In the Spotlight: Twin Atlantic

catches up with the lead guitarist Barry Mckenna

Photo courtesy of Twin Atlantic

Photo courtesy of Twin Atlantic

Haven’t heard of Twin Atlantic? You’re going to. YouTube ‘Heart & Soul’, and immerse yourself in their own brand of forceful, polished, no-frills rock. The Glasgow four-piece is amongst a growing and increasingly eclectic list – which includes Royal Blood, Pulled Apart by Horses and Darlia – of bands and artists carrying the torch for rock music in Britain today and beyond. In the last five years alone, they’ve supported Kings of Leon, Biffy Clyro, Blink 182 and My Chemical Romance. Now they’re back on the road touring their latest album Great Divide, and it feels like greatness lies just around the corner.

“When we recorded Free, there was very much an idea of wanting to be heard,” reflects Barry McKenna, lead guitarist in Twin Atlantic, on the 2011 predecessor to Great Divide. “We were a pretty much unknown band, apart from in our home town. But with this record it was the first time we’d recorded something with a pre-made fan base who was waiting to hear the album, so in that respect, we wanted to make the best album we could. For us, the most important thing was being ourselves.” This much is also true of McKenna when being interviewed; he is personable and happy to chat with me at length about the tour, the album and music generally. More importantly though, he demonstrates an intense, unwavering passion for the band that has been his life for the last seven years; it’s evident not only in the authority with which he talks about the band’s journey to becoming a key player in today’s rock music landscape, but also in the tone and scale of their latest release. Great Divide, in this sense, feels like the album that encapsulates the band’s past whilst also paving the way for its promising future.

On this point, McKenna concurs. “Great Divide hints at the formative years between being a young adult and becoming an actual adult. We’ve kind of grown up in this band, which is quite unusual; we were all really young when we started, and we’ve grown up together and been through those stages of our lives whilst travelling the world in the process. A lot of [the record] is coming to terms with having been through that. We also wanted to portray our personalities in the music, so that’s why we really took the time to craft and record the songs – we wanted to get them spot on.”

On this record, one track that really hits the spot is follow up single ‘Brothers & Sisters’. Arriving mid-way through the album, it’s the kind of anthemic, organically-crafted song that marks a pivotal point in a group’s trajectory from main stage opener to fully-fledged stadium band. Essentially, it’s their When You Were Young. There’s an abundance of lyrical references to drifting and dreaming, but it’s a track that spells the band’s level-headedness and determination in becoming bigger and better. “Believe it or not, it was the very first song we wrote for the album,” McKenna informs me, with a telling enthusiasm; they’re clearly pleased with gravitas the track has afforded them. “We kind of knew even in its first inception that the song was pretty special. We’ve written a lot of songs together now, but not often have they given us that same kind of feeling. There’s four individual people in the band and we all have to be equally happy with a song before we can consider it, but for that song there was almost an unspoken thing – we all just knew it was special to us.”

Perhaps this symbiosis in song-writing is to thank for the connection Twin Atlantic have with their ever-enlarging and incredibly fervent fan base. Their gigs are electric. Watching them playing the main stage at T in the Park 2014, a festival at which they’ve appeared for the last four years (McKenna observes that they have become “part of the fabric” of the festival, having been on both sides of the stage so often in their lifetimes), it’s hard not to picture them one day headlining it, so palpable is the air not only of approval, but of contentedness in the crowd.

As a two-time attendee of T in the Park, I find I have to ask about the reputation of Scottish festival crowds for being some of the best in the world. “I think Scottish crowds, and Glasgow crowds in particular, feel more special for us only for the fact that we’re from there and we feel a real connection and camaraderie with them…but the crowds in England are just as good. We’ve played Reading and Leeds festival and Glastonbury this year, and the crowds can completely kick off. Everyone’s always got a bit of affection to play their home town, but crowd-wise I find that people connect to music the same regardless of where you go. Despite different cultures and languages, one of the few things that has been a parallel wherever we’ve been is that people enjoy music. It’s one of the few things where people can go for an evening, forget their day, let their hair down and have a good time; everyone enjoys music, regardless of where you go.” Everything has gotten very deep very quickly. I decide it’s time to talk about Radio 1.

Since the release of Free, pretty much all of Twin Atlantic’s singles have secured a decent share of airtime on the BBC station. It’s easy to see why. Whilst McKenna observes that everywhere the band has been they’ve found people who enjoy music, perhaps it’s truer to say that almost everyone is inclined to enjoy their music, simply because they write damn good, accessible rock songs. I tentatively ask if the knowledge that this year’s release would gain regular radio play impacted at all on the moulding of Great Divide.

Barry takes a few seconds to answer. “No, not really. The minute you start thinking about what other people think you’re diluting the concept and the essence of a song, and you compromise and change things. We had a really distinct idea of how we wanted the album to sound, and we pretty much achieved that. In terms of a progression from Free, I think this record is a lot more concise, the songs are more concise, and that was part of a collaborative effort to just write better songs. I think that’s why it maybe does sound a little bit more…” He pauses. “…kind of – I hate the phrase radio-friendly…but I think that’s probably why some of the songs have gathered that support. I think just because they’re better songs.” I move on.

Right now, their 25-date tour of Britain and Europe – with one US date – is Twin Atlantic’s next major commitment. Kicking off in Aberdeen on the 23rd of this month and ending on December the 5th in Fairfax, Virginia, the tour covers the breadth and width of the UK, as well taking in France, Germany, Denmark and Austria, among others. And after that, where they take themselves rests entirely with the band and their music. “We’ve never really been content sitting still,” McKenna tells me with conviction. “We’re always searching for the next thing. I guess in five or ten years we’d love to be a band who sells out arenas and football stadiums, but for us it’s always one step at a time. Whenever we go back to a city we try to put on a bigger and better show, and hopefully as time progresses, more and more people will get involved with the band.” He takes another of his ruminative pauses. “Who knows. One day we might get there. That’s the thing about dreams – sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t.”

He is, of course, being modest. Such aspirations are entirely within reaching distance for a band that has already played to arena-sized crowds in enviable support slots. Perhaps he is right to be cautious though; there’s still much to refine within the band, both musically and in terms of being comfortable with their developing influence in the genre. Their next step in the pursuit of greatness will be to write the game-changing album – their own Holy Fire or Only Revolutions which catapults them up the festival bill. They’ve paved the way perfectly for such an effort with Great Divide. But for now, they’re on the right track. They’re on the move.

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