Twin Atlantic on Hogmanay and hitting the big time

THEIR Hogmanay gig proves Twin Atlantic have arrived, yet the big time crept up on them almost unawares

Twin Atlantic. Picture: Contributed
Twin Atlantic. Picture: Contributed
Twin Atlantic. Picture: Contributed

THE career of Glasgow rockers Twin Atlantic has been a slow-burn affair. Formed in 2007, they achieved local hero status quickly, but their first two albums (2009’s Vivarium and 2011’s Free) failed to crack a broader audience in quite the way that their widescreen, hook-laden choruses might have promised. This year was different. There were no ifs or buts about Great Divide. It hit number six in the UK charts in August, and the band’s fortunes have been escalating ever since.

The quartet play this year’s Hogmanay Street Party in Edinburgh, a milestone for any Scottish group on the rise, and they’ve just announced their largest tour to date, scheduled for next spring and including a show at Glasgow’s massive Hydro arena. For members of the band, insulated by a hard-working touring schedule across the UK, Europe and the United States, the only gauge of their newfound success is the response of the crowds.

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“Now people are wanting us to go places and play for them rather than us just going there and playing,” says bassist Ross McNae. “We’re a rock band, so we never expected to sell singles, but when Heart And Soul got into the top 20 it was bizarre. We were surrounded by rap and pop acts.” McNae’s speaking on the line from Orlando, Florida, where the band have a heavy schedule of live Christmas parties for the nation’s radio stations.

It’s breakfast time and McNae’s had a classic American breakfast with bagels on the side, although “we’re in the wrong place for it, we’re a couple of hundred miles too far south. We all really love New York.” Usually lead singer Sam McTrusty would be doing the interviews, but a couple of events have been cancelled already this week because of vocal problems and he’s been advised to rest his voice, so McNae’s deputising.

It was McTrusty and McNae who formed the band, having been school friends growing up around Glasgow’s Southside in the Cathcart and Queen’s Park neighbourhoods. The other recruits were drummer Craig Kneale, from Bishopbriggs, and Barry McKenna, from Hamilton, so they’re very much a west coast band.

To tell the story of 2014 as the year Twin Atlantic truly made it, we have to go back to Free, the album which sort-of made it. “With Free it was a weird process,” says McNae, “because the first half of the promotion period for the record came and went and we weren’t really sure how it was doing. We thought people must like it because enough of them were coming to see our shows. But then, halfway through, more people started to pick it up and want to play it on the radio, especially Radio 1. Then everything just snowballed, it took this weird turn that we weren’t expecting. All of a sudden we were playing to more people… Like, a lot more people.”

McNae says that the experience set them up perfectly for Great Divide in terms of their confidence. But it was physically draining. “There was a period in between where we honestly burned ourselves out,” says McNae. “We stretched ourselves really thin trying to tour as much as we could and we’d never been in a position like that before. The touring for that record probably took twice as long as normal. More people kept discovering us, kept wanting to see us, so we kept playing. After that we were all a bit burnt out and we wanted to keep our wits about us, so we came back to Glasgow again.”

During this time McTrusty actually lived in Toronto for a while; a combination of family connections in Canada, friends made while touring and a girl he was seeing. The group would reconvene every few weeks to put ideas for Great Divide together, but the singer’s living-out-of-a-suitcase situation meant that he ended up writing most of the record. This was good, says McNae. “It gave the album more of a cohesive outline than anything we’d done before.” The biggest stumbling block, he says, was the fact that the label trusted them enough not to press them for a completion date.

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Sessions at Wales’ famed Rockfield Studios with their established producer Gil Norton got a bit “wandery” as the group tried to figure out what album they wanted. Once they’d finished, they decided to try again, this time in America with Irish producer Jacknife Lee (whose credits include U2, Coldplay and Taylor Swift) at his home studio in Topanga Canyon outside Los Angeles. “Honestly, the record wouldn’t be what it is without balancing those two different styles,” says McNae. “It’s got the best of both worlds, with old and new recording styles and ideas on songwriting composition and structure. I’m really proud of it, it’s the best thing we’ve ever made.”

The energy this band play with particularly lends itself to the live stage. They’ll be back on tour – including a visit to Australia – in 2015, as well as their first arena shows, and it’s the gigs that have stood out for McNae throughout the past year. “You can be as clever as you want in the studio but it isn’t until you see the reaction of a crowd that you know how good each song is.”

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He speaks as fondly of selling out American venues for the first time, albeit 500 capacity ones, as he does about supporting Kings of Leon at Milton Keynes Bowl or playing Glastonbury for the first time on the John Peel stage. “That was almost like a stamp of our progression,” he says. “Up until then we’d been a straight rock band playing to fans who were our age or younger, but now we’re older and we write about things that more people can get into.

“We saw it at Glastonbury and more and more at every show: at the front there are 16-year-old girls and at the back there are 50-year-old couples, and everybody in between. The highlight of the whole record, for me, is seeing us become more of a band for everybody. That’s what we always wanted, but we just hadn’t quite got there until now.” n

• Twin Atlantic play the Waverley Stage at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, then the Hydro, Glasgow, 9 May. The album Great Divide is out now on Red Bull Records