South African natives Civil Twilight have worked tirelessly to make a name for themselves in the US since moving here over a decade ago.
South African natives Civil Twilight have worked tirelessly to make a name for themselves in the US since moving here over a decade ago. The band attracted attention early on with strong songs like “Human” and “Letters From The Sky” which led to their first album Human being released independently in 2007. From there, the band’s success continued until label interest led to them re-naming Human after the band and giving it a much wider release in 2010. A few years later, their second album Holy Weather capitalized on the gradual success of their first record and gave the band their strongest reviews and sales of their career to date. It might be easy to surmise what followed Holy Weather, but instead of just building on top of a well-established sound, the band gambled and set off on a new sonic direction that would give a lot more depth to Civil Twilight than ever before.
The band’s third record, Story Of An Immigrant (out now on Wind-Up records), is one that seems extremely new for the band, but has clear ties to the band’s history. Drummer Richard Wouters told us that early on, they found the new music they were creating was leaning towards all of their earlier influences. “Growing up in South Africa, we just heard a lot of ethnic sounding music or more ethnic influenced songs. African jazz like Johnny Clegg who was mixing sounds kind of like Paul Simon’s Graceland. He was mixing his vocals with more of a European sound for example. We just found a lot of those influences coming out in what we created.” From there, the album took shape and quickly became a quasi-nostalgic look back on the band’s past ten years in America. “We were looking back, but also looking forward in a hopeful way. The album all came from that. We ended up with this song ‘Story Of An Immigrant’ and it just fit the overall musical and definitely lyrical ideas of the record the best so it became the title track.”
Wouters remarked though that it was never a conscious effort to deviate from what made them popular over the past decade. “We didn’t set out to make a super experimental record. We just tried to make a good record with good songs that we really liked and liked to play. We never set out to make a massive artistic statement in that regard.” Still, the band did have to make the difficult decision to go forward with this new sound they were cultivating before recording. Migrating from the sound that earned a legion of fans is what’s killed off so many popular bands in the past and it was something Civil Twilight was very conscious of. “We definitely thought about it a lot and it’s certainly an issue for many bands. When you have a sound that’s popular and you veer off from it, who knows what can happen, but as an artist, you have to do it. You have to grow and develop. You can’t just stay the same.” He further clarified the importance of being able to create a music that was indicative of the band’s current mindset as opposed to just going back to the same formula, so to speak. It may seem like a huge risk, but according to Wouters, the band was taking a risk both ways. “Sticking where you are can be a risk too so either way you’re gambling cause you could criticized for standing still kind of. We just took a risk on the stuff that was exciting us then and we’ll see what happens. We’re still waiting to see how it all plays out, but so far so good really.”
After making the difficult decision, the band then had another obstacle to overcome: how to actually approach this music they were drawn to. “We had to realize it wasn’t always going to feel like rock and roll and that was hard. At the end of the day though, it all came together in a way that still felt like us even though it was a lot different than our first two records. It may not be rock and roll, but it felt good so we ran with it.” Ran they did, but they also were able to not stray to far away or make a record of completely conflicting ideas and sounds. “Our producer really helped us in this regard. If we were getting too wacky, he’d reign us in. He really helped us make the album as coherent as possible while also different than our past work.”
The end result, as evident on the title track or “Daniel” (one of Woueters personal favorites), is a bold and confident new chapter for the band that passes their old work through a fresh, new filter that really showcases who Civil Twilight really is. It’s different for sure, but as Wouters stated, “it still very much feels like Civil Twilight.” As they ready their next tour kicking off in Richmond tomorrow night, they’re excited to show off just how good these new songs are, especially in relation to their older songs.
“The new songs and old songs blend a lot better than I thought they would in a live setting, or at least they do from my observation. The sound of the four us just playing together brings everything together quite well. Steve [McKellar]’s vocals really work and it really helps to meld it all together. There’s definitely different flavors throughout the set, but we’ve also focused on the songs that we think are best together. We’ll play the songs that people hopefully want to hear, but we’ve also stuck with songs that make sense together in a live sense. I think it works and works well enough to make it the best show we’ve had so far. I’m excited each and every time we go to a new city to show it off and this will be no different.”
Civil Twilight plays The Broadberry Tuesday night as part of an XL102 showcase with Knox Hamilton opening. Doors are 7pm and tickets are $10 in advance & $12 the day of the show. For more information on the show, click here.