Walk into the Barrowlands prior to the show on May 6th and you’ll find four band members eagerly awaiting their biggest headline show to date. With such an important and defining gig mere hours away, we took a little time to chat to Twin Atlantic’s Barry McKenna and Craig Kneale about the evening ahead and their latest album ‘Free’, amongst other topics…
IS: So, how are you two today?
Craig: Good, nervous, scared and excited in equal measures, I guess.
Craig: We’re really excited to play and also really nervous to play, so.
IS: Tonight is your biggest headline show, plus it’s sold out, plus it’s a home show. How does something like that feel?
Barry: Pretty awesome.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs]
Barry: It’s nice that there’s so many like-minded people who come from the same place as us who want to see us doing the same thing and like the same thing that we’re doing. It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?
Craig: Yeah, it really is.
Barry: Especially because we spend a lot of time on the road as well, the other side of it is that we spend a lot of time on the road away from home, so it’s nice to actually come home and have your friends and family come down and for them to actually experience what it is we’ve been doing and why we’ve been away for so long, so that’s really cool.
IS: Do you find home shows more nerve-wracking? Scotland really loves Twin Atlantic.
Craig: Yeah, I’d say so because we seem to be a bit bigger up here than we are down in England and other places and it is a little bit more nerve-wracking. Obviously, all our friends and family are going to be there and that kind of adds to it, just knowing they’re there when it seems far more anonymous in most places with the people in the crowd. It’s definitely a lot more nerve-wracking and obviously you have people getting in touch all day wishing us luck and stuff like that… also asking to get guestlist a lot of the time. [laughs] So, yeah, I’d say it’s definitely a lot more nerve-wracking for us but a lot more exciting at the same time.
IS: How have you found the rest of tour so far?
Craig: This one, so far, has been amazing, yeah. We feel lucky because every tour that we’ve done has been a little bit busier to the last and on this one most of the shows have been sold out so far or close to selling out, none quite as big as the Barrowlands, though. We have about 5-600 people in Aberdeen, 800 or so in Inverness.
Barry: About 400 in Manchester…
Craig: Yeah, all the English shows have been really busy as well, so it’s actually been really encouraging because our album came out this week as well and it’s been a bit hectic.
IS: Talking about your album, ‘Free’, how did you find recording that? I hear you were very prepared and sort of went in with a clear view of what you wanted done?
Barry: Yeah, we definitely were. I mean, things will always change in the studio no matter how much you prepare beforehand. Things are always going to change whether it’s one of us coming up with a new idea in the studio or the producer – a guy called Gil Norton (he’s actually a bit of a hero to us, that we now worked with)… he’s always got a great input on stuff, well he definitely did when we got to work with him. I guess the most important thing that we had was a really strong vision of how we wanted the record to sound and how we wanted the songs to come across, so even though some of the songs perhaps changed in the studio, we always had that overall idea of what we wanted the end product to be like. It was a very easy process because throughout we had such a focussed goal in mind we found it easy to constantly work towards that because we could visual… [getting tongue-tied over the word]. What am I trying to say?
Craig: Visualise. [laughs]
Barry: We could visualise the finish line and where we wanted to be, so it was a lot easier to work towards that.
IS: How would you describe that ‘set vision’ you had for ‘Free’?
Craig: I think we just wanted to write a collection of honest rock songs. We just wanted to have an album that felt like an album. I always found that our favourite music has always been a concise hole; I don’t think anyone’s really listened to just one song, they’re more album fans. So, I think we just wanted to make an album that was full of tracks we could fit in that we felt were good enough to make us happy with the final result. I think we definitely achieved that. Basically, we just wanted to make a good album.
IS: Are there any personal favourite tracks on the album?
Craig: It’s constantly changing. What’s yours right now?
Barry: Right now, my favourite song on the record is probably a song called ‘Yes, I Was Drunk’, which we’ve been playing live for the first time in England on this tour and it’s been good fun playing it. It’ll probably be a different favourite if you asked me again next time though… What about you?
Craig: Mine is a song called ‘The Ghost of Eddie’. It’s probably the most mental track. It’s just really fun to play, mainly. It’s really cool to listen to.
Barry: It’s a bit of a pop-out rock track, isn’t it?
IS: Have you enjoyed being able to bring more new tracks to a live capacity this year?
Craig: Yeah, it is definitely. I mean before this, I assume it’s the same for every band, we had a mini-album out, which came out a couple of years ago now and you get so used to playing the songs that… It doesn’t get boring, it just sometimes feels like there’s no spark from playing the same songs every night or the same songs in a different order. It’s been really, really refreshing to get to play new songs and learn how to do them live. It’s definitely good. How would you rate it?
