MUSIC INTERVIEW: The XCERTS
Photo Credit: Zak Pinchin
For the longest time, The XCERTS have been your comfort blanket. From their first album Scatterbrain through to their third album Hold On To Your Heart, this band have been the comforting hug you’ve always needed when you’ve suffered the pain of love, loss and heartbreak. You can deeply relate to their heart on their sleeve songwriting, whether that be the warm fuzz of their guitars or vocalist Murray MacLeod’s dulcet, emotionally driven tones. But as The XCERTS approach the release of their fourth studio album LEARNING HOW TO LIVE AND LET GO, the Brighton-by-way-of-Aberdeen trio are putting a lot of life lessons into perspective, with a punk driven, don’t care attitude that allows ego to take over briefly, before negative emotions are let go of and buried deep.
We spoke to MacLeod ahead of the album, to discuss their collaboration with life-long friend Sam Carter, coming to terms with toxic emotions and finding peace in the chaos of life.
We think a good place to start would be with your lead single GIMME, as it’s the first bit of new music we’ve heard from The XCERTS since 2019’s Wildheart Dreaming. Sonically, GIMME really captured our attention, as it gives off unapologetic punk vibes, a complete overhaul of the sound of The XCERTS. Sonically, were there any inspirations? Whether that be from a band or a genre, because GIMME really represents a rebirth of The XCERTS we have never heard before?
One of the biggest inspirations for GIMME was from Pharrell actually, but at the same time it’s almost like we wanted to do our own version of Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani. So we’ve had this idea for quite a while, but we almost had this fear of doing it and that it wouldn’t feel authentic. We were scared about bringing in that influence and just having the dull fear of needing to stay in our lane for people to still like us, then pre and post-COVID our mentality completely shifted and we quickly realised fear cannot exist any longer in the studio with us. That fear used to fuel our band, but then we threw it out the window so we could do whatever we wanted and we brought back that idea of doing a Pharrell type beat, with gnarly guitars over the top of them. But it was weird with this one because we didn’t really reference a massive amount of other artists, it was more about feelings and how the overall song would make us feel and with GIMME, it was very much meant to represent our new found freedom in doing what we wanted to do and that’s why it feels so bold.
Along with the release of GIMME, you guys announced you have now signed to UNFD, a label which has some of the best bands in the alternate scene from Banks Arcade, Ocean Grove to Thornhill and so many more – some of those bands we can see slotting into the sound of GIMME. We suppose that new direction of sound was a contributing factor in signing with UNFD? Because it seems like the band feels completely at home on the new label.
Obviously we are massive fans of what UNFD do and it feels like they have curated their very own large community. To have people who are passionate to work with a band like The XCERTS was really important to us going into signing with UNFD. I think the fact that UNFD signed a band like ours is a testament to them wanting to do something totally different, and that paired with the fact that we wanted to do something totally different made for this match made in heaven for us right now. UNFD’s community is built upon a lot of heavier acts, but to be honest the conversations were never about the fact that we ain’t a heavier band, that conversation never took place and they just made it seem like it was something that never needed to be brought up, which was super refreshing because if it was something that needed to be talked about, it would make us feel like some weird social experiment for them. But we love so many acts on their roster, of course Architects used to be signed to them, we’ve got our friends Stray From The Path on the label too and they have this awesome new band called Slowly Slowly, from Australia who are doing an even more poppier project than what we are doing. So it’s so cool seeing UNFD naturally progress into branching out into different styles of music.
One track we are desperate to talk to you about is of course Ache, featuring your good friend and the mighty Sam Carter from Architects. It’s a collaboration we’ve been waiting years for as we’re such a massive fan of both of your bands. Your friendship goes back nearly two decades, as obviously both of you have spent the majority of your lives growing up in the Brighton music scene, discovering each other’s bands early on and from that moment being perhaps each other’s biggest fans. Of course you guested on Architects’ Youth is Wasted on the Young back in 2014 and now, almost a decade later, we are finally hearing Sam on a The XCERTS track. We suppose the question really is, why now?
