the xcerts pic

James Smith sits down with Murray MacLeod from The Xcerts before they support Manchester Orchestra at Koko in London to discuss the tour, new material, their writing process and plans for the future.


So how have you found your tours with Taking Back Sunday and Manchester Orchestra?

Taking Back Sunday was awesome, I think we went down really well at those shows. But it seems like maybe a few more people have known us on this tour already (Manchester Orchestra), and we’ve received quite a warm reception, compared to Taking Back Sunday where it really felt like we were the first band on.

How have you found the larger venues?

I love them, I much prefer playing these venues, I think our sound is much more suited to this, personally. There’s more breathing space compared to say the Barfly or something, which is still a great small venue in itself, but I think our sound is suited for big, loud venues. 

Would you consider either of them as big influences on yourselves?

Manchester Orchestra for sure, I don’t think we take direct influence from Taking Back Sunday’s music, but we’re fans. But Manchester definitely, and it’s definitely been weird to find ourselves here playing with people we really respect, and to find ourselves hanging out with them, they’ve made us feel so welcome, more than any other band we’ve ever been on tour with actually.

Do you think your fans are more like those of Taking Back Sunday or Manchester Orchestra?

I think there’s a mix, because I think the way we went down at Taking Back Sunday proves that there is a common thread there somewhere. And then I think for fans coming to Manchester Orchestra, I think half an hour of noisy rock is sort of what they want.

So, coming on to my next question, what do you think your music shares with a band like Manchester Orchestra?

I suppose complete honesty and passion, their songs are brutally honest and for anyone whose seen Manchester Orchestra live, it’s like the most intense passionate live spectacle, so I think there’s a definite kind of controlled aggression to both our music. I wouldn’t say we sound really similar but there’s definite common ground.

Do you think touring with these bands, who are quite prominent in your sort of vague genre, has taught you anything?

Yeah, probably more how to behave as a person though, it’s nice to know that you can still be in a big band and be polite and have manners, and take care of the other band you’re on tour with. We’ve done a few tours where we’re gum on the bottom of a shoe, not treated well and you start to think that that’s how you should be treated, and then we go on tour with both Taking Back Sunday and Manchester Orchestra, and it’s like open door policy on their dressing room so we can come in any time, which is weird. So yeah, I’ve learned a lot offstage about how maybe we’d like to conduct ourselves in our own headline tours in the future.

What sort of music have you been listening to, that maybe you hadn’t heard a year ago, that has really grabbed you recently?

There’s a band who I just discovered about two months ago called Colour Revolt from the States, I don’t think many people know them over here, and they are amazing, I can’t say enough good words about that band. I know Manchester Orchestra love them and are big fans, as are Brand New, but they don’t sound like either of those bands, it’s this, I don’t know, sort of weird indie-rock, and really intelligent, I can’t really describe it, it’s just great, everyone should check them out! Ha. Other than that, I’m not too up to date, I’ve been mainly going back to older stuff.

You’ve recently started writing on your third studio album, now there was quite a clear progression from the first two albums, do you think that will be the same with the third, how do you think it will shape up?

Well, it will be far more definitive, on Scatterbrain it was definitely a clear progression, but a lot of the ideas for a lot of the songs was us thinking about the live setting, we thought ‘we can make this part really noisy and that will be really fun live, I’ll just put on my feedback, you guys keep it together, and I’ll wail’, so a lot of it was us knowing that we were going to be touring for like a year and a half and wanting to keep it fresh. Whereas with this record I think we’re really going to hone in on song writing, and try to write the best songs possible and then try and figure out how to play them live later.

Do you think that it’s become easier, or you’ve developed a more fluent ability to write songs as times gone on, or do you think it’s harder to start from scratch and write something completely new and different?

Well I used to write constantly, just keep writing, keep writing, and keep a backlog of acoustic demos on my phone and stuff, but then I stopped doing that because I like the idea of a fresh start, and completely wiping the slate clean.

And I suppose in that way it creates a more together and autonomous whole, it’s not like you have a long stream of material.

Exactly, yeah, that’s precisely what happened with our second record, it was all written in the space of two months, other than a couple of songs we had before. But our first record felt like a collection of greatest hits from when we were sixteen through to eighteen, so I like the idea of records being in one documented time frame.

