One of the wonderful things about going out to see live music is that you can never be 100% sure about what you’re going to see and hear. When I went off to see White Fever a couple of weeks back I had no idea about either of the acts supporting them that evening, something which I feel I could have easily rectified. However, I found myself thoroughly impressed by Twin Graves, a duo blaring out 80s-esque sounds that filled the room with nostalgia, synths and an unbridled energy. Having enjoyed their set I sought an opportunity to interview the pair and managed to arrange one with relative ease. We met at Shoreditch House for a brief chat, vocalist/bassist Zarah Lawless and I kicked off the discussion before the arrival of Jeremy Aris Polychronopoulos shortly afterwards;
Firstly, why are you called Twin Graves? I’m assuming that the fact that there are two of you has something to do with it?
Exactly, yeah. I think we were just playing around with names for a while and nothing really stuck. A lot of the lyrics and the content of the lyrics are quite morbid and pessimistic, and a lot of the songs are about love – not female/male relationship love, more about love in other relationships and families.
Not ‘eros’ love?
Yeah, a lot of the topics seem to be about family relationships and friend relationships so I think the graves were a symbol of family. We had this idea of grandparents being buried next to each other and an ongoing feeling of love and death.
So have the two of you come up with a pact to one day get twin graves?
No, we’re not that close!
I won’t pursue you on that! Your sound is very influenced, I have to be very careful how I say this – you weren’t born through most of the 80s at least.
(Zarah reveals her age to me and, being a gentleman-ish, I thought it best to leave out!) I missed out but I think we just listen to a lot of music. There’s a lot of current music but we are both massively influence by the 80s.
Who would you say are your favourites?
The Joy Division comparison is coming through quite clearly and they are one of my favourites, New Order, Depeche Mode… A lot of the more obscure post-punk stuff. I’ve been discovering some weird post-punk bands recently that I’ve really got into. We listen to a lot of different stuff really but we naturally always go for 80s sounding sounds.
That’s the sort of stuff you’ve grown up listening to?
Yeah, I guess, but I’ve gone through many phases – I was really into electronic music. Jeremy is really into rock’n’roll and 50s music and songwriting that comes from that, he loves Hank Williams.
If you infuse that sort of sound with synths, it might sound a little like what you’ve got.
I think for us the thing we love the most are just well written songs and great choruses, that’s what we’re striving for.
To have something that people can sing along to?
Yeah, and just the art of songwriting – just love songwriters, I don’t really care what genre it fits into, if you can write a good song I’ll love it and listen to it. So that’s what we’re striving to do, just write better songs and try to make it better than the last thing we did.
How long have you been playing together?
Well we met through mutual friends, Jeremy was in a hardcore band and I was in a songwriting partnership with someone else which was more electronic and pop so we’ve come from different worlds. This project came about when that band finished and the guy I was writing with moved away and we kind of naturally started writing together. It’s changed a lot.
Did it feel like a good fit straight away?
It’s definitely a natural fit because we agree on most things which is amazing. Most bands you hear about all these different personalities clashing but we pretty much agree on most things and that makes writing pretty easy and straight-forward.
That makes it a lot easier than if you’re trying to mix in too many influences, in which case a lot of the sounds get lost.
Too many members. What’s that saying?
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Exactly! It is pretty straight-forward.
On the members topic, why is it just the two of you? When I saw you guys live it relied quite a lot of pre-recorded synths and drums in the background. Was that an active decision?
Originally we thought we would have more members, in the future the only thing we’d add would be a drummer, but at the moment it seems to work. It’s also partly because of where we live, we’re in Hertfordshire so we’re not near any sort of scene and we don’t really know that many musicians so it’s also just because we haven’t met anyone yet!
There isn’t anyone you know playing synth in that area?
Well I started playing synth but then I realised I had to play bass. It got a bit too many tasks so we put some on backing tracks because that was the best approach. We’re pretty happy, as our sound grows we might need a drummer.
That was my only criticism of the live show, I like live drums but I think that’s more personal opinion than anything else.
I agree and I think it gives it that thrashier, more live experience but I think for now, and the stage we’re at, we’ve got control of everything and it still works but down the line I think… If there are any drummers out there!
