Given The Twilight Sad have only existed for 15 years, labelling them a “heritage” band might sound facetious; but for anyone who grew up having their opening bouts with ill mental health and identity-fraught adolescence soundtracked by the Glasgow band’s debut Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, they’re intractable. They’ve put out good indie rock records since Fourteen Autumns, successfully evolving without compromising the exasperated sensitivity which draws new fans in like a trail of breadcrumbs, becoming one of those bands whose unshowy consistency has marshalled them towards that most backhanded of compliments; “underrated”.

Without denigrating the inbetween records in the slightest, It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is a different beast. It’s simultaneously a 2019 album and a timeless one, grappling with fiercely on-topic discussions of masculinity and mental health while tackling rock’s perennial burden of early-onset listlessness and the passage of time’s ennui. It’s an album which catalyses self-reflection and enables the listener to grapple with their own problems, joining the pantheon of other capital-G Great rock records which extend genuine mental health support by virtue of existing.

But at what cost to the artist? That’s something Twilight Sad lyricist and lead singer James Graham knows better than anyone.


When I met Graham in a café in the south side of Glasgow the day after New Years, I was eager for him to break down the genesis of It Won/t; its inspirations and aspirations. Graham grounded me instantly: “This is our job now, we know we have to release albums.”

He clarified: “For me it's not a job like that really, I have to have a reason to write a song, to write an album even more so. We needed time to get home, to get back to real life because that was not real life, those tours. They were some of the best moments of my life, and the best moments for the band, but I've never been used to something like that before. It was such a grand scale, and everyday you're pinching yourself, ‘how is this happening to me?’”

The tour Graham’s referencing was a six month US and Europe tour with The Cure – a band he passionately confesses to be the Sad’s absolute favourite – where they, a group of softly spoken pals from the west of Scotland, were playing sold out venues of 10,000 people every night.

“Yeah, we're not used to 10,000,” Graham laughs. “It was also the way we were treated, Robert [Smith, Cure frontman] arranged a bus for us, we've never done a bus tour before as a band, we're like ‘woah this is mental’. Playing our music in those kinds of arenas, until you do it you don't know if your music's going to work. I know our music's big, cinematic, so you hope you could fill a space like that, but you don't know until you actually physically get up and start doing it. Luckily it seemed to connect."

Graham added: “For a band like us who work so hard, where things haven't always worked out, we've had some really horrible tours where attendance wasn't great, long gruelling drives, being away from home for a long time; to get to a point where our last record did connect, which was reflected by attendances, and then that [The Cure tours] to happen at the end of it, it was a big 'wow, how far we've come since the start – but don’t get used to this.'"

Those peak moments of perfect concord between the melody and the noise; those all-too-brief seconds of aural bliss which The Cure specialise in? It Won/t Be Like This has a good four or five those. The record began to take shape after the tour had finished, but Graham and Sad co-songwriter (and guitarist) Andy MacFarlane derived plenty of ideas from their time with the stadium rock icons.

“Sitting watching them every night, watching the audience every night, I think subconsciously things were sinking in, and we knew what we wanted to do with this album after that tour. Andy did musically anyway, cause he scrapped everything; basically, we wrote the album [on tour] and then Andy scrapped all the music - though he kept all my vocals. He said when he sent through the new version, ‘you'll notice the music's different...’ aye fucking right it is. But it was for the better definitely, because he felt what he'd done wasn't good enough. We took on board that we can't just settle, not that we ever did, but we wanted to be better than we were."

Once the tour was over Smith even volunteered his ear for a second opinion on the songs’ early drafts. “We gave the demos to Robert as well and he wrote back to us and rated them out of ten, which was pretty nerve-wracking. Sending unfinished demos to one of the greatest songwriters of all-time, then getting a response of ‘this is an eight out of ten, could be a nine’, that’s really fucking cool. He never said ‘do this, do that’, he said try this, try that, which was really cool. He gave options, suggestions. He was right 90% of the time; it wasn’t massive things, just ‘see this breakdown, try this’, which I think contributed to those peak moments on the record.”

The peak Cure-adjacent moments, that is. “All that only comes from working on it a million times, being patient. And I'm not a patient person! Normally I'm like ‘fuck it, next one’, but it was really satisfying to take our time without overanalysing it. I'm glad it has those moments, a new dynamic for us - and not just quiet/loud, because in the past we've been known just as the quiet/loud band, I think it's more layered.”

They’ve been known as a “quiet/loud” band, post-punk, indie rock, you name a rudimentary genre label and for certain at one point it’s been tossed at The Twilight Sad and unable to stick; Graham however, in an interview around the time of Fourteen Autumns’ release, described the band as “folk with layers of noise”. I asked him if he stood by this.

