On record, it's one hell of a noise. The way Andy MacFarlane of the Twilight Sad wields his Fender Jaguar, you'd think he was trying to kill someone with the damn thing. On “I Became a Prostitute”, one of many highlights on the band's second LP, Forget the Night Ahead, the guitarist constructs forbidding waves of tone that crest and whirl into an undertow of overdrive and tremolo, bringing to mind My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth without really sounding like either.
It seems like the kind of thing that could only be generated through sheer volume, a speculation that MacFarlane's bandmate, singer James Graham, confirms. Reached at his home in Banton, Scotland, Graham says he sometimes has difficulty hearing himself over the guitarist's racket.
“It's quite a struggle, probably because I stand right next to Andy”¦and his monitor is probably the loudest thing I've ever heard in my life,” he notes. “It's pretty hard. If we're in a big venue, and it's a decent PA, it's all right, but sometimes playing the small club gigs, I'd be better off not being there, really.”
He's kidding, of course. Graham's thick Scottish brogue and deeply felt vocal delivery provide the Twilight Sad with its focal point, and his lyrics are the band's emotional heart. The songs on Forget the Night Ahead, he says, document a dark period in his life, although precisely what happened during that time is anyone's guess. The singer has been reticent to give details, and his lyrics—like the following lines from “The Room”—are certainly open to interpretation: “You're the grandson's toy in the corner/Don't tell anyone else/You were seen in the cherry tree/Look what you have done.”
“If you want to forget about all that stuff, probably writing an album about it and having to sing every single night about these experiences might not be the best thing,” Graham admits. “But it's been good to look back on it and go, ”˜That's where I was at that point, and I'm not there anymore.' And I suppose it's good to look back and say ”˜That was a pretty bad time in my life”¦but I've come through that and I'm all right now.' ”
It's therapeutic for him, and he says it's cathartic for the audience, too, even if those listening aren't privy to the ins and outs of Graham's private life.
“The two albums we've released are quite dark,” he acknowledges. “They're not very happy albums. But the thing is, as people, we're quite happy guys. We just like to focus on that side of life. I think that's the thing that's far more interesting. No one wants to hear someone in a band go on about how their life is great and everything's bright and perfect, because life's not like that. I suppose if other people listen to our music it just shows that other people have been through dark things as well, and they can connect with it.”
Perhaps realizing that this might make a Twilight Sad show sound more like a group therapy session than the jolly time he insists it actually is, Graham chuckles and adds, “It's a barrel of laughs.”
The Twilight Sad plays at the Biltmore Cabaret on Wednesday (May 12).