THE MODERN RECORD: INTERVIEW WITH 'THE XCERTS'
WE CAUGHT UP WITH SCOTTISH ROCKERS 'THE XCERTS' BEFORE THEIR SOLD-OUT GLASGOW O2 ABC SHOW TO CHAT ABOUT THEIR NEW ALBUM RELEASE, THEIR CAREER AND FUTURE PLANS
1. How do you feel about the reaction to the new album?
Murray: "It’s amazing, yeah, a pretty overwhelming response to the record and it’s just been a really exciting time for the band. We’re on our fourth record and it’s a real privilege to say that cause a lot of bands by the fourth album might be jaded."
Jordan: "Or not even make it to the fourth album."
Murray: "Yeah exactly, so we're just incredibly thankful that people are responding and when they have done it's been amazing."
2. Now that the album is out is there anything you would change about it?
Jordan: "I think you could probably scrutinize little audio and production things but I think that you could probably do that with any record there's no real point to it, I think we’ve learned that by now."
Murray: "I've listened to that thing maybe 2 times a day from when we finished the mix to going to mastering. I've lived with it, I nearly went insane listening to that thing it's as close to perfection as we could possibly get it I think."
3. Is there any songs you’re sick of after hearing them so much?
Jordan: "I give It a year of touring and then get back to us."
Murray: "Those songs will present themselves at some point and there will be a couple of them, they'll reel their ugly heads."
Jordan: "It’s the promo that helps you realise what songs they are, if you have to play one song early in the morning for a TV thing like over and over again."
Murray: "The weird thing is "Feels Like Falling In Love" has been out the longest but it's still one of the most exciting songs to play, which is a good thing but we'll wait and see."
4. The album has more of a mature tone to it than "In The Cold Wind We Smile" and "There Is Only You", should fans expect to see a change in the next album?
Murray: "I mean I guess it's hard to say, you’d hope your music matures as you mature. I think it naturally does because we're literally getting older so I mean we discussed the idea of doing a Nebraska kind of record like Bruce Springsteen, just acoustic and really cold sounding but we were talking about ideas for like a full band record so yeah. I guess it's not too healthy to think about that kind of thing too much otherwise you’ll start kind of dwelling on whether or not it's music for your age group or demographic, but hopefully it matures as we mature."
5. Why "The Dark" for the opening track of the album?
Murray: "So basically that songs very much a forward to the rest of the record like lyrically it’s much much darker than the rest of the album. I mean the records quite dark but there's a lot of light in it in the songs. That song was very much meant to be the bridge between "There Is Only You" and "Hold On To Your Heart" and it's kind of setting the scene for the rest of the record. It's very much based in places that we hang out in. My house, the streets that we walk in Brighton, in Aberdeen."
Jordan: "There's a lot of specifics like place names, friends names and stuff."
Murray: "Yeah it's like a mood setter and a foreword and then when "Daydream" kind of comes crashing in it's meant to be like this blossoming flower from the dark underground or something, so that’s how I kind of see it."
Jordan: "I think it adds to the cinematic thing we were aiming for with the record with it feeling like a movie. That's sort of the introductory piece and then the credits roll with "Daydream", produced and directed by The Xcerts shows at the end."
6. On "The Dark", we hear the lyric "Yo Freddie it's 2am"...Who is Freddie?
Jordan: "He's kind of a celebrity in his own right before we even started mentioning him in songs, he could not be a celebrity he's a larger than life character."
Murray: "He is one of our best friends. Basically he is just an amazing human being just very full of life and permanently on the verge of an existential crisis but it's all very funny. He’s easily one of the funniest human beings, one of the kindest and he's so full of love. It's quite hard to describe Freddie, anytime I speak about him I say to someone you would have to meet him because he's like crazy. He's from Bedford but he has this Only Fools and Horses accent cos he was obsessed with the TV show when he was a kid so his accent started to change. He's just this larger than life character, very complexed. He used to be a baker but he's actually a drum tech for Architects. I introduced them all and then a couple of years down the road, he's a drummer. He's an amazing drummer, they said you should come on the road with us and he’s never look back. But he was pretty much by my side during a lot of gnarly stuff experienced. Freddie's the one that’ll just give you a big bear hug, not really saying much but saying a lot."
