Glasvegas' James Allan

Glasvegas' James Allan
As Britain struggles to maintain its reputation as the music Mecca it's been for the last four decades, the odd band, here and there, has managed to trudge through the miserable glut of Libertines, Radiohead and Amy Winehouse wannabes. Ask any UK mag and they'll declare 2008 as the year Glasgow, Scotland's Glasvegas, a band that took some very basic elements - a nod to '50s rock'n'roll here, some pointers from Phil Spector's famed "wall of sound" technique there, and some shimmering shoegaze-y reverb for good measure - and ran with it. They rose out of independent anonymity thanks to a brilliant single, "Daddy's Gone," and in turn, earned the praise of legendary tastemaker Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, and eventually went on to record an album that this past September entered the UK charts at the astonishing position of number two.

Exclaim! caught up with the band's piss-taking front-man/songwriter James Allan to discuss his thick accent, why we shouldn't care about whether his lyrics are biographical, and why being in the "best band in the world" isn't important.

I love how simple you've made your musical influences: Elvis Presley, Phil Spector and Creation Records. I think it really sums up your music. Was that the point?
Not really. I think the Creation Records thing was more to do with honouring Alan McGee, to be honest. I thought that’d be a nice little touch. Elvis Presley and Phil Spector, yeah, that’s taste. I like Elvis probably more than I do any other artist. I don’t think it directly affects the music, but you can be the judge of whether you think it does or not.

I think with the Creation Records thing, the way you use tones and effects like reverb with your guitars, it reminds me of some of the shoegaze acts that were on Creation at one time.
Yeah, it could be. I was trying to make a guitar sound like an orchestra, I wasn’t trying to make it sound like Creation Records or anything, but if they share that similarity that’s just how it happened. Again, it’s pretty hard for me to describe to people what our music is because it’s not up to me. I just try to make it sound like what I had in my head. After that, I guess, however it sounds is in the ear of the beholder. When you listen to it, you’ll have your own ideas, but it might not be up there with what I was trying to do, y’know?

I’ve played the record for people and they’ve had difficulty deciphering your lyrics because of your thick Glaswegian accent...
What, can you say that again? Sorry.

Some people have said they’ve had difficulty deciphering your lyrics because of your thick Glaswegian accent.
Sorry, I can’t understand, can you say it again?

[Laughs] I get it. I suppose you’re having the same problem with my Canadian accent.
Yeah, I’m only joking [laughs]. Just trying to take the piss.

To be honest, though, I can think of more Scottish artists who don't emphasize their accent when they sing. Was this a conscious effort on your behalf or is that just how it comes out?
I’m really confused by why some of them sing in very vague American accents, I don’t really get that. With the band, I’ve never really went along with things, like that’s the way it is so I’ll do that as well. That’s not really my personality. There are a few different reasons, like I find the Glaswegian accent to be so beautiful, y’know? It would be to our detriment if I sang in one of those vague accents. I choose not to opt out. And I understand why some bands have done it, and I think they should opt out if that’s what they feel comfortable doing. But I would never feel uncomfortable with my Glaswegian accent.

There are a lot of stories in your lyrics. Do you write from a biographical perspective?
What difference to you would that make?

Personally, I'm not sure. But it’s important to other people.
Well, you’d better give me a reason or else I’m nae gonna give you an answer [laughs].

[Laughs] Well, I suppose I’m asking because as the listening public, we’re always interested in learning more about the artist.
Exactly. Because the public always wants to know more and more. But do you really want to know more? I don’t think you personally, or anybody else in the public, whether it be a fan or the rest of the band, I don’t think anybody does really want to know. D’ya know what I mean? And I think in the songs, they’re so unsubtle and not very vague that there’s not much left to the imagination. I think if I was to talk more about how autobiographical they are… I don’t think it’s really needed because there’s enough information already there. I made the record as an artist and kinda think I should just leave it there. Let other people use their imaginations a bit, y’know?

You use a rhyme from "You Are My Sunshine" in "Flowers and Football Tops." What made you add that to the end of the song?
All I saw was what I wrote, man. I couldn’t tell you an exact reason why. I don’t even know why I’m in a band totally. I think a lot of is just so hard to explain. Y’know, I don’t know why. That’s just how it was supposed to be. Listening to it now, sometimes such simple words put together in the right way can be so powerful, man. And that to me, "You are my sunshine,” and I don’t just mean Glasvegas doing it, I mean as a poem, that is a song. To me, that is what heavy metal is, to me that is something that’s hardcore. I guess it was just another heavy metal and hardcore element to that song. I think it was just meant to be there.

Was it the same using Beethoven for the song "Stabbed”?
Yeah, it was a lot of the same elements that I felt. I felt that was also very heavy metal. In my idea world, if I’m running a record shop and I went to a heavy metal section, Johnny Cash would be there with an acoustic guitar, and you’d get Beethoven and poems like "You Are My Sunshine,” and you’d get Glasvegas as well in an ideal world. That’s what I consider being hardcore. But that’s just me.

Are there any royalties to pay out when you use music by someone like Beethoven?
[Laughs] It’s public domain.

Yeah, I wasn’t sure. I assumed there must be some long-lost ancestor collecting money somewhere. But that’s good to know.
[Laughs] I hope not. We should double check that, but not as far as I know.

You guys were hyped beyond recognition over in the UK. How does that affect the way the band functions, when you constantly have people or the press calling you the greatest band in the world?
Nah, I don’t think of it in scales, as in best or the worst. The way I think of it is the general or most plain and simple stuff. I never think of what I am, it’s not up to me to decide what I am. I think it’s up to other people to decide what I am because telling people and giving yourself titles, I hate that. I don’t think it’s up to anybody to be doing that with themselves. I mean, I’d like to think that I have a good heart and that I mean well. But even that, I can’t tell you and guarantee you if that’s true. Best band? I don’t think about that. When I’ve got an idea in my head and I’m trying to put it into a record, I think about that a lot. And sometimes I know I can slip something deep into what I’m writing, I can feel that. I couldn’t even begin to think of a good or bad, best or worst, if that makes any sense.

There is a Glasvegas Christmas album coming out in December. What made you want to write and record one?
You totally know what I’m gonna say, I don’t know [laughs]. Everything, y’know. There are always probably other reasons, and I think it will make more sense when you hear it. I think I was just trying to reflect Christmas in my world; there are things that I notice and that I see, the things in my personality and my taste that make Christmas, and I was just trying to put them onto a record. Again, it will make sense when you hear it. It’s only a little short thing, 20 minutes long.

Did A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector have an influence on it?
I don’t really think that it did, to be honest. I’d have liked it to have, I wouldn’t have minded that, but when you hear it, you’ll notice that it… I can’t really directly link it to anything, nothing I can think of but there could be something there. That Phil Spector album is one of my all-time favourite albums. I’ve listened to it so many times, but there’s not a great deal of similarity between the two. You’ll hear it.

I read that you recorded it in a Transylvanian church. What inspired that decision?
I just got the idea in my head that it was meant to be, that we had to go and do it there. I dunno why. I guess as a kid I wondered what it looked like, and something popped into my head that said "Transylvania,” and I had to go and do it. So we got a little kinda gothic building, and a choir in Transylvania to sing on a couple songs. I’ll never forget it, it was a great experience. It was real.