“I think it's down to the words. My lyrics are about me and where I'm from and things that have happened to me and my friends and family. To me that's what folk music is; not writing about politics, writing about very personal things. It’s also the substance of the music. Performing these songs acoustically, you've got to be thinking you've got a song beneath [the noise]. I think 90% of our songs you can take away all of the layers and there's a song there. We’ve went a bit more new wave, having synths and that, but I think the ethos of folk is at the heart of what our band is.”

Graham’s carefully enunciated Scottish accent has always been one of the band’s greatest assets, its guttural moroseness communicating the savage melancholy of his condition. A music critic cliché is describing the efficacy of someone’s voice as an instrument in itself; Graham’s accent however is more a natural vocoder, a conveyor of agony more clinical than any autotune.

“Listening to [Aidan Moffat, of Arab Strap] was the catalyst of all that. I grew up near Falkirk, and hearing his lyrics and remember thinking ‘well that's just writing about where's he's from, just going to the pub, being bored with his pals’, and he's singing how he would communicate normally in a conversation, and that was like ‘wow, you can do that?’, just relaxing and telling your stories as they're meant to be told. It'd feel dishonest if I sang in an American tinge.”

He elaborated: “I think more than anything it's not about being Scottish and glum; unlike in Trainspotting, I don't think it's shite being Scottish. I can't help being Scottish, and that's going to come through in my music. I'm not wearing a kilt or flying a saltire above my head, but I think the honesty is what comes from it; by singing that way, it is honest. We didn't go ‘alright, we're going to write this song and Jamie you're writing in a Scottish accent because Americans love the Scottish accent and we're going to sell shitloads’ whereas it's the opposite. It's just who you are, and unfortunately that is melancholy.”

Arab Strap and the Sad share plenty of DNA; while the former is more traditionally folky than its noisier cousin, lyrically they’re evocative of very specific contexts and characters, but expressed with such modest relatability that both transmute the intensely personal into the universal.

“Aidan is one of my friends now, which is mental, but he's still a massive influence. Did you hear the Christmas record he just did? There's covers on it that are funny but brilliant at the same time, but then there's this song about looking in the mirror and seeing this old man, seeing everything through old age, and it's just genius. I related to that, that was exactly how I was feeling that day. We've released three songs from the record now, and after we released ‘I'm Not Here’ people got in touch saying ‘I know you're talking about this as your own experience, but this is how I feel it’, which was nice because it was the most honest I've been, without the metaphors I normally use.”

The Sad are synonymous with abrupt sensitivity, lyrics of candour and empathy interrogating depression, loneliness, deepest remorse and bitterness. When Fourteen Autumns came out in 2007 it starkly contrasted with the toxic laddiness which monopolised UK rock at the time. Mental health and masculinity are issues being more directly confronted by the scene these days, with Shame and IDLES both releasing worthy records last year which grappled with the noxious expectations placed upon the modern rockstar, and the modern man. As someone who’s sang about this for over a decade, what does Graham think of this fresh dynamic?

“I’m kind of the antithesis, or my music is, of that toxic masculinity, going on stage and greeting my eyes out every night. I was talking to my dad the other day, about growing up and how you were meant to act and think, and if you don't act that way you're different and weird, especially in the middle of Scotland. I'm very lucky I don't have a dad like that but I've seen where it comes from. When I was growing up it was ‘go and get a real job, get an apprenticeship, don't waste your life looking for these fancy dreams’. How is that a way to engage with anybody?”

“I want freedom from that as much as possible. I have a son and I want to teach him that that's bullshit, utter bullshit. My wife dressed our wee boy with pink trousers on and somebody in the street said "aw look at the wee girl" and I'm like what? Why does the colours matter? In the first song [‘10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs’] there's a nod to that, ‘all wee boys look the same’, cause I was out one night in my local pub, looking around and thinking ‘what the fuck is going on’, and was disgusted by how young men were behaving.”

Graham continued: “I've got nothing against the bands in lad rock, sometimes it's not their fault. It’s more about how we can get away from that and just make it about everyone being able to go and enjoy their time and space at gigs. It's a basic solidarity really. That's what I want to promote. There's bands I've watched for years who as they've got more popular they've attracted that type of laddy audience. I have friends who don't go and see certain bands now cause they don't enjoy it, not that they feel threatened - well in a way they do, since their way of watching and enjoying that music is threatened.”

