I caught up with Twin Atlantic’s guitarist Barry McKenna at this year’s Reading Festival after their amazing set in the NME/Radio1 Tent. We chatted about touring, festivals and their debut album Free along with it’s massive success. It was great to see a rock star so down to earth and friendly, a great interview to say the least. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
How was the show earlier?
It was amazing. It was more than I expected it to be, I said to some of the guys before the show, even if the tent is nearly half full, that would be an amazing achievement, we’re so far away from home and to walk out on stage and have the tent full and also people watching outside, and then to see the crowd react the way they did, was incredible and really overwhelming, we really didn’t expect that big a reaction.
How is it compared it compared to last year?
We did the Festival Republic stage last year and it was incredible but just on a way smaller scale. There were so many more people here this year so I guess that’s only a good thing.
What’s your favourite UK festival to play?
Reading now! T in the Park is always gonna have a really special place in my heart because growing up in Scotland that was the festival we went to as punters. We’d get up early and stay all weekend and watch all our favourite bands, that’s how the four of us really got into music and ended up doing this. That being the home festival, it always has that little bit more of an edge but having said that, I would say T in the Park and Reading are joint on a par with one another.
How was the Warped Tour this year?
It was really good fun actually, surprisingly fun, I thought I was gonna hate it because we’re used to rain and the wind in Scotland and it was unbearably hot. But it was kinda nice for the first couple of days and then it got a bit much with the heat every day, you don’t really get a break from it. But having said that we got to play loads of new places, met loads of new people, met some new bands and stuff so it was a great experience.
And supporting Blink 182?
Yeh, that was pretty insane! All the boys were big Blink 182 fans growing up so to support them now, for a second time, was insane. Given that we did those first shows with them and we thought ‘well that’s a once in a lifetime thing supporting Blink 182’ and then when we got the calls saying that Blink wanted to take us out again, we were like ‘Holy shit!’ and no shows were the same. There aren’t many bands that can sell out venues the way that they still do and to play with those guys and to work with them was an honour.
Why did you choose to release Virium as an EP rather than an album?
Well, basically we had enough songs that we could have made a full length record at that point, but when we went to put them all together we only felt that those eight songs worked well together. We were kinda old fashioned in that the music industry is really single driven now, and it’s all about the one or two big radio songs and not many people have got the patience or the time to sit down and put a cd or record on and listen to it in full. The other songs we had didn’t really fit and didn’t really represent what we were doing. We thought that as it was the first offering we had given to people on the label we would give them something short to listen to maybe it will make people more excited for when we did finally release a full length.
And Free has sold a lot of copies!
Yeh, it’s a bit weird.
Yeh, it’s something like that, it’s insane to be in the company of Shikari, they’re mates of ours and we know how big that record was when it came out. It’s a leap of faith when you release an album as an artist because you record songs that you love but you’re in this bubble and you’ve only got yourselves and the people you’re working with to bounce opinions off. So really by the time the record is printed you’ve lived with it a little while, it’s scary cause you don’t know whether people are gonna like it. What you’re saying is ‘I love this, I just hope there are likeminded people out there that feel the same about this music’. No one could have predicted the response it’s had, it’s nice to know that there are as many people wanting to listen to the type of music we love making and that we love listening to.
Saying that, as a band, who are your main influences?
We’re all really different. There’s a few bands that we all have in common but we all branch out, Ross loves Queen and a lot of classic rock, Sam loves Nirvana, Springsteen and Pearl Jam, Myself, I listen to Pink Floyd, The Beatles. We all have our own influences so when we come together, the way that we individually play is slightly different, so I guess when we bring those individual influences together it makes something new.
How would you describe your sound as a whole to someone who’d never heard you before?
Scottish rock music. It’s simple. We’re really honest, there’s no pretence to our music, there’s no bull shit, this is just the music we love playing and we are well aware that there are people who won’t like it, you can’t write music for everyone. There are mates of mine that hate the Beatles, one of the most successful bands of all time and there’s people that hate them, you have to make music for yourself and be honest. It’s just honest Scottish rock music.
