Monday 27 November 23, 7:00 PM
Monday 27 November 23, 7:00 PM
Transparency is Twin Atlantic as you’ve never known them. Ten candid, funny, funky songs find frontman Sam McTrusty spilling his guts on everything from marriage, male friendship and the absurdity of social media to parenthood, medication and his mum.
Written in strained circumstances and recorded remotely with Sam’s mate and mentor Jacknife Lee (U2, The Killers, Taylor Swift). Transparency arrived more by accident than design, an experiment that snowballed when the world went in to lockdown last spring. Only when eight songs were completed did the pair accept that an album was underway.
“I barely remember making the music,” says Sam. “That sounds ridiculous, but it was a ridiculous time. I was a new dad, isolating at home in a heatwave because my wife, a nurse, was working on Covid wards. A year of touring turned to dust. I existed for months on two hours sleep a day, having already made myself ill with stress trying to write a new album just as our last one came out. Somehow, from the midst of that chaos came these songs.”
Sent home to Glasgow mid-UK tour last March, Twin Atlantic were already close to completing the planned follow-up to POWER, their fifth album and first for a major label, which reached No.11 on its release last January. Sessions with L.A.-based Jacknife had been scheduled for the summer, when Twin Atlantic should have been touring the States.
“My knee-jerk reaction was to block out the fact that the world might be ending by working on new music,” says Sam. “I messaged Jacknife, expecting him to be too busy. He said all of his work had been cancelled and how about jumping on FaceTime that night.”
The vague plan was to write one song. Instead, the two talked for hours, becoming each other’s crutch in a crisis. Mostly, they joked and told stories, prompting Jacknife to ask why Sam didn’t write lyrics the same way he spoke.
“He told me to imagine seeing someone across the street keying my car,” says Sam. “What I shouted back became the opening of a chorus. I began reeling off anything on my mind in the way I would talking to my mates. By 4am, we had One Man Party. Essentially, it’s me having a meltdown”
Medicine, mimosas, panic attacks, a split personality having a party, the lyrics more spoken than sung, set to frantic beats, squally guitars and sleazy synths, the aptly-titled track and soon-to-be single sounded nothing like Twin Atlantic. Still, making it had been a blast for both.
Sam grabbed his two hours of sleep before his daughter got up at 6am and woke to find a message from a giddy Jacknife suggesting they repeat the process that night. The result was the equally unhinged, fantastically funny Get Famous. Part Glasgow rap, part punk rock rant, its diatribe on fast fame references football, pharaohs, algorithms and student loans. ‘Just sit down I’m influencing’ slurs a sarcastic Sam.
For five weeks, the pair continued their FaceTime fun.
“Jacknife was remotely holding my hand through this traumatic time I was having,” says Sam.
“We worked during daytime for Jacknife, of course. The time difference was a killer for me. We’d start near midnight, me in my daughter’s bedroom, having moved her cot next door. The reason my voice is set so low is because I had to sing quietly to not wake anyone up. I couldn’t do big rock choruses or layered vocals with harmonies.”
Fortunately, Sam could make prodigious use of his Prince-like, high register, layering it in to striking backing choirs while adding guitars as his daughter napped during the day.
While the rest of Twin Atlantic added their parts later on, they were inadvertently involved in four of the initial eight songs. Young, Dirty, It’s Getting Dark and Instigator borrowed bits from songs which had been recorded for POWER’s intended successor.
“We’d had a really difficult time trying to make that record,” says Sam. “We spent too long in our studio, desperate to do something different. I told Jacknife about it and he asked to hear the songs. For Young, he took a bassline he loved. For Instigator, he sampled some drums.
“None of the core songs remained. All of the lyrics are new. Even then, we weren’t sure what we were doing. But the longer it went on, the more it dawned on us that these radically-different songs could be a fantastic foundation for a Twin Atlantic album. Luckily, the other guys agreed.”
Yet it wasn’t until almost Christmas when, finally out of his sleep-deprived state and off the medication he had been prescribed for stress which had caused his jaw to clamp up and almost stopped him singing, that Sam finally realised what the songs were about. The band had signed a new indie deal and Sam was tasked with typing up Transparency’s lyrics.
Young, he discovered, is a finger-pointing, post-Brexit rant at people who vote without considering the consequences. Dirty is a piss-take of himself, the singer in a band sipping Champagne who would have appalled his younger self. The Talking Heads-y Dance Like Your Mother is about being in a rock band who want their fans to dance. Instigator deals with the pressure he feels as a frontman.
“I’m not a macho guy,” says Sam. “I’ve always written about my feelings, albeit heavily cloaked. In those crazy, sleep-deprived days, I think I decided I’m too long in the tooth not to tell the truth. That lots of the lyrics are funny came as a relief. At least I didn’t lose my sense of humour.”
Sam’s love for his family looms large. The beautiful, woozy Haunt begins with his daughter’s heartbeat and ends with her screaming. It’s about Sam seeing his parents through the eyes of becoming a parent himself.
The foreboding, Joy Division-influenced It’s Getting Dark, one of the final two songs written when a second lockdown was imposed in December, is about the reality of a lengthy marriage, sticking with someone through the toughest of times.
Bonkers lead single Bang on the Gong features Sam’s mum in fabulous, swear word-strewn form and is about bad behaviour – Sam’s own and that of celebrities he and Jacknife have encountered.
“My mum is a superstar,” says Sam. “It would shock people how we speak to each other, but that’s just our shared, dark sense of humour.
“I phoned her up and asked her to say what she did to me when I was a kid being an arse. We were laughing so hard because she had her dog’s bollock under her foot at the time. I’m not sure whether she was swearing at me or the dog. It’s a genuine moment that sounds like something from The Young Ones. I absolutely love it.”
The final song written was Transparency’s opener Keep Your Head Up.
“It’s about male friendship, not a subject you hear often in songs,” says Sam. “Jacknife and I leaned on each other in lockdown. In normal circumstances, I hope someone would have taken me out and after too many drinks, asked me what was wrong. Men don’t discuss their feelings enough. I’m proud that I wrote about two men just talking. That’s how this all started and why the album is called Transparency.”
Ironically for an album made quietly in lockdown, Transparency is begging to be played loud and live. Will Sam’s mum make it on to the stage?
“Ha, maybe,” he says. “She’ll make out she’s not bothered, but given half a chance she’ll be up there like a shot, swearing at me.”