How the Cure saved the Twilight Sad
Singer James Graham on how the band went from nearly calling it quits to a world tour with the Cure
It wasn’t that The Twilight Sad wanted to call it quits after the touring cycle for their third album, 2012’s No One Can Ever Know, was over, but they felt that things weren’t progressing and they didn’t know how to fix it. The album had done well critically, but they were still playing to half-full venues. Those around them didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm the band still had for their music. Other groups – their contemporaries and newer groups without half their experience – were being offered better opportunities.
‘The first time we played the Barrowlands in Glasgow, it was nowhere near sold out,’ remembers singer James Graham of every Scottish band’s rite of passage on the live stage. ‘People who were there said they enjoyed it and so did we, but somehow it felt like a career goal we hadn’t quite achieved.’
And then The Cure happened. Or rather, they had always been happening. Robert Smith and his band were one of the first groups Graham remembers hearing as a child growing up in Kilsyth, and as he got older he became more familiar with their darker side too. ‘They wrote so much that was dark but also some of the best pop songs of all time,’ he says now. ‘It’s not easy to do that, to write a pop hook that everyone identifies with. As a kid I listened to the Disintegration and Faith albums religiously, and on our last tour (supporting Editors across Europe in the autumn) I came back to Disintegration. I listened to it pretty much non-stop, thinking, the guy who sang this also sang one of my songs. Mental.’
In 2013 the group were seriously considering calling it quits; in 2016 they’ll support The Cure across the US and Europe on every date of their recently-announced tour. That includes three nights at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, three nights at Madison Square Gardens in New York, three nights at London’s Wembley Arena, dates in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris… They’re doing them at the request of Robert Smith himself, an act of patronage which has seen The Twilight Sad – a group who have much in common musically with The Cure – revitalised.
‘And you know, I've never seen them live,’ laughs Graham. ‘They haven't played Scotland in a long time and I haven't had the money to go and see them. But I'm going to see them sixty times next year, I'll be making up for it. The experience of hearing their music in those venues … I'll be in the crowd every single night.’
Back in 2009, when the Twilights’ second album Forget the Night Ahead was released, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite (a friend of the Twilight Sad and a former US support act for the Cure himself) had sent the record to Smith with a note saying ‘check these guys out, you might like them.’ The reply came back that Smith knew all about them, and owned everything they had released.
Braithwaite put both bands in touch – ‘I ran about my house shouting ‘yas!’ remembers Graham – and they kept in contact. The Twilights’ guitarist Andy MacFarlane sent Smith their most recent album, last year’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave (their most successful and arguably best yet), and Smith replied simply ‘it is beautiful.’ Once again, Graham ran about his house.
Emboldened, the band went one step further. MacFarlane asked Smith if he would cover ‘It Never Was the Same’ for the 7-inch single release of the same song over the summer. ‘I’d love to,’ said Smith, ‘but can I do ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’ instead?’
‘Man,’ remembers Graham, ‘we said, you can do whatever you want. We’d just come offstage after a gig in San Francisco when he sent us the song, we put it on in the van heading back to the hotel. We listened to it three or four times without talking, then someone said ‘holy shit … ’. That’s something I’ll remember for a long, long time, it was a special moment. They say never meet your heroes, but I can’t wait to meet him.’
Graham is no better off now than when he started the band over a decade ago with MacFarlane and drummer Mark Devine, but he feels the Twilight Sad have never been better, live and on record, and never been in a better place. When I speak to him it’s the morning after their three-date December mini-tour’s opening night in Birmingham, and he’s eating a Travelodge breakfast while checking the band’s social media, which they run themselves. In three nights they’ll play the Barrowlands again; this time it’s sold out.
‘Three years ago I was asking, “does anyone actually want a Twilight Sad record?”,’ he says now. ‘When you put everything into something and don’t get much back, you question yourself. And I feel stupid now for asking that, because the people who did believe in us have stuck with us through thick and thin. Last night there was somebody from Seattle, somebody from Italy, somebody from Chile… they came to Britain just to see us. That’s what makes me feel stupid - we don’t just make throwaway music, we do something that actually means a lot to people.’ In which case, Smith probably sees them as kindred spirits.
The Twilight Sad support the Cure across the US and Europe in 2016.