Barry: Definitely good. The feedback I’ve gotten from people who have come to watch us has been positive because people who have heard of our band already and come to see us live have seen us play our old songs so many times, so I think it’s hopefully equally as exciting for people who listen to our music to get a chance to hear something different and see how a new track translates live from the spectator’s aspect. That’s always quite exciting to see; the responses to new songs that people haven’t heard live before.
IS: How would you say you’ve grown as a live band? Last time I saw you headline was the ‘What Is Light, Where Is Laughter?’ release in King Tuts, and you’ve obviously come a long, long way since that show.
Craig: I think we’ve probably just got better, well I hope we have! I think we’ve become better songwriters and I think that when we play live we’ve just become a little bit more confident in ourselves and what we can do. We’ve just progressed and became better players since we’ve had a lot of experiences and opportunities since then and a lot of shows to grow. I mean that show, the King Tuts show, was our first ever sell-out show so I think we were probably as scared then as we are tonight. Every time you do a bigger show, you get really scared. It just keeps getting magnified as we grow that little bit more. I think that, overall, through our experiences we’ve become a lot more confident in our abilities to play live.
Barry: I agree with that.
Craig: Thanks, buddy!
IS: Last year was obviously a huge year for Twin Atlantic, touring with bands like Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance. Do you find yourselves learning on the road with bands of such magnitude?
Barry: Do you know what? We’ve openly said this in interviews from the very start, we will try and mooch as much knowledge and skills as we can off of other bands, right from our first ever tour we did with Circa Survive right through to our last shows with, as you mentioned, Blink and My Chem. You learn something different from every band. Sam picks up helpful vocal tips on how to warm up his voice properly and how to look after his voice, and Craig will learn things from other drummers and me from other guitar players, and it just goes on… Even the crew aspect as well, not just the band. Most bands just turn up with their guitar tech and their drum tech and their sound engineers and we find ourselves just learning constantly.
I think we have to; that’s very important. The minute you stand still and are happy with where you are, you’ll stagnate. People will come and watch you live and go, “Oh, they’re not any better than they were last time” and the show loses its impact, whereas we feel we’re constantly progressing and fans will come back and go, “That was better than last time!”, “That was far better than the time before this!” I think that because of our ambition and our passion for our band we always look to learn from everyone. I mean, Blink-182 and My Chem, we learned quite a lot specifically from them just because they’re such colossally massive bands and have had set ups that we aspire towards, so it was very interesting to watch a band on that scale and see how they do it considering we are such a small band.
IS: Saying you’re still a small band, how does it feel that bands such as those two not only chose you as support but are personally fans of the band? I mean, Frank Iero handpicked your band to support last year.
Craig: We’ve had that a few times with bands that have picked us and it’s always really cool. I think it just makes us feel really lucky that other bands enjoy us. More than anything, it’s a massive compliment when other bands like our band since they do that for a living so we’d hope that means they have a slightly good music taste. [laughs] Yeah, it’s very cool. I find it to be a massive honour, obviously, because there’s so many other bands in the world it’s incredible for them to like and choose ours.
IS: So, you toured America with Fall of Troy and Envy On The Coast for quite a lengthy time compared to UK tours. How did you find that experience?
Barry: It was incredible. Don’t get me wrong, it was probably the longest tour we’ve ever done. In fact, I’m sure it’s definitely the longest tour we’ve ever done and it was really hard work, but that was more than overshadowed by the fact that it was massively good fun. I think all of us have always wanted to travel across America, so to get to travel America and see the whole country and Canada while doing something we love was just incredible.
IS: While you travelled America, did you get a chance to sightsee much?
Craig: It was kind of hard. We really wanted to but most of the time it seemed there was a lot of long drives to deal with between venues. A lot of the venues were on the outskirts of cities. It’s weird because you’d go to all these cities and all you’d really see are construction sites outside, then the venues. The drives themselves were really good, actually, because the landscape of America is so different to here and other parts. You’d just be driving for hours on end down a straight road through the desert then you’d just end up in a very tree-based area for the next few miles. That was quite cool.
IS: I had seen a day or two ago ‘Free’ was #23 in the midweek chart. How do you react to such a strong support to your album so far?
Barry: It’s a bit mental. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, it’s weird. I think it’s gone down a wee bit since then and it’s at 26 or 27 but it should hopefully still hold for a top 30 place, we think… we hope! It has been pretty crazy and I don’t think any one of us expected that. Aye, it’s been pretty nuts! We think it’s a really big testament to know that people still buy music, especially for a really small band like us. It’s very encouraging.
Barry: Yeah, it’s great to know that people are still into rock music, as well. Not that rock music is the be all and end all of music, but when you look at a chart that is constantly dominated by R&B and Hip-Hop, Glee and X-Factor, it’s just a really nice feeling to know that people are still into bands; real bands who play real instruments.
