In 2014, The Twilight Sad were at a crossroads. The Scottish group, built around a core line-up of frontman James Graham, guitarist Andy MacFarlane and drummer Mark Devine, found themselves in a state of uncertainty about the sustainability - emotionally, financially, practically - of carrying on in their current guise. While their trio of albums up until this point - incendiary 2007 debut Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, its prickly and unsettling 2009 follow-up Forget the Night Ahead, and 2012’s krautrock-infused No One Can Ever Know - were quick to tick critical boxes, the band never found themselves quite reaching the levels of visibility they felt were within their grasp.
The Twilight Sad, it’s always felt, have never been the sort of band to want notoriety for the wrong reasons, but as a means to spread a message of understanding and empathy through some of the most honest, cathartic music to come out of the British Isles in decades.
“We would never write music just to get those things, if people like our music enough to make those things happen then that's great,” he continued. “If not, we're not going to change our music to make that happen. I love being in this band, it's everything to me. I want to play big gigs, small gigs. I just want to write and play music for as long as I can. We don't write pop songs so I don't think we'll ever really break into the mainstream but if we can keep progressing musically and people are still coming to our gigs then I'll be happy. If something crazy happened and we did break through to mainstream we'd embrace it with both hands while still staying true to ourselves.”
It’s apt, then, that 2014’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave - their fourth album proper - and its ensuing lifespan in the public eye saw the band’s most outright flirting with the mainstream yet, albeit one still very much on their own terms.
Recorded at Mogwai’s Castle of Doom studio, NWTBHANWTL manages a great many feats in its relatively concise - at least by The Twilight Sad’s standards - runtime: it was, at once, a noisy, sprawling epic; a suite that touched upon all the aforementioned, varying corners of their back catalogue; and a showpiece for some of the most immediate, hook-laden singles the band had produced to date.
Examining its inception with a biographer shortly before its release, Graham explained: “Over the eight years we've been touring, our live sound has taken on different forms, from full on noise/feedback, to a sparse, synth led sound, to a stripped back set up with just keys, drum machine and guitar, to playing with an orchestra, and to just an acoustic with vocal. We wanted to try and capture all of those elements and develop them in some way to make the new record…Everyone always says their new album is their best, I'm not going to say that. I love all of our albums as they document that time in our lives, be it good or bad. All I'll say is that I am extremely proud of the record and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.
Graham’s pride, it transpired, would turn out to be very well placed. NWTBHANWTL has become not just the band’s most critically well-received album to date - earning accolades including a 10/10 from Drowned in Sound and topping the site’s end-of-year list; further rave reviews from the likes of Q, The Quietus and The Sunday Times; and rocketing to the top of Any Decent Music’s Scottish albums of 2014 list - but also serving as their most commercially successful album too, reaching a peak UK chart position of 51.
The ensuing two years would see its success open up countless new avenues and what followed would be one of the most gratifying spells in the band’s existence, a divine parallel of where they were just a short while previously. In the live setting, they found themselves selling out larger and larger venues (Barrowlands in Glasgow, Scala in London), gracing a wider array of festival slots and at higher billings than ever before (notable appearances of late including Bestival, T in the Park, Sasquatch, SXSW and more) and being invited to join Editors across Europe on tour. One final jewel in the crown of The Twilight Sad’s post-NWTBHANWTL era was yet to come, however.
In the period following the release of No One Can Ever Know, MacFarlane had become friendly with The Cure’s Robert Smith - a longtime admirer of the band - after being put in touch by Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and, aside from the great pride drawn by earning the respect of your heroes, it would have greater ramifications for them than they ever could have imagined. Having originally discussed Smith contributing a reworking to 2013’s No One Can Ever Know: The Remixes(an idea that sadly never saw the light of day), the new wave luminary offered to cover NWTBHANWTL highlight ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’.
“He sent it over when we were playing San Francisco in March 2015,” MacFarlane recalls, “and we listened to it over and over in the van, driving out after the gig. Hearing someone that we’ve all looked up to for so long sing and play one of our songs is definitely one of the most surreal moments that we’ve ever had." It wasn’t to be their last encounter with one of their most treasured musical touchstones, though. Far from it.
Later that year, Smith would extend the offer for The Twilight Sad to join The Cure across their 2016 US tour, and - subsequently - on the band’s UK and European runs too. Being catapulted into playing larger venues than ever before - including New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and Wembley Arena - not only served to introduce the band’s music to even wider audiences, it also instilled a fresh confidence and hunger in them to continue building upon everything they’ve created over the past decade.
“It’s made us want to challenge ourselves more,” Graham explains. “The realisation of where we can take the band has made us hungry to start the next thing as soon as we can.” The ‘next thing’ to which he refers is the first nascent steps towards NWTBHANWTL’s successor. The dates with the Cure have so far proved a revelation and galvanised the band in new and exciting ways as they move forward to pastures new. “They’ve really opened us to trying new things,” he continues, “we definitely see what comes next as a new era. We’re not the same band going into the studio to make another record.” Whatever is on the horizon for them, it feels like the Twilight Sad’s vision has never been clearer, and there’s not a crossroads in sight.