Fourteen Autumns came out through Brighton label FatCat Records, who in the late 00s oversaw something of a renaissance in Scottish rock. Complementing the Sad were Edinburgh’s harder-edged We Were Promised Jetpacks, and also the folk rock band Frightened Rabbit, who were, and remain, very close friends with the bandmates from the Sad, often helping with demos, tours, but also very essentially as supportive and considerate pals outside the music bubble. Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer Scott Hutchison committed suicide last May, a tragedy which broke the world for his friends and family, countless fans, and Graham.

I’m hesitant about pursuing a topic so delicate, but Graham insists “I'm happy to discuss Scott. I think we should discuss Scott, I think everybody should talk about Scott.”

When asked about that those few years at FatCat, Graham smiles: “Looking back it's weird, even before Scott passed me and him would talk about it quite a lot; we never thought that we were doing anything special, we were writing songs just for fun. There was a point when we were sending each other our demos, back and forth with Scott and Grant [Frightened Rabbit's drummer and Scott's brother] to see whether we each thought it was cool, that was enough for us. We weren't looking for any widespread acclaim, just wanting to make a record and have fun; even if the subject matter wasn't exactly fun. We were skint, playing shitty venues, struggling to get by, but we had the fucking best time together. This whole journey started with them, and we've constantly looked out for each other as time went on.”

Graham pauses before continuing: “We were really struggling at one point on the third record, and Scott asked if we wanted to come and support their tour in America, cause they were doing really well and saw we were struggling, but believed in us and wanted to get us in front of more people. He didn't have to do that. We kept releasing things together, even when they went to Atlantic [Records, the label Frabbit joined after the release of their third record The Winter of Mixed Drinks] we kept the connection. We were best friends, really.”

“There was a friendly competition too; when they released [2006 debut album] Sing The Greys we thought ‘fuck, we've got to get the finger out’. Then we released Fourteen Autumns, and I remember being at a party and Scott said ‘everybody into this room now’ cause I'd given him a copy of the album, and he said ‘we're all going to sit down and we're going to listen to this Twilight Sad album’, and I remember sitting there physically forced to listen to our own music, distinctly remember the look on his face where he's just *Graham grimaces to imitate Hutchison*; because we were proud, we knew we'd made something special for us, and I knew he'd love it as well."

"Then I could see the determination in his eyes, and he basically went; right, I see your Fourteen Autumns, and I raise you Midnight Organ Fight. So he came back from America, and we sat and listened to [Midnight] in his flat in the West End on a CD player, me and Andy sitting in front of *that* and turning to each other thinking ‘ah fuck’.”

“We always had each other's back. I only look upon those moments with love and fondness. I still get those feelings every time each of us released a record. This time is going to be weird though, cause every time one of us released a record we'd message each other congratulations, so on the day of [It Won/t’s] release, I'm going to miss that. I've been thinking about that morning a lot, what it’ll feel like when that text doesn’t come. I'll say it felt good back then; not because we thought we were making something influential or great, just because we made it for us. There's a lot of darkness that surrounds everything back then and also now, but that was a really positive, happy period of our lives, and nobody can take that away from us.”

Thankfully, part of Hutchison pulsates through It Won/t Be Like This, having contributed ideas to most recent single ‘VTr’, a lasting imprint and tribute to their friend.

“Him and Andy were wanting to work together, trading ideas back and forth, then Andy said ‘I started to work on something from what Scott suggested, and I started to like it, so thought I'd just keep it for the Sad album.' It's nice knowing that Andy produced the track, when Scott was on his mind. And that song has the most hopeful line in the whole record, it's nice to note there was still hope when we were writing that. I do follow it up with a line that doesn't have any hope, but it's nice to know there's that through-line, that connection to him. There will be in everything we do from now on.”

When I saw the Sad at Primavera Festival a few weeks after Hutchison’s death, their first gig since, they closed their set with a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, which was unexpected and overwhelming and a gamut-running bombardment of contradictory feelings; but a vehicle for some desperately needed catharsis; for myself, the audience, and the band.

“I didn't know if it was the right thing to do,” Graham says, “but after the reaction from the crowd I thought ‘we've got to do this every night’, and though I've not been able to get through it without crying, we've carried on playing it. I was thinking that maybe after a while I would be able to finish without, but... I’m always thinking about whether it's the right thing to do, but as I say we should be talking about Scott, we should be singing his words, because he was brilliant. Doing it for the first time, it's very blurry for me now. I'd like to try and remember it, I do every night when we play it. That first time, hearing people clapping along to the drumbeat knowing immediately what we were about to do, it was really special.”

Has the band played Glasgow since?