IS: Do you find a great importance in supporting home-grown talent? Obviously, you’ve got a large support in the UK, particularly Scotland.
Craig: I think it’s definitely something people should support. Without that kind of support we would not be here. That just seems to be one of the most important things to me. I mean, when we were growing up, we saw so many bands. When you’re growing up, you have your favourite bands and your heroes, but when you first start a band you start to see more young and new bands in Glasgow that have been doing quite well and you think, ‘Just to even get to their level would be a dream.’ I think it’s very important because without some kind of local support bands won’t be able to branch out and get out of their home areas. Especially in Glasgow; there are so many good bands here, and across Scotland too and it’s not hard for them to find support. It’s very encouraging that people are still going out and supporting their local music because that’s what bands need to kick-start them and get them out there.
IS: A lot of other bands seemed to recommend Twin Atlantic when discussing newer British talent. Are there any upcoming or smaller British bands you are fans of or would recommend?
Barry: Well, there’s two very good British bands on tour with us at the moment.
Craig: Here’s a plug for you. [laughs] On you go! Let’s do it.
It is now that the video is momentarily cut by a phone call and interrupts Barry. As a new video starts, he continues to try and plug the support bands when Craig’s phone goes off.
Barry: We have some amazing bands on tour with us like… Everyone’s phone’s going off except mine! I feel grossly unloved! Anyway… Fighting With Wire are from Ireland and they’re just a bloody amazing band. They’re just so good. Our opening band tonight are a band called LaFontaines, who we all love. They’re just a complete mismatch of so many different styles of music; R&B, Hip-Hop, indie and rock and so many others just put together. Outside of them, who would you recommend band-wise?
Craig: There’s so many bands that we all love and have played with that we all like. There’s just so many! I guess bands that are relatively sized to us are ones like Pulled Apart By Horses.
Barry: Frightened Rabbit are a good band. They’re not really up and coming though, are they?
Craig: Yeah, they’re just big. [laughs]
Barry: They’re an incredible band.
Craig: I’m trying to think of others we love. The Xcerts… When I’m thinking of good British bands I keep thinking of good American bands that we’re friends with too that people should check out, like Circa Survive. British or American, they’re all just amazing bands. Obviously it helps that we’re friendly with them but they are all just amazing bands.
IS: What would either of you consider your personal favourite achievement as part of Twin Atlantic?
Craig: I think that over the years it’s been constantly changing as we hit a new high as a band. I mean, there’s been a lot but for me I think this week has been an absolute high for us because the album has come out and it’s had 95% good reviews and tonight will be our biggest show we’ve ever played headlining. This has definitely been a pretty special week for us so at the moment, so my highlight will definitely be tonight’s show unless it all goes horribly wrong and the venue explodes…
Barry: And we all fall through the stage as everything collapses around us…
Craig: As long as that doesn’t happen tonight is definitely on course to be the highlight. This week is just ‘it’ for us. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, I’d say.
Barry: I would have to say “Here, here.”
IS: Following this, what are you looking forward to for the rest of 2011? You were recently announced for T in the Park for one…
Barry: That is probably going to be the highlight of our summer… hopefully! Getting to play the festival of your home; the big festival…
It’s now another phonecall interrupts. The pair call it an attempted sabotage of the interview, or someone who just likes interrupting when Barry tries to answer something…
Barry: I do think T in the Park is going to be the highlight of our summer because we’ve played it twice already but it’s still just surreal. We all went to T in the Park when we were growing up and we got to watch so many massive bands. I’m not saying we’re a massive band, but it’s just surreal to be on the other side of it. For me, I think T in the Park will definitely be my highlight. We’ll be getting to play a big, open-air stage as well, which will be pretty cool.
IS: Last question… Obviously this week has been huge for you, and you’re a constantly growing band. Is there anything you would expressly hope for in the future of Twin Atlantic?
Craig: We’ve always been a band that have had the same basic attitude all along and we feel that as long as we can keep building towards something, we’d be pretty happy. At this point, we’re still kind of going this way. [Craig demonstrates a rising slope]. Even if we’re progressing at a gradient of 5%, we’re happy. As long as we can always see progress of some sort even over a period of 6 months then we still feel over the moon to have come that far. I think we’re in no rush to be The Rolling Stones. We’re very happy just to keep on going as long as there’s people coming each time and people still want us.
Barry: As long as we can turn up to a venue and have someone there to see us, we will be happy. As long as we can keep growing and learning, even if it’s a slow process, we will be happy with what we’re doing.
Twin Atlantic’s new album ‘Free’ is available now. You can catch the band at T in the Park festival in July.