Unlike a lot of indie-rock Scotsmen, the Twilight Sad's James Graham proudly sings in the same wooly Glaswegian accent he speaks with. Combine this with a backdrop of swirling guitar noise and an audience of kilt-less yanks, and the 25 year-old's already cryptic lyrics might as well be coming out in Swahili. Just the same, Graham insists the fans in the States understand where he's coming from, maybe even more so than his fellow Scots.
"It's funny," says Graham, speaking from a tour stop in Cleveland. "People in America really seem to appreciate that we've traveled over from Scotland, so they'll come up to us after the show and we'll spend a lot of time talking with them — whereas in Britain, we'll usually play a show and then just go off by ourselves and get drunk [laughs]. People over here are a lot more enthusiastic about us coming over and playing. So we're very happy to be able to do it."
The Twilight Sad's current American jaunt represents its first since the September release of the band's second LP, Forget the Night Ahead — an album that sidestepped the sophomore jinx and instead proved a strong follow-up to 2007's loud, passionate Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters.
"I think the big difference with promoting this record is that we're a better live band than we were when the first record came out," Graham says. "The first tours we did were actually some of the first shows we ever played. We were just kind of learning how to be a band at that point. We've been kind of lucky, as well, with some of the support tours we've done [Smashing Pumpkins, Snow Patrol and Mogwai, to name a few], where our profile's definitely grown and a lot more people know of us."
For their upcoming Exit/In gig, Graham and his mates will be supporting Mono — a post-rock band cut from the same cloth as the Twilight Sad's Scottish mentors, Mogwai, but hailing from a tad further East — Tokyo.
"Yeah, we thought there was going to be a [language gap]," Graham says, "but it's actually been really cool — they're really nice people. Obviously, there are times where they have to explain what they're saying, but then, so do we half the time."
Graham is certainly no stranger to being asked to explain his words. Even on paper, when the accent is no issue, the deeper meanings of his angst-ridden but often minimalist lyrics tend to remain carefully veiled. (See the oft-repeated couplet "there's people downstairs / I'm more than a fighter" from "Reflection of the Television.")
"I've always said that my favorite songs are the ones where I don't necessarily know what they're about," he says, "but I can relate them back to a time or a place or something that's happened in my life. There's a lot more advantage to that than just writing, I don't know, a really obvious shite lyric."
Sometimes, Graham admits, even the songwriter himself doesn't know the full meaning of his song until a little context is added.
"There is a weird thing that's happened a few times. I've written a song, without being too sure what it meant, and then years down the line, when I'm playing the song somewhere, it's kind of come to me like, 'Oh, that's what it was about!' So it's a bit of a subconscious thing, I suppose."
As for the influence of his rural Scottish roots on his songwriting (the band emerged from the small Glasgow suburb of Kilsyth), Graham has a similar response.
"Yeah, probably in a subconscious way, it's there," he says. "I think if we came from a different place, we would sound completely different. It's not something where we play on the fact that we're Scottish. It's just a fact that we are — there's nothing we can do about it [laughs]. The good music that comes out of Scotland is usually pretty dark. That's probably because all there is to do is write music and drink and talk rubbish.
"But I would never want to write music anywhere else," Graham adds. "Unless someone wanted to buy me a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, I can't see me moving."
When posed with the possibility of a major label actually offering him just that, Graham scoffs a bit.
"We're very happy where we are right now [on Fat Cat Records]. ... For me, I like that our band is a band that's slowly getting more popular, and that we've had to actually work for the popularity we have — constantly touring and playing. That way, if we ever get to a certain point where we're playing to huge crowds, at least we'll know that we worked hard to get there and it's not just going to be a flash in the pan. You'll appreciate it a lot more if you've worked for something. ... But, you know, some money would be nice some day."