'Extreme light and extreme dark' - Sam McTrusty on the new Twin Atlantic album
Tackling difficult themes via lo-fi arrangements and partly-spoken vocals, the new Twin Atlantic album is like nothing the band have ever recorded before, Sam McTrusty tells Fiona Shepherd
While it’s fair to anticipate a rush of “here’s what we did during the pandemic” albums in 2022, Glasgow’s pop(ular) rockers Twin Atlantic kick off the new year with an album which truly could not have existed without pandemic circumstances taking them in unexpected musical and upfront lyrical directions. It is suitably titled Transparency.
For frontman Sam McTrusty, the album is a product of a chaotic confluence of new fatherhood, stress-related illness, record company upheavals, nocturnal Facetime sessions, line-up changes and wondering what the hell is it all about? Except more fun than that sounds.
Like many, many musicians, McTrusty was initially looking at a busy 2020 promoting the band’s newest album Power. Along with bassist Ross McNae and drummer Craig Kneale, he had already started work on a follow-up album before the first lockdown provided a much-needed moment of clarity.
“For the first time ever, we just weren’t really caring about what we were doing, and the music started to sound that way,” he says. “That was a new feeling for us because whenever we’d made an album before, we’d set out with strong ideals and a goal.”
Stir in months of inconclusive tests for an undiagnosed stress-related illness, being dropped by their label three weeks into the pandemic, becoming a father for the first time and taking on daddy daycare duties while his student nurse wife worked in Covid wards and it’s hardly surprising that McTrusty was dazed and confused.
“My wife was called into work almost the way a soldier is called up for service and I’m sitting thinking ‘what do I have to offer society?’ I’m like the court jester. I felt guilty and it put my brain in a certain place. I was taking stock of everything we had achieved at that point. We’re not very dramatic people so any issue or problem we just breeze over it. But if you do that for 15 years you can have a few mountains instead of molehills.”
Their Los Angeles-based producer Jacknife Lee applied a bit of tough love via Facetime and he and McTrusty buddied up to see them through the strange days, sharing confessional conversation and then spontaneous writing sessions – Lee in the California sunshine and McTrusty copping the graveyard shift while trying to keep the noise to neighbour- and baby-friendly levels, snatch a couple of hours or sleep and then wake up with his daughter in the early morning.
The unwitting result was an album of material unlike anything Twin Atlantic had produced before, with lo-fi electronic-based arrangements and choppy, partly spoken/shouted vocals from McTrusty tackling topics such as marriage, male friendship and medication head on.
“I actually don’t remember much of it, it’s all a bit of a fever dream blurry experience,” says McTrusty of the unconventional creative process, “but the record is good for it. I think it’s unique. I would never want to make an album like this ever again so it’s cool that I got to experience one like this. It started as free advice and it quickly grew arms and legs where Jacknife cared and made me care again.
“Sometimes songwriting is given this gilt-edged importance as an art form, that it’s this godly gift, but he manages to ground me. The whole thing was so funny. We flipp-flopped between writing parody songs where I made fun of myself and the idea of even making music and then we would slip to the other side. I’ve always been drawn to music for a reason but, having an older head, I’m realising I write songs as therapy. So the record really is extreme light and extreme dark and because we were doing it over Facetime, a format that you use to talk to friends and family, it disarmed me. It lit a fire under me to make an album that I loved.”
The light of his interactions with Lee was complemented by his delight at becoming a lockdown-induced stay-at-home dad. “We started touring when I was a teenager so it’s the longest I’ve been in Glasgow as an adult ever. I identify so strongly with being Glaswegian. It’s such a famous city for creativity and I realised I had spent ten to 15 years talking about it but not really living it as much as I used to. So it was nice to be grounded here for a while and I ended up getting back into Scottish football and listening to Radio Clyde phone-ins and things I hadn’t done since I was 16. Then I went from sitting in the house with a baby to a festival with 10,000 people.”
Like their peers, Twin Atlantic have made the most of the return of live music. However, soon after revving up again, there was a further bump in the road when Kneale announced his departure from the band.
“Ultimately I think Craig just wants to play drums every night of the week,” reflects McTrusty. “That’s the tricky thing being a mid-sized band – we weren’t playing enough gigs for him to be satisfied. It was the right time for him personally to try something else and it was as straightforward as that, there was no drama or big fight. It wasn’t like The Beatles documentary that everyone’s been watching. But because that’s the way we left it, it feels like he could potentially be drumming for us a year from now.”
As if performing material from Power and Transparency is not quite enough, Twin Atlantic also have plans to revisit their breakthrough album Free, which hit gold sales status last year (plaques all round), for its belated tenth anniversary.
“With gigs coming back, people just want a joyous thing to look forward to,” says McTrusty. “That album gave us everything we’ve got in our lives so it’s a moment of gratitude more than nostalgia. The nostalgia is going to come when I have to relearn the guitar parts because I can’t play some of those songs right now…”
Transparency is released on 7 January on Believe. Twin Atlantic play the Ironworks, Inverness on 11 May and Barrowland, Glasgow on 12 May
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