7. "Hold On To Your Heart" has been dubbed an ‘emotional’ album, is there a particular track that was difficult to write or record?
Murray: "Writing wise it was a pretty easy record to write once we knew what we wanted the record to sound like. There was like an overall kind of speed bump in the way that basically in my head I wanted the songs to be kind of like as simple as possible and as pure as possible so then we could go into the studio and layer with synths and digital production. That was kind of in my head when I was writing a song and I was telling Jordan and Tom to stop doing this and that. I think it was quite hard for both of them to kind of see the vision."
Jordan: "It was hard to see it at points. It was hard not to see them as too simple at points or are we not doing enough. Part of that was us just having an instinct to be musical even when it’s not necessary and it doesn't need it. The other part was in the rehearsal room and it was just the three of us. We couldn't hear the kind of widescreen thing it would become at the end of it and then once we had the first playback in the studio I just heard it as soon as it came out of the speakers, the way that I can hear it now.That's why we have to do less because it gives room for the melody and the lyrics and that stuff."
Murray: "That's going back again to what you said about maturity. When we were kids it was like you did the fastest drum fill you possibly can and it’ll sound massive."
Jordan: "You manage to remove your own ego from it like I don't need to do that thing that makes me feel cool, I can do less."
Murray: "The conversations in the writing room now are based around what does this do for the song as a whole. I think we used to, when playing demos with friends, would be like wait for this part, it’s coming up, this bit, and now I never do that I just wait till the three and a half minutes are done and see the reaction. That's kind of what we all want with each song instead of just bits. "
Jordan: "We use bitty as a word for disparaging songs now if you can hear all the bits. I think that was the biggest challenge, really just simplifying things."
Murray: "Recording wise, I guess "Cry" was a bit of a tough one for me to sing just because it focused on a couple of people in my life that passed away. It was actually the last song we recorded, it just kind of felt like a massive massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders so probably "Cry". It's glaringly obvious that that would be the sad one to record."
8. Were all of the tracks on the album written for this album?
Jordan: I don't think so. There's every chance there’s a riff that became a pre chorus was something that had been hanging around but I don't think so, I think it kind of started with "Daydream".
Murray: Yeah it started with "Daydream" and if we did bring something back it would have been written during that time, it wasn't from years ago. The only one I can think of really was that "The Dark" was a full band song and we tried to make it sound like The Replacements and it just wasn't working. Our producer was, in a Yoda-esque moment, like let's go to the piano. We went to the piano, played it and something special just came out the keys.
9. A few tracks on the album are very Tom Petty-esque, was this done as a sort of tribute or was it a coincidence?
Tom: "It just happened. I mean the last album we started going that way as well, we were listening to a lot of Petty and letting it seep into our songwriting. I think it's just sort of natural progression, it’s a bit more Springsteen territory with this one."
Murray: "I remember Steve from Blood Red Shoes when he heard our last album, he was like you can hear a hint of Petty, you should go full Petty and we were like, you’re right. But yeah, I guess Petty was mentioned quite a lot but he's kind of sort of this part of this sound that creates a feeling that we all get when we hear guitar music of a specific kind, which is like when Springsteen rocks or The Replacements rock. That 70's guitar music that makes you want to run. It's like that feeling of I want to punch the air and kick down doors. That was the big influence and that just so happens to be like artists we love, Tom Petty, Springsteen. People keep mentioning they think we should just make a film like The Ramones’ Rock and Roll High School."
Jordan: "But a lot better, like When Harry met Sally and The Xcerts were there as well."
10. Why red for the album cover?
Jordan: "It's striking I suppose. I think we knew we wanted it to be colourful. Technicolor was of course getting used a lot in connection with the cinematic theme. It's colourful it makes you want to run, it’s big. Those were a lot of the words getting thrown around."