Do you ever feel restricted by the drum track because you can’t mess around with the tempo or anything?
Well we’ve got our own weird way of programming things and there’s also something about when you’re not a drummer and you’re writing a drum track, you keep it more simple I guess. In a way it starts to have more of a drum machine feel, when I have played with live drummers before, they are the ones that can just go off the wall and they have their stamp on everything so we keep it quite contained because it works like this.
The one thing you did have backing you was the neon sign… Firstly, where can I get one? I’d love to have Ciaran in neon lights!
What colour would you choose?
I think a nice neon green.
I remember someone said to me ‘it would be good if you could sell mini ones’. That was purely the two of us wanting to do something for a long time so we started researching it and found that the most cost-effective place was up north in Bolton called Neon Creations. They do lots of crazy stuff. The only thing is that it’s a nightmare to carry around and to have a hard case to carry it around in costs a fortune so we have to have it in the back of a Jeep to bring it down!
A Jeep is probably a fair bit better than a 3-door car for lugging it around!
(Jeremy arrives and, after some introductions and conversation, I remember to start recording again just as Jeremy reminisces about the origins of the duo’s name)
Jeremy: How did that come about? The idea of being together, a bit cheesy. We were talking about grandparents insisted they were buried together. Some people think it’s quite morbid, I remember my mum being like ‘I don’t like that name at all’ but I think people can interpret it in different ways.
Zarah: Also we love using it, you know that song ‘Love You To Death’, it’s a serious name but…
J: It’s actually really positive. It’s like poetry, you can be intense with your words and say something really lovely, people might perceive it as negative but it’s not at all.
Do you think lyrics are more important than the music in what you’re creating?
J: Lyrics are really important to me. I love words, I always read and I love poetry. That’s something I always bang on about because I really want to make the lyrics right and get the message across.
Z: I guess it’s all about the message – if a song doesn’t have a clear message we discount them and so many songs that we write we discard because we come back to it and are like ‘is that important enough to be saying?’ or ‘is that valid now just as much as it was a few months ago?’
Who writes the songs? Do you have certain roles?
J: None of them would happen without both of our input but Zarah’s very good at some things and I’m very good at different things. Lyrically it’s usually me and I’ll come up with a riff for a melody and I’ll try and get a message across but Zarah really always makes everything come to life.
Z: I’m more the technical kind of things, programming and synths.
J: I’m like the vision and you’re the builder who actually makes it happen.
(To Jeremy) You’re the eye-candy on the stage… Anyway, I digress… Zarah was saying you were in a hardcore band before?
J: I was, I’ve been in a couple of hardcore bands.
What made you change to this sort of sound?
J: I think it was just a natural thing, just like when you’re a kid – when I was younger I listened to a load of punk and I was in a whole community of straight-edge punk, going to shows that were really high energy and really intense. It’s quite a positive thing for me, a lot of people hear music like that and they find it intimidating or scary but some of it is really great stuff and for me there was a lot of heart in that music. I’m into so many different types of music.
Z: You can talk about your influences as Ciaran has already asked about mine! I told him about your love of 50s rock’n’roll.
J: Yeah and old blues. 60s/70s pop my mum got my into like Beach Boys, so much stuff. A lot of people who talk to us say it really reminds me of 80s stuff. We played last night and 3 separate people came up to me and said it reminded them of Echo And The Bunnymen. Which I love! My favourite era, if I had to pick one, would be the 80s due to certain sounds, textures and just a mood.
Z: And you could get away with it! In the 80s you could get away with being that vulnerable and being sincere about it, it had an authenticity.
J: It was acceptable to just say something really massive.
Do you think there’s a bit more scrutiny now over what you’re saying? Some people seem obsessed with all these really little details, the question of authenticity has become a really big thing in certain circles.
J: I think so.
Z: I guess when you’re in a band now there are so much more avenues for criticism with the internet and all these blogs, there’s so much that wasn’t around then.
J: There was probably still so much around and so much competition but now you can be aware of so much more because of technology.
Are there any new bands that either of you are particularly keen on?
Z: We went to see Eagulls recently.
