“I had to create some light to escape the darkness. The record is a celebration of life really, and I wasn’t really living.”
The biggest show of their career met with all the deserved grandeur. Near perfection.
Travelling across London during rush hour is never fun. The persistent mist of precipitation lingered in the air, met with the stink of stale tobacco, the wail of car horns pierce the eardrums of the many passers-by. Fuck it. This was not an enjoyable trip. In the distance, the glow of ‘SCALA’ stood strong amongst the corporate beaming of the fast-food joints that surround it. The glow brought warmth, I knew that the journey was about to be made worthwhile.
Before their show, I had the absolute honour of sitting down with The Xcerts to discuss their new album, the 80s and the pressures of making progress. A transcript, along with audio, will follow at the end of this review so be sure to check it out.
First and foremost, Scala is a very fitting venue and is incredibly suited for a band of this calibre. We knew going into this show that it would not be one littered with mosh pits and obnoxious hardcore arm swings – instead, we were in for a night of crowd singalongs, the occasional hip shake and all-round mutual respect. The various tiers became filled with eager lungs, chomping at the bit to chant back every lyric penned by the Aberdeen trio and when the band strolled on stage they were met with a roar of appreciation.
Wasting no time, they launched into their newest single, Daydream. The bright and hasty strum of Murray Macleod’s guitar instantly established the tone for the show – excitable and entirely jovial. The following tracks echoed this vibe. The degree of enjoyment that everyone was experiencing throughout the show was evident from the mere expressions that were plastered across the faces of all involved. The grins of the band members – relishing this opportunity that they had worked so hard for – the grins spoke a thousand words.
The setlist then began to introduce the melancholic side of The Xcerts, a dynamic of theirs that we love just as much as their exemplary pop-rock. Distant Memory is a song that I never expected to hear live. It felt as though the band had somewhat eschewed the majority of material from their first two releases (save for the obvious hits) as of late. Scatterbrain is a particularly morose album and one that I personally think is largely overlooked, perhaps because of its bleaker overtones. It truly was amazing to hear the guys cease the pace and poise themselves with the feelings of despondency with which they are so well versed.
First Kiss Feeling and Show Me Beautiful have not yet been released as singles, but I have no doubt that at least one of them will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Live, they sounded electric, just another indicator that Hold On To Your Heart will surely be a career-defining release for The Xcerts. Following on from the new, their set then reverted back to the origins, with Crisis In The Slow Lane – a standout and personal favourite from their 2009 debut album. Again, it was a genuine treat to hear this song live, as I never thought I would have the pleasure.
After another flurry of pop-rock crowd pleasers, the main bulk of the show culminated with a masterpiece – There Is Only You. The esteemed crescendo of this heart-wrenching ballad was the loudest moment of the night – every voice in the house was stretched to max capacity. Goosebumps. When the band ambled offstage, everyone knew that they weren’t done. Sure enough, in response to the cries for more from the crowd, they were back.
Aberdeen 1987 is always a highlight of the set. Oozing nostalgic naivety, the song will strike connotations of unrequited love and loss amongst even the most emotionally intact listener. For a song written by the then 14-year-old frontman, the poignancy of this track is remarkable. Ending with an entirely acapella rendition of the chorus sung solely by the crowd made for a special atmosphere – a tingle in the air. Finally, Feels Like Falling In Love (another new single) has quickly become a fan favourite and the fact that the song is strong enough to close the biggest show of their lives on is a testament to the direction in which this band is headed.
Big things are on the way for The Xcerts. I’ve said it before in recent reviews but this live show assures my predictions – these guys are finally on their way to where they deserve to be. Their newest material is genuinely A-list quality, and they have the live performance of bona fide rock stars to back it up. Absolutely outstanding.
MM = Murray Macleod, TH = Tom Heron, AJ = Aaron Jackson
To anybody listening to the audio – unfortunately, towards the end, the support band started sound checking so apologies for any annoying fluctuation in volumes. Enjoy!
AJ: I’m here at the Scala with The Xcerts. I’m with Murray and Tom, how are you guys feeling?
MM: Feeling good!
MM: Yeah, very excited for tonight yeah.
AJ: As I understand it’s your biggest headline show to date.
MM: Yeah, it’s funny we kinda topped ourselves because before this our biggest show to date was in Glasgow on this tour… and now we’re gonna top it – at the Scala.
