It takes a brave band to make a bold shift in their sound on their sixth album – even more so when it’s made and released in the midst of a pandemic. But that’s exactly what Twin Atlantic has done with their thought-provoking new LP, “Transparency.” Recorded at home with a producer on the other side of the world, the disc was also made in the context of the abandonment of Twin Atlantic by their label and the departure of a longtime member of the group.
Frontman Sam McTrusty admits NME that he “gets a headache” even talking about the story behind “Transparency”. And we haven’t even mentioned how the first singles from the new album have polarized their fanbase yet. The preview tracks, which were released between August and December, debuted the two tracks’ striking new sound and a change in McTrusty’s vocal delivery; their traditional rock style gives way to electronic drums and vocals inspired by the spoken word, with lyrics that confuse pop culture while imitating it.
So many TA fans weren’t sure what to expect from the full album when it arrived earlier this month, but we can reassure skeptics that they’re in for a pleasant surprise: Transparency” still contains many songs that sound like the Twin. Atlantic they know and love.
In the latest episode of NMEfrom the ‘In Conversation’ series, we spoke with McTrusty as he tried to figure out exactly how the band ended up with such a bold record as ‘Transparency’.
The “Transparency” singles were a red herring in terms of Twin Atlantic’s current sound
The singles “Get Famous”, “Bang On The Gong” and “One Man Party” received mixed reviews from TA fans as they moved away from the band’s traditional sound. McTrusty now explains that he wanted to keep people on their toes. “I like that the four singles that came out before [the album] leads people down this other path,” he smiles. “That meant the first song on the album hits even harder. It was a really deliberate decision.
The opening track, ‘Keep Your Head Up’, is a deeply personal song. “It’s about male friendship and mental health, and I had never really written a song about either,” he says. “I always disguised it with a love story between a boy and a girl, or metaphors of myself like ‘I’m driving a car’ or whatever. I tried to do the whole cinematic metaphor of Springsteen .
McTrusty also says that he and Ross McNae came to what they thought was the end of the record, but then discovered something was missing. “I knew we didn’t really have a song yet that represented the theme of the album. So that’s where ‘Keep Your Head Up’ came in, and it was purposely written to try and have a song to tie up the thread that ran through the record as a lyrical theme.
Recording ‘Transparency’ was stressful, but rewarding
Recording at home in the midst of the pandemic with a young baby and a nursing student wife for company was both a blessing and a curse, says McTrusty: “Logistically it was fucking hell. absolute. But creatively, it was the most freeing, fun, and eye-opening thing we’ve done to date.
With producer Jacknife Lee connecting to the sessions remotely from Los Angeles, the eight-hour time difference between the United States and Glasgow further complicated matters, as did McTrusty’s living situation at the time.
“I was in a two-bedroom flat in Glasgow, and the buildings are over 150 years old,” he recalls. “I developed this [vocal] style where our choruses are really big, but you can’t do that when you have a baby sleeping in the next room. I could hear my neighbors talking through the wall, so I couldn’t really hear the chorus and do the whole Scottish Axl Rose thing. He stops, then catches himself: “I don’t know where I got that [comparison] from ! I’ve never heard anyone say that about us. Look at that being the first line of Wikipedia now.
Twin Atlantic often hid the times when things weren’t going so well
From an outsider’s perspective, things seemed to be going great for Twin Atlantic before the pandemic. But McTrusty says that wasn’t always the case: “You always have bumps in the road, but we always strived to look super powerful. I don’t mean that in a grim way: I just mean that we wanted to give the impression that we know what we’re doing.
The leader thinks the group’s origins probably had a lot to do with this perspective, as there wasn’t much of a community spirit to tap into at first. “When we started, it was a kill or be killed mentality, and that’s probably a really bad thing. Parts of that stayed with us when we were hiding all the really interesting stuff then about being killed. ‘being in a band. We were like, ‘No, sweep that under the rug’ – that’s part of why the new album is called ‘Transparency’ because we’re trying to lift the veil on that a bit.
McTrusty says Twin Atlantic has always been careful to avoid falling into stereotypes: “We are now real family members; we don’t party every night. We chased the absolute shit out of our 20s, way more than we probably ever let people know because you don’t want to be a Scottish stereotype either. So we always used to hide that side of things too.
The sound of “Transparency” was inevitably inspired by the pandemic and was dropped by their label
The circumstances under which “Transparency” was recorded weren’t ideal, but McTrusty says Twin Atlantic had no other choice. “We couldn’t just say, ‘Damn, we’re going to take two years off.’ for us,” he recalls. “It was a punch: trying to fix something only to be dumped by the biggest record company in the world.”
Saying that “the rug has been pulled from under our feet”, McTrusty continues: “I know it sounds like ‘Oh goddamn poor us, boo-hoo, I’m in a band’. It’s like 10 million people around the planet’s dream job and I can do it – so I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just trying to tell the truth That’s why we made the album: we needed it because [we had] bills to pay and shit, and that’s the reality of being a mid-level band.
‘Transparency’ candidly addresses McTrusty’s mental health issues
While touring for their fifth album “Power”, McTrusty began battling an unknown illness and his mental health deteriorated. “I had a kind of private mental breakdown – I mean, they’re all serious on their own, but I always downplay it,” he says. “It’s such a foreign concept to me. I hit a brick wall in my mind, then my mind shut down my body. We would bring doctors into the studio, and I would try to get on stage and tell the guys, ‘I can’t do this, I’m going to pass out, I’m going to be sick’. Still to this day, I don’t really know what it was.
To further aggravate these battles, the coronavirus pandemic then struck. “Then it was, ‘Oh my god, I’m going broke next week. We can’t tour, we’re not doing any festivals. It’s all screwed up,'” McTrusty recalled of his thought process at the time, which impacted his later songwriting prospects.”I just wasn’t really in control of my thoughts, I don’t think. A year later, I was rereading the lyrics like, ‘Oh my god, man, you was really decompressing, organizing your mind and coming to terms with a lot about the introspective songs [on the record]’.”
Twin Atlantic’s new album ‘Transparency’ is out now.