Words by Miguel Banuelos
Photos by Gabriel Kuo
Glasvegas is a four-piece from Scotland with a penchant for 60s girl-group melodies, Jesus and Mary Chain buzzing guitars and dark, introspective lyrics. They have been praised by press in the U.K. and across Europe, industry legends and legions of fans, and now have finally made it to the U.S. We interviewed them after their first few U.S. dates to ask them about everything from their sudden rise -- and its business pitfalls -- to the reactions of their U.S. audiences.
MP3 Download - "I'm Gonna Get Stabbed"
Miguel: People are all about your lyrics. It's been a long time since I have heard that being said of a band. Why do you think that is?
James Allan: It's really hard for us to tell why. I don't know. I don't really know about other bands or what they are doing.
I guess there's a sense that you have something to say. There seem to be lots of personal attachment to the lyrics and the music. Is the U.S. press asking the same thing about the lyrics as they are everywhere else?
Yeah yeah, a lot of the questions are the same. For a lot of the lyrics and stuff, that really just comes from being quite a daydreamer. Staring into space quite a lot. And sometimes you just have some little thoughts in your imagination and maybe being sensitive to something that you see. I don't know how the songs actually come about. I don't know where they come from and how you incite certain thoughts in yourself that comes out in the form of a poem. I don't think it comes from some amazing skill or anything.
So what is the 'end' for Glasvegas -- what is this a means toward? What do these four people hope to accomplish by being in a band?
I don't know about the end, but right now it's really as basic as an urge. Certain things just draw you to pick up a guitar. Sometimes things just draw you, a lot of it is just instinct. Sometimes you'll get little ideas in your imagination, and you want to express those ideas. You want to get those ideas and take them from your imagination and put them on a record. And since we are in a band, we are putting that across in words and melody, but ultimately it's about expressing that little idea. And before you know it, you are sitting in New York and that's what happens. There are no grandiose ideas, but that end is immediate and informs your music and performance as well.
Do you pay attention to any of your press -- online or anything?
Sometimes people show you stuff. And sometimes we miss certain things. Obviously we can't see all of it. Usually I see things through my mum. When I see my mum, she'll have magazines in her bag and it will be open to the page that we're on. And she'll show me. But if anybody is really wanting to write anything bad, it would probably be better not to because chances are, I won't even see it. Channel that energy somewhere else.
But you try not to lose sight of the reasons why you are in a band and your agendas and that no matter what you are doing, if you are writing or making movies, you can't lose sight of why you are doing it. And if people have criticisms, it's not like we don't criticize ourselves. We judge ourselves quite hard a lot of the time. We have a pretty strong idea of who we are, but at the same time, that doesn't mean we are 100 percent sure ourselves all the time. But I think we have quite a strong sense of the reasons of why we are in it. And I think a lot of the reason is because we are friends who love each other, we have a great time, and for me writing the songs and the band performing the songs, they just love playing rock and roll music. And when we make that sound together, and write the songs, it's just about expressing ourselves. After that, if people think it's great or rubbish, you know why you are in it, and that almost of makes you bullet proof and invincible. Because you were never in it to really impress the world. You were only in it because of the instincts that were in you to write the music.
“It's not like we don't criticize ourselves. We judge ourselves quite hard. We have a pretty strong idea of who we are, but that doesn't mean we are 100 percent sure of ourselves all the time.”
What is your relationship like with your fans?
I consider myself a very human person, I like all human beings. It's nice meeting people and I like to show them love when I meet them, but I was never in a band so that I could meet millions of people. I can be quite happy just sitting at home. But I chose to sign a record deal because I wanted to put it out to other places and get it out to the world and let the words and the melodies exist in other people's cars and their houses and night clubs. But it doesn't mean that I want to meet everyone in the world and sit around and talk for hours about us. And it's not that we don't want to sit with people or sit with our fans, the connection between us and our fans is the music. I don't thank myself that much that I want to sit and talk about myself all night long.
Who do you think is going to your U.S. shows? Who are these fans?
When we played the Mercury Lounge, it was quite a varied crowd.
Rab Allan: I spoke to a few people and it seemed to be like half and half. Like plenty of people living here who are from Scotland. But there were quite a lot of American people, which was quite nice.
JA: Even the actors that showed upâ€¦ we were quite disappointed that we didn't know that the guy from Anchorman was there, Paul Rudd.
RA: And Mark Ronson.