Are you looking forward to your headline tour later this year?
Can’t wait, really looking forward to it. It’s the biggest tour we’ve done, ever. The shows down in England especially are a lot bigger.
I’m from Southampton and you’re playing the Guildhall on your tour.
Yeh, We’ve played The Joiners about 3 times already so jumping from The Joiners to the Guildhall is a bit scary so I hope people turn up. Even if all the people that used to come to the joiners come along we’ll still have a good night.
How does it feel to have your songs played on the radio? I know Radio1 love playing your stuff.
It’s just really surreal, as I said, when you write music you don’t have the end goal in your head, you don’t write a song going ‘I hope however many thousand people will buy this’, or you don’t write a song saying ‘I hope this will get on the radio’, you just write a song on the purest grounds that you love making music. Radio1 is massive national platform, them supporting us the way they have is massive for us, four guys from scotland, it’s a massive compliemt to know that all the people that work at the station are in to what we do. Our music will reach some new ears and if they like what they hear they can come along to a show.
How do you choose your set list?
We just pick the songs we want to play the most, it as simple as that.
Do you mix it up each night?
No, if we do a tour we tend to pick a set list and we’ll stick to that. We’re not really one’s for being terribly spontaneous either, we’re usually pretty organised. We like the structure for a tour, but then every tour the set lists will be totally different.
Do you choose it differently for festivals? Are there particular crowd favourites?
There’s definitely a couple of songs that we’ve had strong radio support on that you know the crowd are gonna be more familiar with. That’s the good thing about festivals it’s not just people who already love your band and have already seen you. You can go and check out bands for the first time. Picking set lists is always a nightmare, between the four of us we’ve always generally got different opinions . We normally agree on a certain amount of songs but when it comes down to the last few spaces for songs it’s generally all different.
How does it feel to have one of your songs on an advert on TV?
It’s cool! It’s always surreal when you hear your music in a different setting like when you were talking about the radio thing before, me and mate were in my car and we drove away and switched the radio on and one of our songs was on radio one at the time, and he looked at me and said ‘oh you’re such a saddo, I can’t believe you’ve been driving around with your CD in!’ But I got really embarrassed, and was like ‘oh my god, why is my CD in my car?! That’s really embarrassing!’ but then I looked down and it said ‘Radio1’ so I was like ‘fuck you!’ it’s actually on the radio, it’s always weird when you hear your music in closed environments cause you don’t expect it.
Obviously when you record songs you record them in a way that people could listen to them time and time again and not get bored. On our record there’s not anything going on that we don’t do live, there are a loads of bands who stick down loads of strings, trumpets, vocals and they’ll track the guitar however many times and put in loads of layers. Then you go and watch them live and it’s a bit underwhelming, either that or they end up miming to a bunch of backing tracks. We try and keep it simple so that when you come and see us live you’re getting a full experience.
What does the future hold for Twin Atlantic? Have you started writing another record?
We’ve started writing a record, full length number two, we’re dead excited about that, it’s been hard for us to find the time because we have been so busy since Free came out, it has been really hard to find gaps in our schedule to block off a week to record when we tour so much.
Do you write when you’re on tour?
It’s hard to find the time, and hard to be motivated. Sam writes a lot of lyrics on tour, he’ll set up with his guitar quite a lot but apart from that it’s the occasional sound check when we’ve got time we’ll bash through some ideas but that’s genrally quite chaotic. We kind of like to just take complete time off and just to devote 11 hours a day to it.
One last thing, does Sam usually smash his guitar onstage?
Er, he’s done it a couple of times now, it’s definitely not every show. I believe that guitar was misbehaving itself so he told it off. Sam one, Guitar nil.
You can catch Twin Atlantic at The Guildhall in Southampton later this year on their headline tour.