Murray: "I think as well we clocked the first record, although it's a coloured picture, it's a white border then the second record was grey and then yellow, so we were like let's be really bold and striking. Also, we always kind of, whenever we're doing recording, we always associate the tone of it with a colour. There's a visual association I guess, a synesthesia kind of thing, you hear a sound you see a colour. We're also referencing kind of like romantic 80's stuff like we kind of mentioned The Cure, John Hughes is coming up a lot there's a real romanticism to the record and what's more romantic than the colour red?"
Jordan: "When I look at the vinyl I think of a Valentine, it looks like you could cut it in the shape of a heart and it would look like a Valentine."
11. Was having all three of you on the cover purposeful after the last three albums featured one of you on each cover?
Murray: "Yes well observed, we had to tie it all together. We knew it was going to happen when we did "There Is Only You", we had to get the three of us on the fourth one. We don't know what to do now but we don't have to worry about it for a while."
Tom: "We'll just get Freddie in the next one."
Murray: "One of our friends said oh you should just start again."
Jordan: "That isn't a bad idea actually, just go back to the start."
12. "It’s been four years since "There Is Only You" was released, do you think you kept the momentum up in the last four years or was there ever a lull?"
Murray: "We were really busy, we ended up touring for two and a half years then it took like a year and a half to write this record."
Jordan: "We find it hard to write while we’re on tour, some bands are fine with it but we generally need to shut the door and not do anything else."
Murray: "I think the next one will be quicker. The last two there's been big gaps but its not like we've been messing about we’ve been busy. There is also the business side of things, it's not as super simple as everyone makes it out to be. In reality we were just on tour for longer than anticipated. Halfway through the campaign for "There Is Only You" more and more people started coming to the shows then press picked up on us about six months in which was kind of odd, so we really had to restart halfway through that campaign which was cool."
Jordan: "I think it's great we were given the time to do it as well. We didn't have a major label after two years of touring being like where's the new record and suddenly had to deliver something. We were able to give ourselves the time to let it happen naturally which is why the record is what it is."
13. Tomorrow you’re playing a show at home in Aberdeen, are you excited about this?
Murray: "Yeah we can't wait, it's the most amount of tickets we've ever sold for a home town show so it's going to be jam packed, it's going to be brilliant. We can't wait, we played Tunnels in the last run but it was so packed in there you could see that people weren't having a good time because they were so squeezed in."
Jordan: "The people at the back just couldn’t really see."
Murray: "We had a blast but I think that night felt like people were busting out the walls, we felt fat and greedy or like our clothes are starting to rip apart like The Hulk."
Jordan: "There is people that thought they would buy tickets on the day, they were like oh man I’ve just come down and I couldn't get in and they were really pissed."
Tom: "It’s the hometown mentality."
Jordan: "We didn’t have time to talk to people all night and Murray’s dad was joking saying ‘Son, do you think you’re too much of a celebrity to speak to me? Do you think you’re too big for us now, too much of a rockstar?’"
14. You just finished your first ever tour dates in Ireland, why now? How did the crowds compare to us Scots?
Murray:" It was really cool. It was really cool the crowds were really really appreciative that we had made the trip because in all honesty not that many bands, even bands who are slightly bigger than us, go there because it's a really expensive trip so everyone over there seemed pretty thankful. They were really eager."
Tom: "It's nice to know that there's actually people who want to come see us in a place we've never been to, it was really refreshing to see people singing along, knowing the songs from the first record. They seem like really warm people over there, very open and very eager to meet and shake hands."
Murray: "There is less of them and the shows are a bit quieter than they are in the UK but they still make some noise singing along, especially in Dublin. It’s like no one's worried about looking cool they just want to dance and have a good time."
15. Is there somewhere in Glasgow you always go when you play here?
Tom: "Sleazys or Bloc+, I always get the white russians in both of those places, the best jukebox, the best vibes."
Murray: "We do go to Bloc+ but we've had more nights in Sleazys. I've oddly enough ended up in the Catty more times than I’d like to admit."
Jordan: "You're a secret Catty fan."
Murray: "I'm not a fan but I just end up there sometimes. I get led astray quite easily when I'm in Glasgow, it’s got the same hold on me as Camden does, something about it is like I need to find some trouble."