J: We never shut up about Eagulls! It goes with this whole thing that we met them and they’re nice people, they’re music fans just like we are so we got on with them really well.
Z: I just bought the new Hookworms record.
J: I really like Kurt Vile, I really like an album that you can listen to from start to finish and I feel like he writes albums like that.
Z: The War On Drugs. They’re just such good songwriters and they can craft a message and a chorus.
J: It has to have a bit of a struggle or a story for me. There’s some stuff that I can like the sound of the music and then I look into it a bit deeper, again it goes back to lyrics being important to me, if I can’t get that part of it… I guess there’s a time and a place, some stuff can just be instrumental and you can get into it.
Z: It’s the energy of the tortured frontman or frontwoman, they’re always the most engaging to watch and listen to and hear about.
Would you say either of you were the front person?
J: Like I say, it can’t happen without Zarah – on my own I’d be completely useless. I guess as you’ve done it on your own you wouldn’t be so…
Z: Thanks! There’s just two of us, there’s not any other people to hide behind anyway so natural the attention can’t go very far. Good question!
It’s just that with a lot of bands you get that dedicated front person though there’s always stuff like Yazoo where you had the keyboards and the vocals but both were very much pushed to the fore.
J: Yeah, Soft Cell were very much like that as well. There’s the technical wizard behind the keys and then there’s Marc Almond!
Maybe that says that he’s the frontman in that instance as he’s the one we can all name!
J: (To Zarah) You call me the frontman…
Z: Yeah but when I sing you call me the frontwoman!
J: It’s Twin Graves isn’t it? It’s two completely different things meeting and making one thing.
What are you going to be releasing soon? You’ve said you love the full album sound, is that what you’re aiming for?
J: I’d love to, that’s the goal, but I think it’s a while away from happening.
Z: I think when we do it we want it to be done on our terms properly so for now doing EPs and singles is nice because we can focus on them and produce them to the level we want. We’re a bit away from an album.
J: We could easily put an album out now and have enough songs to put on it but we want quality over quantity so to get that full album I’d love the idea of 10 songs that are all bangers.
You want to be confident in every last second!
J: Yeah, to get the thread going through, we’re still developing and still learning so singles and EPs seem like the right thing to do at the moment.
How many gigs have you guys done? Is it still a case of being new and working out what’s happening?
Z: Yeah it’s new.
J: We haven’t played many gigs at all.
Z: You want to play as much as possible really. The funny thing about playing live is that you learn so much more in that 25 minute window than you can doing anything else. It’s the best short burst of time, it’s a faff with all the stuff that goes along with it but we just want to play all the time because we learn so much. We’ll play new songs and see how they work and then we can go back and change them and keep improving them, it’s a process I guess. Without playing live it would be a bit pointless.
J: We just want to put out music, go out and play that music to people and for me the whole point is to connect with people because that’s what music has done for me. Speaking to people through music. We played last night, the people you meet give you a reaction and I love that. I love speaking to anybody about music anywhere so we’ll play, we’ll tour, we’ll do a bunch of stuff.
You’re enjoying what you’re doing?
Z: It’s also about recognising that you have to do your time, we want to make good music and you can’t really rush that so we’re going to do it on our terms. Originally when our EP came out we did get interest and we talked to a lot of people and really it comes down to us still being in the garage and still writing. We’ve worked out now that the best way forward is to just do it on our terms.
J: And to keep it DIY!
Finally, who is your least favourite cartoon character?
Z: I can only think of ones I like…
J: Were there any cartoons where you thought it wasn’t funny and just didn’t get it?
Z: To be honest, Superman does annoy me. Is that a cartoon? He could always fix everything!
What if someone has kryptonite?
J: This is where we start arguing!
Z: We don’t want to get into a big debate so maybe we won’t be able to answer. My favourite, does Pikachu count? Pokemon was my favourite!
J: It’s going to annoy me, I’m going to think of a great answer later… Cartoon Network, do you remember that? There used to be really crap cartoons like Ed, Edd and Eddy.
Z: Actually, I’ve got mine! Angelica from the Rugrats!
J: YES! And Tommy as well, what a cocky little shit!