WORDS & PHOTOS: GEORGIA RAWSON
Whether it’s in a stadium’s backstage dressing room, in a small theatre, or in this case, the tucked away corner of an East London brewery, somehow The Xcerts‘ vocalist seems to have a habit of bringing with him a level of warmth, belonging, and comfort to his surroundings. A simpler way to put it is that with confidence, and at times “a self-proclaimed cockiness that’s gotten him into trouble a few times,” it seems that Murray Macleod just never feels out of place.
As frozen fingers are soon thawed in the mahogany surroundings of the last pub not to be hipster-fied throughout Shoreditch, Macleod smiles and opens with an answer that not many often say when asked about the consistent change between records. “It’s like wearing a leather jacket for the first time.” He laughs. “You think you don’t look cool, but then you think fuck it!”
A leather jacket isn’t just what the vocalist decided to wear on the cover of their last record. With it’s layers of synth, pop anthems, and cinematically and equally heart-breaking choruses, fist pumping moments, and even a saxophone appearance from Black Peak’s Will Gardner, 2018’s Hold Onto Your Heart, wasn’t just coincidentally a timeless soundtrack for future Breakfast Clubs, Dirty Dancing, and lighting up sixteen more candles, but was in fact a time capsule of the band, both as people and as musicians, in this present time. It was more than accidental binges into badly made 80’s movies at 3am on Youtube that had inspired the shift for the three Scottish lads, but life itself.
“It’s like wearing a leather jacket for the first time…You think you don’t look cool, but then you think fuck it!””
“When I look back on the ‘Cold Wind & Smile’, I think a lot of people see that as a record we just made when we were young, and therefore were more ‘angsty’, and were more ‘emotional’. But that’s what The Xcerts was always about. It was about the darker moments and approaching them honestly. Whether it was the loss of a parent or that of a break- up, it felt like just a natural way to convey, and to still convey who we are.”
If you were to look at the beginning of the last decade, the early 2000’s great British breakthrough artists were all accomplices in conveying matters of the heart, as well as that of putting their adolescent pen to paper. You Me At Six, Deaf Havana, Lower Than Atlantis, Blitz Kids, and even Murray’s college friends and roommates, Architects, seemed to define the next generation of the ‘British rock band’ with The Xcerts patiently walking alongside them at their own pace.
“It’s a hard industry to be a part of and it’s hard to keep a band flowing and to make a living out of it.” Reflects Murray. “I think ourselves and Twin Atlantic have similar feelings towards the ‘rock scene’. Both our bands buddied up and became friends when we were young. We weren’t getting as much coverage as other bands, for whatever reason. We had a spell where we were feeling slightly jealous of what other bands were up to.” He admits. “We had to stop doing that, because it’s negative energy and we love what we do.”
“you can hear the weather. You can almost feel it”
There is sadly no denying that with the exception of Glasgow, that is “absolutely thriving,” and a place Murray believes to be an easier territory for new bands as, “they always have their eye on music,” Scotland has had less artists over the decades thrown into the British rock ring. But even now as the band find themselves based in the seaside city of Brighton, home is never too far from where the heart is.
“To be brutally honest, I feel like being from Aberdeen, it’s really hard to stir up any interest in what you’re doing.” Sighs Murray. But when reflecting on their now decade old debut record, In The Cold Wind We Smile, Murray warmly, and optimistically notes, “you can hear the weather. You can almost feel it, because that’s partly down to the fact it has ‘Cold’ and ‘Wind’ in the title.” He smiles. “There’s definitely a certain kind of coldness to that album, and I can hear it and I can sense it when we play those songs. It’s definitely because of the city we grew up in. I still say Aberdeen is grey and boring, but I’m so in love with that city. It’s part of my DNA.”
Ten years on, and at the end of an almost sold out tour in celebration of their debut, The Xcerts are far from holding onto the past. The last twelve months have seen the Scottish trio triumph across all borders, and not just geographically speaking. From supporting the likes of You Me At Six on the nostalgic Take Off Your Colours tour, to supporting the even more nostalgic Busted, it seems as Murray tells us continuously, but it’s this self-honest and rebellious approach that has kept The Xcerts afloat.
“I really like the idea of pushing the boundaries of simplicity; trying to simplify us musically and lyrically, but still being poetic and beautiful, and from the heart”
“You’re not going to get future festival headliners without giving the younger generation the chance, and those outside of usual genres. A really good example was when I went to Reading (Festival) this year and Billie Eilish was on…she had the biggest crowd they’ve ever gathered at Reading mid day. They gave The 1975 the chance to headline, it was incredible. And well us…” Murray pauses, before once more launching into laughter. “Yeah, well no comment.”
It’s this level of confidence, outlined with a sense of humour balanced between sarcasm, and optimism that makes Murray and his fellow band mates, bassist John Herron, and drummer Tom Heron so infectious. It’s a realness that translates openly and honestly into their records. “First of all, I’ll happily admit I have an ego, and I can be slightly difficult to work with. I can be the most anxiety-ridden, insecure guy; it’s about balancing it out.” Smirks Murray.
Moving in the direction of pop music, something Murray whole-heartedly declares as, “no longer being a dirty word,” sooner or later the wall of clichés was going to be ran into. “The ‘L’ word (love), especially in current dating is something no one dares mention.” Contemplates Murray. “I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve broken hearts. But it’s kind of crazy isn’t it? How it all works these days? Fascinating even.” And whilst the swooning love songs of Hold On To Your Heart may have seem rather apparent in the lyrical content, Murray explains that the concept of honestly portraying all aspects of love, from platonic to romantic, has always been burrowed within The Xcerts. “I really like the idea of pushing the boundaries of simplicity; trying to simplify us musically and lyrically, but still being poetic and beautiful, and from the heart. We’re definitely, definitely striving for that.”
“The day that we think we haven’t presented the best record we could possibly make, that’s the day I’m out”
With a band like The Xcerts patience well and truly has been a virtue, one of which has been embraced alongside moments of reflection of both personal and professional growth during the longer waiting periods. As Murray continues to smile and narrate the past decade there isn’t a sound of frustration, doubt or negativity to be found, but rather the voice of three men who have had the rare ability to understand what it truly means to learn, both about life and themselves. “That whole realness, I guess that became more apparent on our first record, I was so young. Some of the songs on that record, I wrote when I was 17 so there’s not much thought there about if it’s going to connect on a bigger scale. I just purely wrote for me and my friends. I didn’t really know what my voice was at that time, but now, after these 10 years, I can say, I guess that is my voice.”
The last 10 years have been momentous for not just The Xcerts, but for British music. The small island has conquered festival headline slots, stormed the radio charts, and once more given us a generation of timeless records. Whilst The Xcerts may only be coming up above the waves, it was never a matter of drowning for the underdogs, but going with the currents with an un-apologetic approach in being both true to themselves and their music.
“We’re still super proud we’re still a band…that’s remarkable in itself.” Rejoices Murray. “We’ve got a long way to go but for us, it’s always been the case of working hard. The day that we think we haven’t presented the best record we could possibly make, that’s the day I’m out.”