AJ: Cool, any butterflies?
MM: I feel cool at the moment.
TH: Yeah, they’ll kick in shortly.
MM: It used to be like half hour before we went on and now it seems to be like two minutes before we go on like “oh my god!”.
AJ: You guys are seasoned pros by now right? How long have you been doing this?
TH: Too long. (Everyone laughs). Err ten years?
MM: Well, you’ve been in this band ten years. Myself and Jordan, maybe fourteen years.
AJ: That’s heavy. So how does it feel after all that graft to finally be here? You guys are stepping it up.
MM: Yeah totally, I mean, it feels like it’s taken a long time. We feel pretty deserving of it – not that we think the world owes us anything, you should not have that mentality with anything in life – but we’ve just worked really, really hard and for a while progress was always kind of in an upwards trajectory and forward motion but it felt like so slow.
TH: Yeah, the gradient was… (gestures a steep gradient).
AJ: I mean, speak to anyone! Like I’ve got a lot of friends who are fans of you guys and I know a lot of fans feel as though you are probably the most underrated band in the world. Like, fourteen years graft and I feel like your last album was absolutely killer but this is the album.
MM: It definitely feels like it. But it’s interesting because we have a really interesting fan base in that they want to see us succeed. With a lot of smaller bands the fan base feel really precious and it’s like “no no no I don’t want you to blossom”.
AJ: Yeah, like you want to keep them for yourself.
MM: Exactly. But everyone we speak to is just over the moon that things are finally happening.
AJ: Yeah, it’s overdue. So, speaking about the new album, obviously you’ve released two singles now. I’ve written about both of them and I think I gave the first one a 4.5/5.
AJ: And I think the same for the second? They’re both pretty fucking good.
MM & TH: Awww awesome man.
AJ: So the album is shaping up very well, err, plug it. Go ahead.
MM: Well, it’s called Hold On To Your Heart, it’s coming out on the 19th January.
TH: You’ll probably hear some more songs between now and then as well.
MM: Yeah, we’ve got more coming. It’s definitely a different type of record for us it’s definitely influenced a lot by the 80s like big stadium rock like back in the day it’s definitely like a nod to classic stadium rock records and we’re totally in love with it. I think it’s by far… I think we maybe had a brief worry after There Is Only You that we might not be able to top it just because we thought… I mean we worked insanely hard on that. Then as soon as we wrote Daydream it was like everything is going to be fine.
AJ: Was that the first that you wrote on the record then?
MM: That was the first one yeah.
AJ: So, it set the tone.
TH: Yeah, set the vibe.
MM: A sort of lightbulb moment of “oh, that’s got an 80s flavour and it feels really natural so let’s try and write the record in this vein” and then we wrote and we didn’t stop writing really. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
AJ: No doubt. Is this the most trying one would you say? Has this tested you the hardest?
MM: With what I experienced in my life and what I’m singing about definitely but for making it, it was really fun.
TH: Yeah, it was fun. I mean, I think we probably did more work on the mixes on this album which took a long time but I wouldn’t say it was hard for us. Probably more likely hard for Chris Sheldon who was mixing it.
MM: Yeah, he’s coming tonight so we’re gonna give him a big hug.
TH: (Laughs) Yeah and a big glass of whisky.
MM: Yeah it was fun, it was just quite a long… not a long process but it was kinda different for us because we were down in Brighton and we would go visit our producer in Dundee, work on the tracks, go back to Brighton, down some more and back up again. It’s probably our most well-crafted record. We definitely wanted to simplify so that we could add more layers and textures and like synths and stuff err and that was quite hard, that was hard for all of us, just chop, chop, chop, chop, chop – they’re very, very lean songs and it’s a short and snappy record. That’s what we’re digging.
AJ: You can fully hear the depth though like you said the synths really add a whole other layer.
MM: Well, yeah, it’s like if you listen to Tom Petty – he did that – everything was so simple so that you could layer it and hear every single word because he has a story to tell.
AJ: Do you guys have a story to tell?
MM: Yep, a big old story. We had to pull back so that the story could be explained, so I could basically make sense of what happened to me or what I kind of experienced over the past year and a half. Ahh, it’s a whole thing.
AJ: Can you give us a summary or nah?