“No, no we haven't. That's going to be... we played in Edinburgh and that was, I can hardly remember it was that blurry. When we play the Barrowlands it'll be... I don't want to put any expectations on anything, but I just know what people are going to be like; which is great, we're in that room together, and we'll sing it together. I think we'll get through it. I've seen him play that song so many times there, and it'll be fitting for us to play that song for the first time in Glasgow at the Barrowlands, in a place that holds so many memories for both of us.”

It's now something happens that even now seems surreal, the kind of ludicrous coincidence that’d be dismissed from the early draft of an indie dramedy for being too on-the-nose or sentimental. The café starts playing Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Loneliness & The Scream’, the first time either of us have heard their music since Hutchison’s death.

“I've sang [Frightened Rabbit] but I've not been able to listen to them. That coming on there, it took me a wee bit. I'm not a religious guy or believe in certain things, but stuff like this keeps occurring and it feels like it means something. The record was written and recorded before what happened. The connection through some of the words I'm singing and the themes on it, the coincidences are scary. I can't quite explain it, there's a feeling of Scott within this.”

A parallel between the Sad and Frightened Rabbit, or more specifically Graham and Hutchison, is their accented vocals, as alluded to earlier. Like Graham, Hutchison sung accented because it was honest, to help purge his demons, or try to.

“People are starting to see the reason I do it is to get something out. The reason Scott did it is to get something out. That's something that scared me after it happened. Without this I would be lost, and I'm lucky that I have this. But after everything that's happened it's made me think ‘is it actually good for me?’ Scott was doing the same thing, and it didn't... it did help him, but it didn’t.”

“I'm terrified about releasing a record, I always am, the pressure I put on myself. I wrote these songs for myself, and sometimes you forget that once you release them you're putting yourself on the line to get absolutely slated, and that would destroy me. If somebody slates the record you get another 100 people saying it's great, I'll look at that one who's slated me and it'll tear me apart, and is that good for me? Is the reason I do this in the first place actually helping me? It helps in the writing and recording process, but the releasing and putting myself out there I'm not too fond of to be honest. I enjoy talking to people who like our music, that's a lovely thing, but this process isn't what happens all the time, and you can't escape it now with social media. If somebody thinks you're shite you can't hide from it, and I'm the type of person who really takes it to heart, and it affects me in my everyday life. I know we're about to release a record and I should feel excited about it but I feel genuinely terrified and questioning if this is good for me anymore.”

Graham pauses again. “That's something that Scott and I spoke about regularly. How the release process and criticism affected us, and luckily people have been very kind about both our bands over the years but sometimes people can be really cruel and snidey and I don't know why. Obviously Scott and I are very, well, emo, let's not get away from that, very emotional and you can tell through our songs we take things to heart. When you look at Frightened Rabbit's rise, when they're selling out big shows and seeing this guy smiling on stage people think ‘everything must be fucking great’; that life can be brilliant, but with those highs are crashing lows. Nobody gets to see that, and you're not meant to tell people about that in interviews.”

“I think that's something I find hard and strange, when you're going out promoting something you're meant to be confident, positive, ‘this album is the best fucking thing we've ever done’, if you don't say that then people maybe question you; ‘do they even like it, do they appreciate they're living the dream?’ When you're doing an interview on the radio or telly you’re told you can never comes across as tired, because people will think ‘fuck them then, they're tired, all they're doing is making music’. I found that tour we did for two months, I was singing new songs, singing Scott's songs, travelling for eight hours a day, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I just couldn't play anymore gigs than what we played and I became a shell of a person for a couple of days, and that's never happened to me before.”

Asked if there’s any real provision or support for artists in the industry, Graham shakes his head: “none, not at all, if I feel lost I don’t know what to do. After that Cure tour, to a guy who's never experienced peaks as high as that, I came home and looked at the wall and thought 'what the fuck happened?' I love my life at home; I've got a wife and kid I adore to bits but coming back I felt completely alien from everything. The only support I would have is my close friends and family, but I didn't want to burden this on them. I didn't know where to turn, what number to phone, who to go to. I'm maybe not the best person to talk about this stuff since I'm not educated about it, but I have felt it, so maybe I am."

“I think that a lot of the feelings I have are in those songs. Writing started sparking things, and not in a great way, but I got it out, then the whole process starts again of feeling anxious about having my feelings out there. Not promoting the album title, but "It Won't Be Like This All The Time" is meant to be taken as both a positive or a negative; it won't be like this all the time so cherish this moment, it won't be like this all the time because things will get better. But we need coping mechanisms in case it doesn’t.”


It Won't Be Like This All The Time is out Friday 18th January via Rock Action.