Interview: Civil Twilight
Having spent the better part of the last year on tour playing the likes of Bonnaroo and Voodoo Fest, opening for A-list acts like The Smashing Pumpkins and Florence & The Machine, and headlining their own shows across the country, Civil Twilight are back with their second album, Holy Weather.
Steven McKellar and Richard Wouters talk about the South African group’s brand new material, the sophomore effort syndrome and their connection to James Blake. Scroll down to read 7digital's exclusive interview (includes plea to Damon Albarn).
So, the difficult second album is out, congrats! For those who haven’t heard it yet, can you please explain what they can expect from it?
Richard: Sonically we really wanted to be as adventurous as possible and chose to work with producers who would help facilitate that. Both Dan Carey and John Congleton, who produced the record, are very creative producers and really push the boundaries. We wanted to incorporate more processed sounds and grooves and make the songs a little more focused and concise than the last record. We also experimented a lot more with keyboards and synth sounds and wanted a few songs that people could move to - more groove driven than guitar driven. Thematically there is more struggle in the songs than the last record. We didn’t really consciously think about a theme for the record, but I think it's a little darker than the last one. Some of the naivety is perhaps gone and love and loss make an appearance... Love struggles to be birthed in a painful world.
Sounds like you broke out of your comfort zone.
Steven: We'd been touring the last record for so long and had grown a deep hunger for change and for challenging ourselves creatively. Everything was different, about the making of this album, than it was to the last one. We had very little time to write, being on the road and all, and so we just discussed what direction we wanted to take on the next project and just ran with it, chose the producers we wanted and just jumped in. But I think it's up to the fans to decide how different the album really is, compared to the last.
Is it true you were partly inspired by James Blake? Have you met him?
Richard: We are fans of James Blake, yes, so I would say that his sonic spaces and landscapes were definitely an inspiration on certain songs. We have not met him yet.
How long did it take to write and record? Was it a fun experience, or did you suffer from the sophomore effort syndrome?
Steven: It took about eight weeks to record, half in London, half in New York. In terms of writing, two songs had been sitting in the song vault for a little while before we started recording, but the rest of the material was written very quickly during small breaks from touring a few months prior to recording. We had no time to suffer from sophomore effort syndrome, thank goodness. It happened so quickly and we were just excited to be writing and recording new stuff, so the excitement just propelled us forward and made the process a lot of fun.
If you had to pick a signature track off Holy Weather, which would it be and why?
Richard: I'd probably choose the title track, Holy Weather. I think it's a real step forward for us in a direction that we want to move into more. Of all the songs on the album, that one to me is the most interesting from an arrangement point of view and I love the way the bridge veers off in this completely strange direction... the eeriness of the strings and the space on the breakdown, combined with the lyric there, make me feel like we've landed in a new geographical place and have stopped to look around and speak honestly for a moment. Then the music picks back up with the lyric "We must go back...". And we're off running again, trying to keep up with our narrator. That song is a complete musical and lyrical journey for me.
It could become an alternative club classic. Have Hot Chip remix it immediately!
Richard: Thank you! Please let them know that they are welcome to remix it for us any time!!
Which was one of the best gigs you ever took part in? How was the crowd’s vibe?
Richard: We've had many great ones. It’s hard to choose just one, but I really enjoyed headlining at the Highline Ballroom in New York last year. It was towards the end of a great tour - a sold out show in New York City. The crowd were awesome and it was just one of those shows where everything really clicked for us musically on stage and we totally loved it.
Have you ever fought on stage?
Steven: No. We've never had any brawls on stage. Maybe we should. It might help the show.
Who are your sources of inspiration?
Richard: We've had many inspiring artists lately. We all listen to different stuff but everything from Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Springsteen, to James Blake, Flying Lotus, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Chairlift, to name a few...
Any music recommendations for your fans at 7digital?
What was the first album you bought?
And finally, if you could choose any artist to work with, who would it be?
Steven: Gosh. I'd love to work with Damon Albarn. Damon, if you're listening, and you're interested, you know where to find me.