music beyond good into the realm of outstanding.

In fact, there are many factors that work together to make Twin Atlantic such an exceptional band, not least consistently sweaty and interactive live performances, as well as their ability to pull from past material and perform it with a passion as strong as it was in the months following its release. Today, you’ll still see performances of 2011’s ‘Make a Beast of Myself’, 2013’s ‘Heart and Soul’, and 2016’s ‘No Sleep’ – all of which are performed with as much gusto as ever, making it clear that while they’ve undoubtedly moved forwards, they still “love everything [they’ve] ever done”, and a change in direction doesn’t mean “you’ve got any less of a passion for what you’ve done in the past”.

Lucky for us, this persistent passion means a a new album will never see Twin Atlantic forgetting about their older material, and with a full UK tour now imminent, the inclusion of older material will only highlight their eclecticism, further driving an appreciation for their talent and refusal to stand still. As we embrace ‘POWER’ in all its glory, witnessing these new songs for the very first time in a live environment, we’ll also be taken on a trip down memory lane – a recipe for one of the band’s best tours yet, and a sure sign that whenever you think this band may have hit a wall, they’ll only ever smash it down and break through stronger than ever.