Picture the scene. You’re at a festival, stood in a muddy field with hundreds, maybe thousands of strangers. On stage, one of your favourite bands is playing. Amongst the masses, you’re stood with your better half. In one hand, you’ve got a can of warm Carling. In the other – an engagement ring?
“She looked genuinely moved. Which is what you want, isn’t it? A yes and some tears.” Laughs Tom Heron, drummer in The Xcerts. I’m backstage at 2000trees catching five minutes with Tom and front man Murray Macleod, the pair reflecting on a loved up couple getting engaged during their set a few hours ago.
“They may have been behind the barrier when they did it, but it was absolutely our privilege to watch it front row” Smiles Macleod.
The set itself has since been nominated for a ‘Best Festival Performance’ Award at this year’s Live Music Awards, and rightly so. Not far from the end of an electric performance on Thursday afternoon, Murray called out on the microphone to one half of the soon-to-be-married couple to see if the deal had been done. An affirmative was triumphantly shouted back, sending the crowd ballistic.
Such a situation is unlikely to occur very often for artists not named Adele or Beyonce (and even then, fuck knows…), but for an Xcerts show it seems perfectly acceptable (and highly appropriate).
“…Especially in a time where everything feels very frustrating, confused and uncertain. To witness joy is like… that’s what we all live for.” Comments Murray. “Only for moments of just sheer happiness, and those two were so in the moment. Honestly, I don’t know if you could see it or not but they were just so in. I don’t think they even knew there was a band on stage.”
“It’s a first of actually happening, but there was talk of one last year as well at this festival.” Adds Tom. “…But it is odd that this is the second year in a row that we’ve played 2000trees and there’s been talk of marriage. Actually, I got married just after the festival last year…”
After their performance at last year’s 2000trees, a marriage was likely one of the only big-match-feel days capable of topping it. A definite highlight of the festival’s 9th year, the trio excelled in front of a giant crowd on the main stage. Tucked in toward the end but a regular fixture of their current live set-up, a solo performance of ‘Aberdeen 1987’ was an utter joy – a real heart-racer, thankfully captured in full here.
Though The Xcerts have been on the cusp of brilliance for years, their set here felt like a step up. A proper game changer. A year on from their landmark performance, it would be understandable to expect the pressure might be ever so slightly higher…
“I think we were…not worried, but maybe a little bit reluctant about playing in the first place,” Confides Murray. “…because we played main stage last year and I think we regard that as probably one of our best shows of all time – just because of the crowd and how we ourselves think we performed. Then we agreed because we love this festival and honestly, it was glorious and emotional.”
“We love playing this festival as well. It must be our fifth time, I think.” Adds Tom. “It feels like we belong here, every time. Even the first time we played here, we felt the love. We’ve played some pretty horrible festivals before, where maybe you get a good crowd or play a good set, but the vibe is horrible. A lot of people that go there are just there to get drunk or fuck people up. This festival was so cool, everyone’s really nice and chilled out. They’re all here for the same reason and they book just really good bands, bar none. Everybody here is great.”
Their glorious showing at 2000trees last year came half a year on from the release of their third album ‘There Is Only You’ – yet another game changer in The Xcerts timeline. Brimming with huge hooks and typical Xcerts-heart-on-your-sleeve emotions, their third album has since gone on to shape their live set, the title track often being the emotional send-home. For a lot of this new material, 2000trees provided its first huge audience.
“It was the first summer since ‘There Is Only You’ had come out, and we had felt a shift in progression in terms of people coming to our shows.” Comments Murray. “Then we got the offer for main stage and as Tom said, we love this festival so we were like – oh my god, yeah of course we’ll do main stage. Honestly, I don’t think the three of us expected anything, in all honesty.”
“When we know there’s a big show, we’re all like – oh my god, let’s have some whiskey and settle down. But when we turned up here, we were just super mellow, hanging out.” Smiles Murray. “Me and Jordan went and did an acoustic show before we played on main stage, then we line-checked and I still felt really like – oh, no one’s gonna be here. These 50 people that are here are going to be here. Then we went into the portakabin and sounded great on the line-check and it was like – it’s super nice that they asked us to be on main stage, let’s go do our thing. Then we walked out and it was like – oh shit… But, as surreal as it was, we have conditioned ourselves to play the same to a sea of people as we would to 20 people. It’s just nothing but 100%, you know? We walked out there as if we should be there. Not in an arrogant way, it was just like – we work really hard at this, so I think when we kicked in we felt very much at home. That’s how I felt.”
The first signs of There Is Only You arrived in the form of short teasers released in early 2014. With interest amongst fans well and truly piqued, The Xcerts went ahead and dropped the wonderful ‘Shaking In The Water’ mid-year. A summer single of mammoth proportions, it quickly cemented itself as a song of the year candidate for 2014. Having been off the release schedule for at least four years, it was a triumphant return from the trio and a release that established itself as one of their finest.
“It doesn’t seem that long.” Confides Tom, looking back on its release two years ago.
“When I think about the recording process, it doesn’t feel that long. But when we were in the studio, I remember every day vividly.” Comments Murray. “It’s really weird, ‘cus me and Tom were both going through some stuff individually and we were actually, funnily enough, both left alone – together.”
“We were both broken up with by our significant others during the time of recording. Then Jordan had to go and do something else whilst we were in the recording process, so we were left alone. It was weird, we just watched a load of films and drank.” Adds Tom with a laugh.
“…The second half of making that last record was quite like – blurry. That’s how I would describe it.” Grins Murray. “But we’re really, really proud of that record and we are really excited that we’re gonna make a new one.”
There Is Only You being almost two years old is a reasonably baffling fact, given that it only seems five minutes ago since a picture disc sized package arrived for yours truly at the Post Office! Since its release, The Xcerts have been here, there and everywhere, playing up and down the country and beyond. So it’s a relief that the band are on track to make a new record. Fans aren’t quite ready for the kind of wait following ‘Scatterbrain’!
“This time around it’s a little bit different.” Confirms Murray. “So we’re kind of working on stuff in our practice room and in the studio that Tom works at.”
Though we’re near enough alone, I’m told in reasonably hushed tones by Tom that the tracks are then sent to a “Producer Extraordinaire” for the necessary dabbles required. “It’s all written. I mean, it’s still being written.” He continues. “You don’t stop writing till the day you start recording, and sometimes during.”
“We’ve stopped putting a deadline on writing. We wrote ‘Kids On Drugs’ in the studio on a day off.” Adds Murray. “We’ve written a lot of songs, the most amount of songs we’ve ever written.”
With this being The Xcerts, their workhorse mentality won’t let them just focus on one task. As well as writing a follow up to the tremendous There Is Only You and being up for a Live Music Awards nomination, at the time of writing The Xcerts have just played a huge Glasgow show with Biffy Clyro and finished up a small run of shows with Motion City Soundtrack across the UK. As if it wasn’t obvious from their exhilarating sets year in, year out at 2000trees – the trio are working harder than ever. So how long will the wait be this time round?
“Honestly, if there was a recording studio I think the three of us would jump in there and make a record right now.” Grins Murray. “We just need to calm ourselves, but we’re very excited about the material.”