Interview with Murray Macleod of The Xcerts: “It’s just been 10 years of relentlessly working on the band”

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The Xcerts Band Promo Photo 2017

With 2019 marking the 10 year anniversary of The Xcerts debut album In The Cold Wind We Smile the band have put together a reissue of the album as well as embarked on a tour to celebrate the album. We caught up with front man Murray Macleod to discuss the album and the 10 year journey The Xcerts have been on since its release.

So 2019 has marked the 10th anniversary of your debut album In The Cold Wind We Smile, to get us started how would you briefly sum up these last 10 years of The Xcerts?

Murray: Oh wow, erm… tricky question cos you know that’s 10 years worth of life which itself is a strange thing. But I guess the best way to sum it up would be pretty relentless. Once we clocked that we weren’t gonna sign to a major record label on that first album, or the second album we realised that because this is what we want to do we’re just gonna have to work really hard at it. So I think yeah it’s just been 10 years of relentlessly working on the band. Working on our craft as musicians and song writers and just being on this never ending quest to become better.

Did you expect that 10 years later you’d be doing an anniversary celebration for this album?

Murrary: Well we always wanted longevity as a band but honestly at the time I don’t think we even thought about it. We wanted the band to last as long as possible but cos we were so young, I don’t think anything like this was ever in our minds. We started writing songs for that record when we were 17 so it was just a bit like “write songs, get in the van and go”. We were just so blown away about making our first record at the time. I think after we did the second record it started to become like “ok how cool would it be if we got to 5 years of the debut” and then when we hit that it became an end goal to reach 10 years of this album.

So how has it felt to revisit this album?

Murray: Nostalgic, like super nostalgic. I think the most important thing for the three of us in the band is that at the time the album never really got the chance to shine. It was so small and underground so we’re super happy this album is finally getting its moment in the spotlight after 10 years of working to get the band to this position. So yeah I’m still so proud of this album. We’ve been sifting through old photographs for the reissue, there’s so many in the reissue of that time. And it just brings you right back, it’s really bizarre. At times I feel like it was 10 years ago but other times it feels like it was yesterday

So those memories are still so strong…

Murrary: Yeah and a lot of those photos had been lost so it was amazing to find them all again. There were people and places that I’d completely forgotten about that had unknowingly influenced the record and then there they were again. I haven’t seen some of these people in like 12 years so it’s surreal to see them again now.

So like unearthing a time capsule?

Murrary: Exactly! And this record has always sort of felt like a photo album to me. Just constant snapshots of those moments. So it’s funny how that’s translated into real life of me having these memories sparked again by physical photographs.

Going back to what you said about the album having it’s chance to shine now. Did it ever feel like because the UK rock scene was so crowded at that time it was hard for The Xcerts to break through?

Murray: Oh god yeah, there were so many bands and we were right at the bottom of the pecking order. We never really got in with any of these bands. I think we used to have a bit of a chip on our shoulder about this. Cos like You Me At Six were blowing up, so Kids In Glass Houses and The Blackout. Then you had the older bands like Funeral, Hundred Reasons and Biffy. So many bands at the time and we just never really had our place with all of those bands. The ones that were doing well sat nicely in a particular genre whereas we kinds had hints of emo, a bit of indie and a bit of rock and pop. Now in this day and age genres dead, it’s ridiculous how those rigid genres were a thing for so long. So yeah it was a really tough and crowded time.

So has there been anything from the album you’ve looked back on thought you could have done that differently?

Murray: That’s another tricky one. I think I’d probably change something with all our albums whether it’s with the mixing or whatever. With the debut though I still think we could have added one more song. Or swapped out a song, that’s my only real gripe with it. But you know we were super young, it’s a really pure record and I think you can hear that on it. Everything is really raw and full of youthful energy. So looking back now I don’t think I’d change a thing really… Well maybe one lyric. I’m singing it now during rehearsal and thinking what the hell am I talking about?

I guess that comes from the youthfulness you were talking about. There’s a touch of naivety…

Murray: Yes exactly, that’s it. It is naivety you’re right. But I think that’s charming in a way.

I think often when bands look back on their older work they will see it as dated now but then that might be why people liked it at the time.

Murray: Yeah, I think as well if there’s just one or two lines that I’m not happy with then that’s an achievement. That I can look at a body of work and be like “I’m really proud of this and understand what I meant at the time”. If there’s only two lines that I’m not keen on then we did a good job.

So what is your personal favourite song on the album and what is its significance to you?

Murray: Ahhhhh… Erm I’d probably say it’s between two songs. It’s between Home Vs Home and Aberdeen 1987. Aberdeen is more about one of my stories whereas Home Vs Home is me and Jordan, it’s our story. That’s why it’s so important to me. It’s about such a tragic loss to Jordan’s family, about his father. So yeah I’d probably have to say Home Vs Home. I remember when I first wrote the line “I lost love, you lost your father” that was the first time I felt really confident as a lyricist. Putting something really personal and heart on sleeve out there. But still with a bit of poetry to it. It meant so much, it still means so much to the band.

So how did you go about deciding all the bonus tracks you’ve included on the reissue of the album?

Murray: Ok so we had an awful lot of songs. I think it was like 25 recordings and that’s including radio sessions, really really bad demos and some acoustic stuff. So basically I went through everything and had a quality control freak out. I took myself out the equation and tried to think is this enjoyable to listen to as a fan. I can kinda be like well this is cute but no, nobody else is gonna like this. So it’s kind of a real mix, some stuff that’s unheard before but stuff that is all to a certain standard. Like there’s still some pretty rough demos on there but we deemed it good enough to put out there.

