Interview: Civil Twilight Guitarist Andrew McKellar Discusses Gear and ‘Holy Weather’
Civil Twilight released their new album, Holy Weather (Buy it on iTunes), March 26 on Wind-Up Records.
The album, the sophomore full-length by the electro-alternative three-piece band from Cape Town, South Africa, is packed with lush guitars, dense bass, percussion and silky vocal harmonies.
Civil Twilight guitarist Andrew McKellar recently sat down to discuss the beauty of simplicity, the band’s cultural heritage and the speed with which they recorded Holy Weather.
GUITAR WORLD: What was the inspiration behind Holy Weather? Tell me a little bit about the philosophy and drive behind it.
We had a few habits we wanted to break on the new record. We did a lot of jamming on the first record, so we kind of wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit and try something new. For me, it was getting rid of a lot of pedals. I use a lot of delay, so I wanted to try to smooth out the sound of all of it. We also started listening to a lot of electronic British music. We basically wanted to simplify things and get things more compressed as well as just challenge ourselves with stuff we’ve never done before.
A lot of people have compared Civil Twilight to Muse and U2, so it's interesting that your intention was to simplify your sound, given that U2 are very delay-heavy and use a good deal of technology. Who are your personal influences, and what were you listening to before writing and recording the new album?
Oh wow. It’s funny — I’m not actually even a U2 fan [laughs]. I guess they influence a lot of bands, because they started that whole shoegaze sound, in a sense. Anyway, I was listening to a lot of The National, a band from New York. I was listening to Metronomy from England, some Chairlift; a little more of those kind of indie-British bands are what inspired me a little bit.
Holy Weather is an album with a rare quality: It flows to the extent that if interrupted while listening to it, one almost has to start the entire album over rather than continuing where they left off. The album is a sequence. How did you go about creating something like this? What it written in a specific order?
We had been touring a lot last year and never really had much time to write, so we pretty much wrote the whole record within the span of about two weeks. Maybe that had something to do with it. We just had a very small window of our lives just captured. We recorded really quickly as well. In London we recorded a song a day from start to finish. We wanted to make big decisions very quickly and just get it done so that by the end of the day, we had a final product and could listen to it.
It was one of the best ways to work, because you don’t second-guess yourself. You just commit to an idea. That might be one of the reasons for it flowing so well.
You guys are originally from South Africa. Are there any elements of South African culture that come through on this album?
I think it comes through subconsciously, for sure. We were listening to a lot of British music, because we have one radio station in Africa that would play music — rock music at the very least. There was no way of hearing music from the rest of the world, so we would hear a lot of British bands. We were definitely influenced by it.
You’re not really conscious of it. It’s just something that inspires you and comes through your sweat and hard work. You don’t really make an effort to be like someone else. We were inspired a lot by African jazz, just things that are all around you when you live in a third-world country, you know? I think we can’t really escape it. It’s something we got inspired by at a really early age. Hearing local music — it’s just so simple and part of our blood, I guess.
Tell me a little bit about the writing process, especially with having a close relative — your brother — in the band. What are the dynamics between you guys?
We actually really love each other and respect each other. I think it helps that we’re so different. He is definitely the most talented musician in the band, and he has the amazing ability to listen to something and capture it very quickly. I play more out of emotion, so we kind of feed off of each other. We bicker, but that’s just part of being brothers [laughs]. We’re best friends in a sense.
As far as writing this record, he actually did a lot of it himself. He writes when we have short breaks from the road. He gets on a computer and arranges the bass and drum parts, and we all chime in later, unlike the first record, which was all of us just jamming in a room.
A lot of bands are writing music on their laptops. Do you think technology has benefitted the band and maybe also removed some of the authenticity of the writing process?
That’s a great question. Wow. It’s interesting to me. We recently got a lot of new gear, and in a sense we’ve just complicated a lot of things [laughs]. Some of my favorite shows, to be honest, are when we all just plug into the nearest amp and just put on a show. I think it’s all new for us; some kids grow up on the computer and understand it so well from the beginning. There’s a science to the way they write music. We’ve always just jammed. That’s part of our instinct. It’s helped a little bit, but I think that sometimes simpler is better.
Speaking of new gear, what are your preferences as of right now?
I change it up all the time, but I use a Strymon Timeline delay. It’s really cool. I am also using the blueSky reverb pedal. I have a POG, and I have an old Rat pedal I’ve been using for a few years.
As far as guitars go, I have an old ’79 Gibson Deluxe, which is one of my favorites. Some crazy fan gave me a ’72 Jaguar, which sounds pretty rad too. I also use a Tele Deluxe for the humbuckers.