MM: Ahh, just like, severe heartbreak and death really. (Laughs) It sounds absolutely miserable but our record is like…
AJ: Bright and poppy
MM & TH: Yeah exactly.
MM: I had to create some light to escape the darkness. The record is a celebration of life really, and I wasn’t really living.
AJ: Well, you’ve got to have emotional baggage otherwise the songs are just gonna be empty right?
MM: Exactly, yeah.
AJ: Well, I’m excited for it. You touched briefly on inspirations – is there anything aside from music, because you said Tom Petty… people say you look like Tom Petty.
MM: Yeah (laughs). I get that, ever since we’ve started saying “oh we just want to sound like Tom Petty” that’s when everyone’s gone “you look like Tom Petty”. I adore the man so I’ll take that. As far as inspirations like musically or do you mean…
TH: It’s films isn’t it. Films that we might not have been fully aware of when we were growing up but they were there deep seated- like the 80s classic John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club and…
MM: Sixteen Candles.
AJ: I sat down and watched The Breakfast Club the other day. I love it, it’s so good.
MM: It’s such an incredible film and there’s like a really quite complex film that’s not just a standard teen movie. There’s really, really deep rooted problems in those characters.
AJ: Particularly Molly Ringwald’s character – she’s got a lot of layers.
MM: Yeah! Completely. I mean, Feels Like Falling In Love was meant to be able to soundtrack the end scene of The Breakfast Club – that’s what we wanted.
AJ: I could see that.
TH: I suppose it’s like any good 80s or classic movie has the downs and then the triumphant ending – the light at the end of the tunnel. I suppose that’s how the record is as well. It has its ups and downs, it has its dark moments and then it also has its light moments as well.
MM: Yeah, that’s just life isn’t it? The ups and downs. It’s black and white.
AJ: Peaks and troughs. Swings and roundabouts.
MM: Exactly. I never really thought about that with our records, it was always just one tone and with this one there’s positive and negatives and that’s just life.
AJ: Very poignant and true. What would you say your favourite film is then?
MM: Of all time?
AJ: Of all time. Huge question.
TH: Easy. Blade Runner.
AJ: Oh nice, have you seen the new one?
TH: I have.
AJ: What would you say about it? Gimme like a quick little snippet.
TH: I would say… it’s a worthy sequel… to the best film ever made.
AJ: Nice. Yourself? (To Murray)
MM: About Blade Runner? I did enjoy Blade Runner.
AJ & TH: Nah about your favourite (laughs).
MM: I have my five.
AJ: Hit me with the five.
TH: The Notebook used to be one of your big favourites.
MM: Ah I love The Notebook.
AJ: I watched that the other night as well, I didn’t cry. I wanted to cry.
MM: I’d probably say of all time is probably The Goonies.
AJ: That’s a great film.
TH: Another 80s-classic right there.
MM: But then there’s also Rocky (the first Rocky movie), Dumb And Dumber just because, and err The Departed is up there. And Some Like It Hot – have you seen that?
AJ: I have not seen that one.
MM: It’s about a Marilyn Monroe movie, it’s like in black and white – is it 40s or 50s? It must be 40s. It’s incredible. It’s really just funny and hysterical. It’s pretty ahead of it’s time like you can see where Jim Carrey kind of based his persona.
AJ: Ace Venture is the shit right?
MM & TH: (Laugh)
MM: The first one! Jordan loves the second one but I don’t like that one as much.
AJ: The second one is really good as well, but the junior one? No. No Jim Carrey no point.
MM: Ew no no, it’s not worth it.
(OVERWHELMING RUCKUS FROM SUPPORT BAND)
MM: I guess that’s the interview over then (laughs).
AJ: I did have one last question. When all is said and done, how would you guys like to be remembered? What would you like your legacy to be?
TH: It would be good just to be remembered. There are a million bands who have come and gone even who were huge at the time who have just been forgotten and then there are certain bands who will be remembered forever.
MM: As a band, I’d like to think that we will be remembered for being honest and passionate… sad as bullshit and…
TH: Bloody good blokes.
AJ: I’ve been sitting here for like ten minutes with them and I can confirm that latter statement. I’m here with The Xcerts – bloody good blokes. Thank you so much for your time guys. It’s been a pleasure.
MM & TH: Thanks. Cheers.