You seem like quite a close band, do you have much of a collective writing process?

We’ve always written in roughly the same way, but it can change, we don’t have a set kind of method. Sometimes I’ll bring in a full song and it works perfectly, it won’t need changing, other times I’ll bring in a full song and Jo and Tom will be like ‘That’s so bad’, but we’ll take parts of it out that we do like. But then a lot of stuff will come from Tom doing a drum loop, or Jo playing a bass line and me figuring out what to do on the guitar, and it builds from there, so more of a ‘jam’ approach.

I know you’re doing, later this month, a couple of solo shows in New York, and you guys went across to the States a couple of times last year was it, did you enjoy that experience, and how did it compare to playing in the UK?

Well, we played two industry shows, so our first ever show in America was to two hundred people purely from labels and magazines, so it was pretty nerve-wracking and really hectic, being in America, being really tired and lugging all our stuff around, I was all over the place. They were good shows, but they were just a bit manic so we don’t really have a good grasp of playing America just yet, we need to do a tour and then figure out what the difference is really.

You’ve said a lot in the past about playing shows in London being like that, a lot of industry types, quite nerve-wracking and maybe not the same fun vibe, do you think that’s something that’s changed, or you’ve maybe been able to get over now, ‘cause you do have more of your own fans coming to these shows now?

Yeah, I remember the first time we played Barfly and packed it out, I remember that was the time when I was not nervous playing in London, because there’s no industry here, we’ve had to go and work hard and tour and tour to get them here because industry didn’t really care about us, and then all of a sudden they came crawling back.

One of the venues you’re playing at in New York is at a poetry bar, so have you ever considered different writing methods, like poetry?

Erm, well I’m a big fan of poetry, that doesn’t make me sound manly and Scottish does it? Actually there’s a lot of poets in Scotland, I’m a big Edwin Morgan fan, he was Scotland’s first national poet. I think I used to write poetry when I was like fifteen or something, I just did it ‘cause I was bored. But I view lyrics as that kind of outlet, I don’t consider my lyrics poetry, I’m not saying that at all, but that’s the closest thing to it. I don’t really know what makes good poetry really, it’s like what makes good art really.

Or good music or lyrics?

Well yeah, exactly, I’ve got friends who go to Art Schools, and I look at some of the stuff they study, and they’ll say ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing’, like, it’s fucking awful, I guess everyone views things differently.

So, after you come back, we’ve talked about writing new material, but do you have any other plans for Christmas and 2012?

Yeah, we are going on tour with Frank Turner in Europe for a month, right up until Christmas. And then there was talk of doing a couple of headline shows in January, but we’re not too sure if we’re going to do that anymore, we’ll have to see.

You guys have enjoyed quite a steady, but still relatively rapid rise to success, do you think that for a band like yourselves, finding success is easier or harder than it would’ve been ten or fifteen years ago?

Harder, I’d probably say. I’d say if we were in the nineties, we’d be golden! We’d have a much easier time because people still bought records. It’s tough right now, because unless you’ve got a really slick, polished rock record that’s on the radio then no one really wants to know about you, so that’s why we’ve just played shows after shows after shows, and just relied on word of mouth, which is still a powerful tool.

Do you think that illegal downloads, whilst it makes what you’re talking about harder, make more people a lot more likely to go out and listen to bands like yourself and thus make it a lot easier for smaller bands starting out to gain a relatively credible fan base?

Well yeah, it’s definitely a lot more detrimental to the record label than the artist. A lot more people won’t necessarily know a band, but they’ll see their album leaked and they’ll get it, that’s a good thing for a band, but then I don’t know, we got told how many people had downloaded our record illegally, from some website that tallied it all up, and it definitely doesn’t equal the number of people coming to our shows.

But you’ve got to keep working really, I still think people want to support bands and get records, they just don’t want to pay for them.

And lastly, I did just want to ask about slight rumours that you guys may be supporting Brand New in their February tour?

Yeah, that was mental, I was in bed and I’ve never woken up to so many text messages and phone calls. But yeah, it’s a rumour just now.

It’s a rumour just now?

Yep, that’s all I can say, I can’t answer that one yet.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.