We had discussions with getting Sam on our record There Is Only You, which was released in 2014 around the time I sang on their record. But it felt like with There Is Only You, and we spoke about it again on Hold On To Your Heart, from a lyricism point of view, both of those records are really personal albums to us as a band and I didn’t want the narrator to have a different voice other than mine. It does sound a bit narcissistic, but it just felt right for two such personal albums to just have my own voice on them. But on this new record, it’s a much more collaborative project and there are so many stories, people and friends within this record that I sing about, that I absolutely needed another voice to help with the narration of that. There are other people that sing on the record and other people that play instruments on the whole album, so it was important that it felt like there was just more than one narrator on this one really, to bring in different points of view to the album.
It was also important for us to not just get Sam on the record to do what he is known for. I think it would have been super cheap of us to just ask him to scream on a heavier section of the song. The whole point of us making this record is to go against every natural decision we would have normally made, so it was nice having Sam on board to be a part of something he isn’t typically a part of.
Next of course we want to touch on Jealousy, a song centred around having an ego and a seething, bitter attitude. The XCERTS have always been a band that have proudly worn their hearts on their sleeves and prided their music on genuine heartfelt emotion, but Jealousy feels like a new found attitude. Where has that almost don’t care attitude and lyrically audacious side stemmed from, especially with Jealousy?
I think the attitude on Jealousy is a bit of a reflection of life really. It’s easy to be angry these days and for good reason, so I think the world at large has made me feel a bit more angry on the microphone, but with a song like Jealousy the attitude is coming from a place of ego death. In the song I sound angry because the feeling of jealousy makes you feel angry. I never once thought that I was a jealous kind of guy until a really, really troubled and toxic relationship, and it turns out I am and that was the first time I truly experienced anger within jealousy. But obviously I sung this song after those events, and looking back now I think that attitude comes because I felt annoyed I could ever feel like that, because the whole record is heavily centred around self-acceptance and learning how to live and let go of these things that are painful. So a lot of the themes of Jealousy are about ego death, and singing it after all of that happened made me look back and think you idiot for being a version of yourself that should never have existed.
Quickly touching on the upcoming album just to finish – that title alone is a statement of intent and does all the talking for the themes and lyrics that the record entails. Talk to us more about that title and if you think thematically and lyrically it really represents the meaning of this release.
The album was actually meant to be called something else entirely, but our management at the last minuet proposed the question and asked if it was the correct title. So I went back and listened to the record and the phrase learning how to live and let go pops up twice on the album, on Ache and Drag Me Out. When I listened back to the record, and knew the theme of the album is that of acceptance, I listened to it with fresh ears and a new perspective after I spoke to our management. I like the fact that we went with the word learning in particular, rather than learned because it’s an ongoing process for everyone in life who is trying to come to terms with certain situations, feelings or trauma. For a long time I’ve felt like I’ve spent my entire life searching for answers to unattainable questions and it’s just this endless loop of nothingness and desperation of trying to find an end goal, but you’ve just got to learn to let it all ride and enjoy what’s going on in the present, and that all feeds directly into the record title. This record is very much about getting rid of the negative energy and being at peace with yourself, and if I can find peace within chaos then I’m happy.
Interview by: Katie Conway-Flood
Tue 3rd – SOUTHAMPTON – The Joiners
Wed 4th – EXETER – Cavern
Thu 5th – LONDON – Lafayette
Sat 7th – NORWICH – The Waterfront Studio
Sun 8th – BIRMINGHAM – Hare & Hounds
Mon 9th – LEEDS – Brudenell Social Club
Wed 11th – MANCHESTER – Deaf Institute
Thu 12th – NEWCASTLE – Xerox
Fri 13th – ABERDEEN – The Lemon Tree
Sat 14th – GLASGOW – St Luke’s
Tickets are on sale HERE.
You can also see The XCERTS at 2000trees Festival and Belladrum Festival.