Some music should be handled with care -- not because it's fragile or delicate, but because of the devastation it barely contains. That's the kind of music The Twilight Sad makes: With rumbling washes of droning guitar clearing the way, James Graham's Scottish accent sketches everyday scenes that bristle with nostalgia, introspection and cathartic release.
"It's not exactly a fun experience to go and sing all these kinda sad songs and personal songs, but I suppose it's a way of getting things off your chest," says Graham, via phone from his home outside Glasgow. "It's pretty draining, every night, trying to put across what the song first meant to you when you wrote it, at a live show." But once that hour-long set is done, "we're actually quite easygoing guys who like getting drunk and having a good time."
Instead of building a following in Scotland, The Twilight Sad almost immediately began touring the U.S., with help from its label, Fatcat. "We played three or four shows, and then we got sent over to America," Graham says. "We were never part of a scene, because nobody even knew who the hell we were." Pittsburgh witnessed the band's fifth show, in 2006, when The Twilight Sad played a handful of songs for a small crowd at Gooski's. "We were very young and naïve, I think," he recalls with a laugh.
The band's stunning first album, 2007's Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, both celebrated and mourned that youth and naïveté; 2009's Forget the Night Ahead offered a bleaker outlook, with a darker sound reminiscent of Joy Division and songs like "Seven Years of Letters" and "I Became a Prostitute."
"I don't really see us writing 'Shiny Happy People,'" Graham jokes. "I just like writing about the darker things. I just find it more interesting than someone banging on about how great their life is and how great everything is, because it's really not true." The band's signature '50s-inspired artwork, created in collaboration with Fatcat's Dave Thomas, forms a strong visual counterpoint to the music. "You maybe look at it the first time, and then you look at it again, and you're like 'well, that's a bit disturbing,'" Graham says.
The band has seen some changes since it revisited Gooski's in late 2007: Founding bassist Craig Orzel recently left and has been replaced with Johnny Dorcherty, and a fifth member, Martin Doherty, has been brought in to fill out the band's increasingly complex sound. The group has recently finished a 12-inch single, which will include remixes by fellow Glaswegians Mogwai and Errors, and is preparing to cut a new album later this year.
"Inside the band, there just feels a lot of freedom to try out some new stuff," Graham says. "But there's things about our band that we can never change: You're never going to hear me singing in a different accent, and we always like being pretty loud and pretty noisy. Those are things I don't think we'll ever be able to change, because that's who the band are. But we're looking to definitely broaden our horizons as well."
The Twilight Sad, opening for Mono. 9:30 p.m. Tue., May 25. Brillobox, 4101 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $16. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net