That much of Great Divide was written in the back of tour buses, late at night, after Twin Atlantic had stepped off yet another festival stage is evident from first listen. Addictive, arms-aloft anthems with instantly catchy choruses and refrains that beg to be howled back dominate the Glaswegian band’s glorious second album. Bristling with energy and oozing optimism, Great Divide is a rock record with widescreen ambition, inspired by the band watching their own fans and from sharing stages with the likes of Springsteen and Foo Fighters.
“Our aim was always to make songs this size,” says Twin Atlantic singer Sam McTrusty. “Coming from a punk rock background, it took a while - we like to say we went the scenic route. But it was the right route for us, full of interesting stops on which we learnt a lot – about ourselves, about each other, about how to make music that connects with fans which is always honest, never forced.”
Almost three years and over 300 gigs since the release of their silver-selling, debut album, Free, catapulted them from clubs to sold-out shows at Shepherds Bush Empire and the main stage at Reading and Leeds, Twin Atlantic have made a mainstream record that marries their incredible energy live with a more mature approach to songwriting that acknowledges their long-held love of pop. Great Divide may be driven by guitars and drums, but it is also steeped in piano and strings, built on soaring melodies and littered with lyrics, sung in McTrusty’s strong Scottish accent, that express grown-up emotions as chantalong slogans.
“We’ve been through our punk rock rebellion phase and come out the other side,” laughs McTrusty. “We’ve all grown up being in this band. Dare I say it, we’re finally fully-formed adults. Since Free, some of us have got married and bought our own places and I’ve spent time in Canada because my girlfriend lives there. When the four of us got back together to work on this album, there was no bullshit. With our own lives sorted, it was easier to see the point of the songs and how we wanted them to sound. And, definitely, part of that was embracing pop.”
Pop hooks and harmonies abound on songs such as "Hold On," an ode to self-belief driven by drums it’s difficult not to dance to. ‘It’s a risk worth taking/To have a life worth living’ sings McTrusty on a huge, hooky chorus that’s a surefire summer singalong. The stunning "Brothers And Sisters," set to shimmering guitars, bulked up by multi layered vocals and boasting a soft-loud dynamic is a collective call-to-arms dedicated to those who refuse to give up on their dreams.
Flamboyant first single "Heart and Soul" is a dirty rock stomper that sums up the shared feelings of a bouncing festival crowd, nods to both classic Bon Jovi and Queen and has already moved George Ergatoudis, Radio 1’s head of music, to tweet ‘Hyperbole alert. No joke - STUNNING does not do them justice.’
Twin Atlantic formed in 2007 when McTrusty and bassist Ross McNae, a friend from school, joined forces with drummer Craig Kneale and lead guitarist and occasional cello player Barry McKenna. All four had been in previous bands on the Glasgow scene. They bonded over a shared love of alternative rock, punk-pop and the city’s skate and street art scene, as well as a determination to make music their day jobs. Their ferocious shows soon saw them booked to support Smashing Pumpkins, Biffy Clyro and their teen idols Blink 182. Within two years, they had played most major UK festivals and been signed, following a tip-off from Alan McGee, to American label Red Bull Records.
“Our A&R person saw us at this strange snowboarding Channel 4 gig at Battersea Power Station,” recalls Kneale. “We pure went for it at that show, not because we knew anyone was watching, but because we were fucking freezing. We were surrounded by fake snow, our hands so cold we couldn’t hold our guitars. Either we went for it or we froze. Our A&R said it was the craziest gig he’d ever witnessed.”
A mini album, Vivarium, released in 2009, found Twin Atlantic fans in Kerrang!, saw them tour Europe and the States, play festivals including Download and Sonisphere and support My Chemical Romance. Free, their debut proper, followed two years later, boasting three singles playlisted by Radio 1, including the title track, which soundtracked Felix Baumgartner’s historic space jump in 2012.
“We were told Felix himself chose it,” says Kneale, “because he liked the lyric ‘Set my body on fire so I can be free’.” I guess he knew something could go horribly wrong. Thank God it didn’t! It wouldn’t have been a good epitaph for us.”
Most of Great Divide was written last year, while Twin Atlantic were still touring Free.
“90% of it was written in the back of the tour bus, or a sweltering van in America,” says McTrusty. “Our adrenaline was through the roof because, for the first time, thousands of people had come to see us. I’d be in the lounge, unable to sleep, recording ideas on my phone, trying to make sense of the reaction we’d had to our songs. You can’t hear 10,000 people singing a chorus back at you and not be changed by it.
“I’d sit there thinking ‘I wish I’d had this type of song’ or been able to make people feel a certain way. I tried to write for people who don’t dance, and didn’t intend to, but couldn’t help it cos the energy of the song meant they couldn’t stand still.
“I was definitely inspired by playing with Bruce Springsteen, who we supported at Hard Rock Calling last year. Every song of his is an anthem, even if it’s weird and complicated. You can’t see Springsteen and not remember it the next time you write.”
The bulk of Great Divide was recorded in Rockfield in Wales with producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Pixies), who also helmed Free. Additional songs were recorded in the States with Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol, U2, R.E.M.). The Rockfield sessions lasted much longer than had been planned and almost broke the band.
“We were there, between festivals, for most of last summer,” recalls McTrusty. “Remember how good the weather was? We were ridiculously decadent, lying in the sun, bringing back loads of alcohol. We bought a big projector screen, played FIFA and watched nearly every James Bond film.
“At the start it was amazing. We were inspired by stories of the bands who had been there before us. We used the piano that’s on Bohemian Rhapsody. But by the end, when the album still wasn’t finished, the place started to feel too isolated. Silence to me is terrifying – I’m from inner city Glasgow, I’ve always lived on a main road.”
One of the results of the extended Rockfield sessions was the song "Oceans", Twin Atlantic’s favourite on the album.
“"Oceans" could only have been written somewhere like that,” says McTrusty. “It sounds like a cry from an unhinged, isolated person, which is what I became there.”
"Hold On" also took on new meaning, becoming a metaphor for a band at breaking point.
“There were a lot of frayed ends and decisions to make,” says McTrusty. “"Hold On" was us telling ourselves to not give up, that we’d get there in the end. Did we ever think the end was nigh? I’m not sure, but we did hold on and we made it and that’s what matters.”
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