Civil Twilight

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Civil Twilight

It’s a believable sifting. When Steve McKeller says that Civil Twilight whittled down 50 songs to the 11 that appear on Story of an Immigrant, it’s a believable number given just how well curated the final mix sounds. From “Oh Daniel” to “Love Was All That Mattered,” the South African band (who now live stateside) recently released their finest work yet, a well-crafted set of songs marked by a sincerity of emotion and narrative.

To hear Steve explain, it’s the result of an organic sifting process to see not only what’s working for all involved, including producer Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective, Reptar), but also what’s providing healing for the band. It’s an interesting term, so we’ll let Steve explain. If nothing else, it’s worth listening for yourself if you’ve yet to check out a band filled with promise for that rarest of combinations: substantive mainstream appeal.

Stereo Subversion: Before we get to the album, which I’ve really enjoyed front to back, I wanted to ask about leading in to a third release. You’ve got two full cycles of writing, recording and supporting an album. Are you where you thought you’d be? Is that something you even worry about?

Steve McKeller: Every band has ideas about how they want to be perceived. At the end of the day, you have to just not give in to what is happening around you. You have an idea of what you want to create, but you don’t have control over it. You don’t have control over how you will be perceived, I guess. We have just tried to accept that; we’ve just tried to fit “us”, and we can’t really change the way we play. The idea of what we want this to be, how the record turns out in terms of it’s direction, the themes and stuff, they all just kind of appeared. All these songs, they just appeared.

SSv: So it sounds like a completely organic approach.

Steve: Yeah. When we started writing, we just threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. The songs that we felt were strongest went on the album. We wrote like 50 songs for this, so there were a lot of choose from. Once you’re in the studio, you’ve got these songs with a producer saying, ‘Oh I really like this one. Let’s try this one.’ But it’s one that’s been sitting on the back shelf for three months, and you just pull it out and dust if off and next you make something out of it. That’s kinda our mentality in the beginning. Suddenly you just have a direction. You can’t really be controlling about it.

SSv: What do you do with the cutting room floor? I talked to an artist the other day who said that he deletes everything after each album so he’s forced to have a clean slate. It’s the first time I’ve heard something like that.

Steve: I think it’s a quote from Andrew Bird, where he said this idea that if you get a melody and it gets lost, it will come back to you in awhile. It’s a crazy idea, but I tend to believe that any song we create has to form something, some goodness. It may not be something that you present to the world, but it is something that has changed us, that we created. We have all these songs with bits in them; there may be a bridge in it or a chorus that makes it into the next record. I’m glad we had these, because we had to wade through all those songs to get to the ones on the record.

SSv: Do you return back to that stuff? Do you find yourself flipping through through old ideas to see what was there?

Steve: I do, for sure. And also, I just have a good laugh! [Laughs] No, its fun. It’s a fun thing about that. They’re frozen. They are bits of emotions from the time, whether they are used or not, it is great to have them. I said that the other day, that a song survived. I found a demo that we had made, and I was like, ‘This sounds good, guys!’

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SSv: When you stepped back from the songs that seemed to be the ones on the album, did you notice common threads woven into several of them? Are there things that emerged and surprised you?

Steve: Yeah, for sure. That’s the beauty of music, and what we do. I think songs are strange things. They’re weird and cryptic and spiritual, and the thing I’m finding out — and I’m finding this out myself — is that a lot of them are songs that I feel like I’m getting healed by them. It sounds weird, but I’ve found that in a strange way. There’s always things that come out that you aren’t looking for. But especially when people listen, they’ll say something and you’ll think, ‘I never heard that.’ That’s really cool.

SSv: When listening to the record, it feels like the title track is the cornerstone. Is there a story there?

Steve: Yeah, you know what? I look at it now and I think it can be dissected from so many angles. I’d watched a movie about a fictional character, and then I realized I was actually writing about it. I’m taking a lot of the experiences we have had as a band and putting them in this song. It became lyrical, and the song gives me a feeling that’s really hard to describe. That opening riff and the opening line… I just kind of ran with that.

SSv: How is the new material playing out?

Steve: We are in Pennsylvania right now, and the [new material] is playing out amazing. When we were rehearsing, I knew it would be good. But you just never know. I don’t know, it’s just nerve-wracking thing, if people will like it. So far, the response has been really good, and surprising. Really encouraging. I think, again, you just don’t know how people are going to take it.


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