It didn't seem as much of an industry show, especially for a Mercury show.
JA: I think the label made sure that they only bought few tickets. They wanted to let the fans buy tickets. And you can obviously tell when its just fans of the band. It was a nice night and quite a long night.
RA: It looks nice in New York when the sun comes up.
How were the D.C. and Baltimore crowds?
Caroline McKay: Everyone was really welcoming and warm, which is just mad.
RA: That's the thing, they were singing the songs, like in New York they were singing "Daddy's Gone." It was the same thing, which is three-and-a-half-thousand miles away, and we've not done much press, and people knowing your stuff is really nice.
JA: You can probably imagine how I feel. Naturally you'd have to have some sort of sick mind to think that would happen. You couldn't even calculate that that would happen. You'd be some sort of mad sick genius to think it would. I'm not that clever. It's just brilliant though. We're lucky people.
How big is the touring aspect to the music of Glasvegas?
JA: Naturally when you play a lot, the song starts a lot smaller, as you get to play it a few times, you can grab it, kick it, punch it and you can make it more of a monster really, just through playing with each other. I don't know how long we'll want to do it, I just hope that, sometimes I wish this would last forever, 'cause it feels great but you just never know if you are gonna still be inspired to do it. We don't know if it's for sure or how long we'll do it. It could be really soon that we stop, or it could go on further. There are no guarantees. I said that to the band as well. If I don't really feel inspired, I'll not write. If I am, then I will.
It seems that there was also that kind of forethought with signing to a label. It wasn't a take-the-money-and-run kind of situation.
JA: The first time anyone showed any interested was in early November, and we didn't sign until mid-February. We wanted to give everybody a fair shake. It's like choosing people you are going to move in with. And they were all very sweet people. It didn't live up to the idea I had of record labels. Maybe the odd person, maybe. Most of the people seemed pretty human. But it just so happened that the label that we went with, it was just instinct.
Were there any particular personal things that were said or done that made the difference?
JA: Columbia had met us quite a few times before any other label. I think that that built up the relationship. Rick Rubin phoned me before any label, from America, and I was in Glasgow, I was unemployed at the time.
RA: We were just rehearsing at the time. In a cab coming home.
JA: I had just finished reading the Johnny Cash autobiography and that part with Rick Rubin in it. So I said, "You made that Johnny Cash album." And he says yes, and brings up some of our songs, 'Football Tops' and stuff. And I didn't know what to say, so I said, "You made that Johnny Cash album." I think that's what I said the whole way through the conversation. We met other people from the labels, and not just for me but for the whole band, it just felt right. We met Seymour Stein as well. He was brilliant. We just loved him.
Has the Alan McGee association become more positive or more negative now? There are some folks saying that everything is because of Alan, and then there's the other side where people are backing you and saying, Alan is very vocal and just happened to like Glasvegas.
RA: It's totally fine. I don't mind at all. Even if it was all because of Alan, which it's not, Alan isn't going to force people to buy the album. People are not going to buy it because of Alan. All he would have done then is give us a platform.
JA: It's quite a mad thing. He's just a brilliant personality. You get cynical people who say lots of things and others that will say positive things. I think he's just one of those guys who seems to be drawn to certain things for certain reasons. The thing is, we haven't had anything to do with Alan business-wise. Which I am glad about, because often when you get into business with people you will fall out with them eventually. It's like you may fall out with your mom and dad, but you never fall out with your auntie and your uncle. So that's why it's nice that it has never been like that with him. But I think Alan is really quite proud of it all, because he just said, "I don't know what's going to happen with all of this. But I really believe in this." And he'd phone me at like 5 in the morning and ask me about a lyric in a song on the demos and I'd have to explain lyrics to him. And he was just really enthusiastic which was really quite inspiring for me. And you know what, a lot of the things you're talking about, him talking about bands he likes and all, he really didn't have to do that. I know that he has plenty of other things going on in his life. The people who would be cynical about all of this are the people who would never do anything for free for other people in their lives. And that's why they think he must be involved somehow. They can't understand it because they would never do anything through passion or love without getting some sort of benefit. Anyone who would say that we are where we are because of Alan McGee, I'm happy they'd say that because I love Alan and I want Alan to get a lot of credit, and Alan has helped us, so keep shouting that. I don't need to take credit for this. That's fine by me. I'd be more angry if people are just saying Alan is a dick or whatever, because I love the guy.