The Twilight Sad, in my opinion are going to be HUGE and sooner than you think. The Twilight Sad is a 5 piece band hailing from Glasgow, Scotland and consists of the following members – Andy MacFarlane on guitar, Johnny Docherty on bass/baritone/synth, Mark Devine on Drums, Brendan Smith on Keys and one of the best front men I’ve seen in a long time – James Graham.
The Twilight Sad taps into various sources (that I only can assume and appreciate), but have the ability to draw you in, visually and emotionally. They’re a mix of noise with pure melody while driving aggressively yet beautiful. Watching them live, Mark’s drums were the first thing that caught my attention. Sharp, strong and driving. Shortly after you begin to absorb the wall of sound from Andy’s guitar through a Marshall. It’s warbly with the the Fender offset tremolo work and a wash of distortion and delays. The guitar tones almost reminds of me of a meatier more aggressive My Bloody Valentine vibe. Johnny’s Travis Bean bass then cuts through it all, defining the direction and giving it body and provides the groove. Brendan’s keys balances it all out to make a beautiful chorus of noise, slow, driving, but with a purpose. Then you hear the voice of James. The pleading baritone vocals with despair and compassion. He is physically lost in the music and you cannot help but to stare at him. There are glimpses of Ian Curtis, in the sense of being completely committed to the moment. His body is an instrument – animated, focused. His voice, perfect.
But I want to start this story a bit earlier. March 5th, 2015, The Twilight Sad played in my home town of Missoula, Montana. It’s a small little town but we do get bands that stop here on their way to Seattle or to Minneapolis, etc. There is a lot of land between those two places, and stopping at this college town can help break the travel up for bands. At this time, I was totally unfamiliar with this band. I saw some chatter about their upcoming show, but it just passed by. After they played their gig, I was contacted by a couple of friends saying they were surprised that I wasn’t there, especially since the bass player was playing a Travis Bean. What?
I maintain the Travis Bean database and I definitely try to attend shows where there are Beans. I was bummed that people didn’t tell me *before* the show. After learning about this, I started to check out the band and was blown away.. and was immediately put on my radar for a band I wanted to keep an eye on.
A few months later, I saw mention that Robert Smith of the Cure did a cover of their fantastic song – “There’s a Girl in the Corner“. To me traveling across Montana one day in a van to having an icon like Robert Smith covering your song has got to be one of the greatest feelings to have as a band. In my mind – “you’ve made it!”. But it didn’t stop there.
The Cure announced a major world tour, their first tour of North America in 8 years, and for their opener, they offered the gig to The Twilight Sad. To me, a match made in heaven. As an opener, it is helpful to play in front of sympathetic audiences. Audiences that would be receptive to your art. An audience that would appreciate and take it in. To me, the Cure crowd is the perfect crowd for The Twilight Sad.
During this tour, I had a chance to catch the Cure at the Hollywood Bowl in May and again had a chance to talk to The Twilight Sad recently in June for their Salt Lake City show. It was a privilege to watch 2 sets of the ‘sad’. The Salt Lake City show is what took me over the edge. The whole time watching them, I kept thinking to myself – “these guys are going to be huge”
Here are some photos from that performance (photo credit – Amy Donovan Photography)
After their set, I had the opportunity to talk with Andy MacFarlane (guitar) and Johnny Docherty (bass) about gear. Let’s get a bit nerdy.
JOHNNY – I first had an Electrical Guitar Company bass, but it was too heavy and I swapped it for a Travis Bean and I use it all the time. I used P-Basses before that, but I think the Travis Beans get a lot more bite and clarity to them that’s quite aggressive sounding and so easy to play as well.
EB – All instruments sound different even though it’s the same brand or model, but you can always tell the growl of a Travis Bean especially when you guys play with that grinding punch.
ANDY – I like it because it cuts through, because I’m making a big wall of noise – because it can cut through that. It’s got that low end but it has that definition as well.
EB – So Andy, why did you go to the Fender style offsets?
ANDY – For starters the tremolo arm, do you know what I mean? And I find it easy to get the feedback between that and the Marshall amps. It’s mainly because of the tremolo.
EB – Well you’ve mastered the feedback. You have great control of it.
ANDY – That’s one thing, when you can’t control it sounds about sh*t, but using the delays and the tremolo you get it.
EB – With the feedback are you pretty much relying on the amps or is it a combination of certain pedals and the amp?
ANDY – It’s really just a combination of what distortion I be using. So, I use to use the Rat all the time and on this tour I started using the Fat Sandwich by Way Huge. It’s got a much warmer sound to it, you know?