16. Any plans for the next album yet?
Jordan: "We're playing around with a few riffs, vague early beginnings to new songs."
Murray: "We got pretty lit with our producer in Dundee after we did an in-store show. He was hammered, we were pretty hammered and I said to Gary how I wanted it to sound. I think in the sober light of day I don't know how you would do it, but I said basically the 80's-ness of Springsteen, the swagger of Thin Lizzy and the smoothness of Miguel."
Jordan: "That was the last new added element was the Miguel."
Murray: "Gary was like love it, love it man love it. I don't know where you would begin, I think that's very much in the drums, maybe it's on Tom the next one. We've written some stuff which sounds really cool and a little bit more in line with "Hold On To Your Heart" and a bit more kind of power poppy almost."
Jordan: "You always feel like you need to push through the sound you created for the previous record when you're writing songs for the next one. A lot of the first songs that you write will have that kind of wall and you just push through and keep going and going. All of a sudden a new sound emerges."
Murray: "I think the next one’s sound will have a little bit more swagger. Instead of whining about someone leaving it's like you f***ing lost me, that kind of thing."
17. Any pre-show rituals?
Jordan: "We always fist bump before we walk out and we have a vibes playlist we put on about an hour before, it's an 80's party mix. We have a whiskey 15 minutes before, always Jameson's, every day, every night, it's so easy to drink it goes so well with ginger it's like a good table wine. We’d feel bad putting ginger ale with a nice Scotch. We then quietly have a meltdown, no one says anything after the fist bump or before the first note, we’re all quietly freaking out having micro panic attacks."
Murray: "We all dance at the side of the stage to try and be like it's all fine I'm not crying you’re crying. This feels like The Xcerts 2.0 now, we’re all more confident in our abilities. For ages we were just like oh man we’re not good enough for this, what if we mess up and now we're like we know we’re more than capable of rocking so let's go put on a hell of a show for the people."
18. Festival plans for summer?
Murray: "We're heading to Europe after this for the next live run which I now think will be split into two parts, a bit in April and a bit in May. That takes us straight into pretty much festival season because they all start really early now. We've got a lot lined up, more and more seem to be coming in so we’ll be in a lot of fields this summer."
19. Is there a festival you’ve always wanted to play but haven’t yet?
Tom: "Glastonbury would be cool we've never done it yet, it's not on this year but Reading and Leeds was a big deal for us last year cause I've been waiting for a long time to play that festival because it’s the one I used to go to so that was a big deal."
Jordan: "I'd love to do some European ones."
Murray: "I don't think we're considered cool enough but I'd love to do some in America like Primavera and I'd love to go to Coachella. I imagine past all the b******t that goes on it's probably quite a cool festival."
Jordan: "And we’d all look really good in those flower crowns."
20. Murray, when are you going to grow your hair back?
Murray: "My Instagram DM box was full the first day I got the haircut. I mean it's funny now that Thomas Brooker, our photographer, is back taking photos everyday I'm starting to regret cutting my hair. Just when you see yourself so much when I'm looking at photos it's like I miss the locks. You know I'm a Tom Petty obsessive and he always chopped and changed his hair. I might grow it back, I might just keep doing the Ryan Adams shaggy fringe, bed head thing. In the morning it's nice getting up and just being able to go rather than getting the bird's nest out. I couldn't see anything I just wanted to see a bit of the world because it was constantly just drooped over my face. I think it was affecting my guitar playing towards the end, it was starting to affect me. Now I don't get the 'mmm bop' shouted at me as much."
Jordan: "He doesn't get cab drivers asking ‘where would you like to go miss?’ anymore.
Murray: "I used to get that and planes as well, ‘can I help you miss?’ then ‘oh no I'm sorry’. I don't mind it short, over winter I was pretty bummed about it, that was a stupid idea before winter."
21. How was hair that long so healthy looking?
Murray: "It got gross, I stopped caring for a while, it was matted and not right then I started caring again. It might come back who knows. I don't know what it is because I didn't use conditioner and just used shampoo like twice a week or something. I think it was Tresemme, now I use some fancy Australian stuff."
INTERVIEW BY: EMMA STORR