The Scottish Quartet Have Topped The Charts Making Honest, Real Rock. So Don't Call Them Emo.
Twin Atlantic’s huge rock sound have bewitched UK audiences from Glasgow to London, and they’re currently working on American domination. Their debut full-length Free hopped to the top of the iTunes charts last year, even beating out Jennifer Lopez, and they play to sold-out crowds all across the British Isles.
Of course, they didn’t start out that way. Lead singer Sam McTrusty and bassist Ross McNae bonded over guitar rock as teens, but they didn’t become a proper act til 2007 when they met Craig (drums) and Barry (lead guitar) in Glasgow. Flipping the script, they made their fledgling Rock’n'Roll band a day job, and took graveyard shifts as truck drivers and bartenders to pay the bills. The hard work paid off — they were opening for Blink 182 by 2010 (and will do so again this summer on Blink’s UK tour).
While kicking off their latest headlining North American tour, the handsome Scots visited the MTV Iggy offices for some polite but frank conversation. Lead singer Sam McTrusty’s sincerity made us blush as he explained Twin Atlantic’s strange status as an anti-rock band that exclusively performs giant rock anthems. He also chatted us up about being victims of Internet hate, opening for their musical heroes, and how they’ve been avoiding the perils of white guy rock.
This isn’t your first time in NY. Have you played here before?
Yes. Maybe five or so times? Five or six.
And what do you think of the New York crowd?
Really good. Everyone always says that because there are so many shows here, people kind of get spoiled I guess, so it’s hard to get a reaction. But we’ve been like the opposite. I don’t know if that’s because we’ve been trying to combat that and overkicked it or something and it’s gone well.
So your skyrocketing up iTunes and beating out J. Lo – Did you see that coming?
Absolutely not. It’s still weird. I don’t really think about it. That’s why I’m kind of stalling on an answer because it’s bizarre — J Lo’s so good.
She is. So how did you guys meet? You’re all from Glasgow?
Yeah, myself and Ross our bass player we went to school together. When you’re 13, 14, you make friends ‘cause you like the same stuff and we liked the same music. Ross’ dad was into Scottish folk music and I’d go to his house and he’d be playing guitar and I guess we both got into guitar playing that way.
We just stayed friends. At first we were just a three-piece playing little shows in Glasgow pubs and stuff. We met Craig and Barry and we all had the same vision and commitment towards having a go at being a band properly. We just kind of clicked and from there on, it’s been that we treat it like a job – not a boring suit way, but that it’s our commitment. Like nine to five, we’d rehearse from nine to five then.
Did you have other jobs too?
Yeah, because we worked at night. I was working in bars, Barry and Ross were doing delivery jobs at night, and Craig worked in our equivalent to Home Depot. He’d stroll around there at night, he’d have his own music and he’d stack shelves and stuff.
So there are four of you? Is there a bitchy one, and…?
I’m probably all of the above. I get personality swings.
We bring different stuff musically and different stuff that makes the band actually gel, and helps us stick together as friends.
It’s weird because a band slowly turns into a business the longer you’re together. It’s a quite difficult thing to deal with. Craig our drummer, I think it’s a drummer thing, he’s insane with money and organizational skills. And I’m overly positive all the time, while Ross is kind of negative all the time and it balances out that way.
I suppose the same with music – Ross and Barry, our other guitar player, are more classically trained and can read sheet music whereas Craig and I were just DIY punk ethics of smashing instruments literally, not having a clue.
Twin Atlantic makes a really big sound, with distorted guitars. But your music is also vulnerable and you seem to reject the posturing of rock and roll. Are you kind of a closet dork?
I love constructing songs that have got big payoffs and I think that’s where the bigness comes from. It’s wanting to push the emotional side of music. But I think that kind of what ruins rock music all the time, is that it can be overly, there’s that language that sounds just like cheesy, white guy rock. I don’t know. And it starts to get macho and it’s embarrassing. We’re definitely not a rock band in that sense. We’re just music lovers. That’s the kind of thing that floats our boats. Being able to have a payoff in a song. No leather though.
You have opened for a lot of established American bands. Was it frightening at first? Especially an idol like Blink 182.
Yeah, as soon as I’d see Blink soundcheck and seeing them backstage, I’d just (laugh) shrink in confidence and go back to being 13 and freaking out.
It was amazing, we learned so much from the crew members in those big productions. We’re kind of geeks about how the show actually runs. For a while we were the go-to band for that type of American band that was coming over, which was really flattering because we were inspired by that genre. Before it got ruined.
What do you mean it got ruined?
It got simplified. Off the back of Blink getting back together in the late nineties. It was easier to push those kinds of bands to younger people and it just got totally homogenized. Everything always gets simplified to sell more, sell more, sell more. It became a caricature. It was good for a while but now that whole emo thing took over, and now that’s a dirty word. But the original bands were really good.
Are you veering in another direction?
Yeah, pretty much. I get really upset by the idea of music being throwaway. Because the music I was brought up listening to was like Motown classic music or sixties rock and roll and Springsteen where every song has an obvious meaning.
If we simplified music so that more people would get it immediately, maybe we’d start to be in that bracket of that dirty word, which I try to avoid saying in interviews, because I could see how people could think we’re like that because we’re young guys who play electric guitar.
That’s where we’re steering towards, to try and make music that matters to people.
You were booed off stage when you toured with Limp Bizkit. How was that?
Probably one of the greatest things that could ever happened to us. I don’t think we ever played as well in our lives. We were ridiculously tight.
It was a weird Internet hate campaign against our band that we didn’t know anything about because it was just on chat rooms, because we’d done press saying it was kind of funny we were playing in the show. And we went on in the interview that it was because we were such big Limp Bizkit fans, and now we were playing with them, so it was surreal. So I guess all their fans were offended that we said it was funny.
It was kind of funny, looking back on it now. It made me relax and not care as much what people think, because if you can get past two and a half thousand Scottish people yelling…it was in our hometown where we were used to going back and having our biggest shows happening. I know it sounds stupid to be booed in your hometown. But it freed up this part of our mind. And made us realize that there’s more people that are going to hate your band than like you.
You guys are huge in Glasgow and Scotland. What do you think is the appeal there?
Back home? At first I thought it was just because we were Scottish. But it’s spread to the UK, and if we play in London it’s the same amount of people as in our hometown. We play 50-60 shows a year in Scotland, and Scotland’s really small. And word of mouth travels really quickly.
Usually if you’re from Scotland and you’re trying to do something, people will encourage you a lot at the start, until you start doing well, and then people are like, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ I guess it’s the underdog mentality.
I’d like to think there’s an honest quality to our music that doesn’t need to be explained. I think Scottish and British people probably appreciate hearing something honest from a rock band.
What is Twin Atlantic most excited about for 2012?
We’re doing a lot of bigger festivals back home. We’re doing the Warped Tour here, which I guess is some kind of landmark thing if you’re a rock band. I don’t know if we’re going to survive it. We’ll try. Because there are a lot of those aforementioned band that are a nightmare (laughs) that we spend a month with.
That and new music, we’ve got our heads in writing mode already. And seeing how our record gets received in the States. It will be quite interesting to see how people take a band that are influenced by American music but have a British or Scottish sense of, I don’t know, honesty and dryness in their lyrics.