EB – So do you run your amps clean?
ANDY – Yeah. That’s why I have the 59SLP and the Bluesbreaker. The Bluesbreaker is pretty much the same thing but scaled down. So I run clean. I like to keep it simple. I really use the Jag and the Jazz for the tremolo.
EB – Johnny I noticed you run some interesting pedals for your bass rig.
JOHNNY – The MXR Sub Machine I only use with the baritone, but I think I’m going to swap it out because I think it’s too fuzzy with the P90s. I use it on some songs like “Kill it in the Morning”. Apart from that, like with the bass, it’s pure filthy, horrible fuzz that I think is too fuzzy for the baritone so I’m going to get a distortion I think.
The Fulltone Bass Drive is great for bass. It’s discontinued. I went down to Guitar Guitar in Glasgow and tried 4 or 5 different distortions and that was the best. It boosts the signal without losing any bottom end.
The MXR Bass Chorus is for some of the songs on the new album like “Last January” and “It Never Was The Same”. I use it quite a lot of songs on the new album, but it’s quite subtle. You only really hear it when I play up the octave sort of thing.
The Delay Pedal (Boss DD-3) is just for noise at the end of the set.
EB – Out of all of these pedals what pedal mostly defines your bass tone with The Twilight Sad?
JOHNNY – I think the Orange Amps, the Fulltone and the Travis Bean.
EB – What bass amps are you running?
JOHNNY – the 2 rack mount ones. The OB1-500s. They’re a pair for backup but I would quite like to blend the two of them, that would be amazing. Just no time to sort that out.
EB – Moving to Andy, we have the Space Echo and GigaDelay. Your guitar sound is definitely complex with lots of things happening in the wall of sound. Are those two pedals a big part of the puzzle?
ANDY – Well, really, recently I’ve tried to start cleaning it up a bit more you know. So the GigaDelay I really use that for the short slap a part from when it needs to get noisy I’ll use a longer delay. The Space Echo, I really use that as a tap tempo (delay). And then I’ve been using this Danelectro Reverse Delay, which is discontinued. I’ve been looking for a descent reverse delay for ages and this one just works really well. The Gigadelay has a reverse, but this one just sounds better.
EB – So the Fat Sandwich and the Rat is for the feedback. What’s the story on the T-Rex Quint?
ANDY – It’s got an octave up and an octave down and a 5th and a mix knob. We did one song tonight where we’re joined with the baritone with a 5th and octave up. If I want to fatten it up a wee bit I just turn the mix down a bit.
JOHNNY – Is it to make a 12 string almost?
ANDY – For some songs I just have the octave up to make it like a 12 string. I have the Alberta (T-Rex) too, that’s the warm overdrive. We’ve been through a few T-Rex pedals and some other Boss ones, but for me the Alberta II overdrive is the best.
EB – So similar question as I posed to Johnny. If you could pick only one pedal to go on the road, which would it be? Same amp, same guitars, one pedal (minus the tuner, you can keep that)
ANDY – Can I switch out the tuner? So I can have two?? (laughing) See, that’s a difficult one. I can’t really do without any of them. Well, I could take out the Rat and the Quint. But the rest… see, that’s why I have it so scaled down because I need them all for pretty much every song.
I helped Chris, the Cure’s guitar tech carry out Reeve’s board and it was like – “Do you really need all that?”
Also, when we do smaller tours or something, I don’t want many older pedals cause you don’t know when one is going to break.
EB – Let’s talk about some of these guitars. What’s the story on the Copeland Guitars (Jazzmaster style and baritone)?
ANDY – He’s a friend of our tour manager and he made me one the last time we were over with a similar body as Johnny’s baritone but with a Bigsby and P90s and it was great. I loved the sound of it so much. I said would you fancy doing a burnt finish on a jazzmaster style guitar. I just got the Jazzmaster at the start of this tour. It was built completely to what I wanted with Mastery bridge and tremolo. It’s excellent. I will definitely be using it for more stuff!
JOHNNY – I just got my Copeland Baritone a few days ago. I tried to rip off Shellac and get that green/grey color, and I’m really happy with the color of it.
Here is a break down of Andy MacFarlane and Johnny Docherty’s gear.
2x Orange OB1-500 Rack
The Twilight Sad are still currently on tour with the Cure. They will also be headlining various venues in between some of those dates, so keep an eye out for those as well. Seriously, check these guys out. For up-to-date tour schedule, go here. Thank you Johnny and Andy for taking the time to talk gear!
Let me know what you think by commenting below!