So alongside the album reissue you’re doing the anniversary tour, are you excited to play these songs again live. Some I imagine you won’t have played in 10 years?

Murray: Yeah so the main thing about this tour is we are playing as a four piece. I kinda never realised how guitar heavy this album was until I re-listened and so we’re bringing in our friend Ryan who played with us on the Biffy acoustic tour. He’s a remarkable guitar player and singer so in rehearsal he really brought the whole thing to life. I don’t think we ever did this record justice at the time cos it was just the three of us pretending we were in a hardcore band jumping around, going nuts and crowd surfing. So it sounds how it should sound now. But yeah we haven’t played some of these songs in 10 years so it’s been interesting, we’ve had to rewrite a little bit. Basically we’ve straightened everything up. Like at the time Bloc Party was really big and everyone was trying to do that sort of thing. We used to over complicate everything so we’ve straightened it up a bit but everything that was the core of what people liked about this album is still there. I just think it’s like us as adults now playing that first album but it sounds great, I’m actually quite shocked at how good it sounds.

The response to these shows seemed so overwhelmingly positive, was it a surprise to see so many people have such a strong reaction to you doing this album now?

Murray: Yeah because like I alluded to earlier when we released this album it never really took off. I think honestly on this tour we’ve sold more tickets than we did on an entire year and a half album campaign 10 years ago. Which is insane so it felt so good for us personally. It meant that the people that really love this album got excited about seeing us play it and the people who have joined us along the way have maybe gone back and become fans of the record. So yeah it’s really positive for the three of us to see. We thought it was a really niche record and it still is but it’s nice to see that it has grown with the band, it’s lasted this journey with the band.

So comparing the debut album to Hold On To Your Heart, did it ever feel like this could be the direction The Xcerts could go in? Like releasing this really Springsteen influenced rock album?

Murray: No definitely not at the time. I think we’ve proven to ourselves that each record is its own unique thing. We kinda figure out what an album is gonna sound like during the writing process for said album. I definitely think there is a common thread through each album since In The Cold Wind. Even on some of the newer stuff we are doing which is radically different to what we’ve done. It’s closer to Hold On To Your Heart but still really different. But still I’m hearing some of the debut in it. It was interesting the other day after we finished rehearsal and we went straight into the studio, we’d written this new song and I was like it just totally reminded me of younger us. Like musically there’s just a constant thing that runs through our albums. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. Hopefully it’s that passion that was there on the first album that has just stuck with us. You can still hear that hunger, it’s stuck around. We’ve always liked melodic rock too, so that’s always gonna be part of what we do.

So has revisiting this album had any real impact on the writing for the next album?

Murray: Yeah but I guess more in a reactionary way. We’ve written a lot of songs for this new one but we really wanted to experiment this time. I mean we wanna try something different but it’s also just got us inspired to write the best pop rock songs we can again.

So I guess in a way this is sort of the conclusion to this whole album cycle for Hold On To Your Heart, what have been the highlights of this two year period for the band?

Murray: Kinda everything, it’s just not stopped. Just good times for two years. I guess the Scala show at the very start, that was the first time we’d jumped up to a bigger venue. The album wasn’t even out so it was crazy to see the impact that Feels Like Falling In Love had. And then again when we played Heaven in London, even though the weather tried to sabotage that.

I remember like 10 minutes before you came on and the room was empty and then suddenly filled up at the last minute.

Murray: We were having some real inner band problems that night and it was like “ah we’re done for, the album has just come out and its over” but then it all worked out. And then that tour we also played the ABC in Glasgow which was amazing. Just everything we’ve done has been great. The tour with Goo Goo Dolls was nuts, was a real dream come true for us. The You Me At Six tour was amazing, getting to tour with those bands and becoming friends with those bands. I think the entire album campaign has been a career high point for the band.

So after you’re done with this diversionary tour are you headining straight back to the studio to finish the new album?

Murray: So it’s been quite interesting cos whilst we’ve been rehearsing for tour we’ve been in the studio for the past two months, working out the album. As soon as we come off the tour we are straight back into the studio to finish. We’re taking some gear out with us on tour to record with as well though. We’ve been talking about trying to do two records…

I remember you mentioned about wanting to do two albums at the London show earlier this year…

Murray: Aha yeah maybe I shouldn’t have said it so soon because I thought the louder of the two albums was gonna be really easy but it’s really not. So yeah we’re gonna be straight back in and hopefully releasing a new single quite early on in the new year. So it shouldn’t be too long before we have something new out. We just wanna capitalise on the momentum we’ve got right now.

Finally to wrap up, if you had to pick one defining moment of The Xcerts between the release of In The Cold Wind We Smile and now what would you pick?

Murray: Ahhhh erm crikey… One moment in 10 years. You know what, it was probably when we first headlined King Tuts in Glasgow. It’s a 300 cap room and like I’d travel down from Aberdeen to Glasgow to see bands there when I was a kid. I always heard about Biffy playing there and how Oasis got signed there. So we played there once before to like 12 people and then once the album was out and we headlined it was sold out. I still have such fond memories of that night, I couldn’t believe it.

Well that’s everything really, thanks for your time

Murray: Thank you so much.

The Xcerts re-issue of In The Cold Wind We Smile is out now. Spin it below on Spotify or pick up a physical copy here from Amazon.

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