Civil Twilight is a four-piece rock band based out of South Africa and consisting of brothers Andrew (guitar) and Steven McKeller (bass guitar/lead vocals), plus Richard Wouters (drums), and Kevin Dailey (keyboards/backing vocals).
Their debut single “Letters In The Sky” from their self-titled debut in 2010, reached the top 5 of the Alternative Radio charts in the US in 2010, with their follow-up Holy Weather proving to be an equal success, thanks in part to their single “Fire Escape” charting at #44 on the Top Rock charts in 2012.
However, it is their 2015 release Story of An Immigrant (lead by their brilliant single of the same name) which may prove to be one of their strongest and best releases to date. Featuring a very personal story of the band’s journey to America, ‘Story’ manages to be one of the band’s most uplifting and well-crafted albums in their repertoire. Recently we had an opportunity to speak with drummer Richard Wouters about his thoughts on the latest album, as well as the band’s history. Read below.
AltWire [Derek Oswald]: Story of an Immigrant is literally that, a story told through individual songs. It’s almost compelling in a way that you guys came from South Africa to America, and the theme of a big “journey” is all over the album. When writing for the album, did you initially have the idea for it to be one conscious theme before you sat down to create it? Or did that develop as the songs came about?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: That developed as the songs came about actually. One of the first songs we wrote for the record was called ‘Story of an Immigrant’, and that sort of set the course musically in many ways for the direction that we wanted to go in. But we didn’t name the album until after it was all done, and we were looking over all the songs that we had. It just seemed to fit musically as well as with what the songs were communicating lyrically, and with our story obviously, of being immigrants to America. It felt like kind of the right time to highlight our journey in the songs, and the music naturally communicated that. I think both musically and lyrically there are a lot more influences on this record from South Africa and where we came from with the sounds, and the music that we grew up listening to. That comes through a lot more on this record than on previous records, so it made sense with the name, and we thought it would make a great album title.
AW: It definitely is and it’s our favorite album from you guys. It’s fun, it makes you want to dance….it’s colorful. You even included a uniquely colored vinyl in the release. In several ways, it’s the most uplifting album you’ve ever made. Do you feel the same way about it?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: Yeah! I do actually. I think it’s a more hopeful album than the previous one, and I really like that about it. We’re not really dark people, and we’re actually generally more kind of upbeat, but our music has probably leaned more towards the dark side of things. Which is funny actually, given the recent Star Wars movie.
AW: [laughs] Is Civil Twilight embracing the power of the dark side?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: [laughs] No! We’ve just leaned slightly that way with our sound. But yeah, with this record that was pretty intentional to embrace that ‘lighthearted’ sound and feel that we like. And also with that feel, a lot of it is quite African. The more rhythmic up-tempo, and upbeat moments that are on the record, a lot of that was influenced by the sounds that we listened to growing up in South Africa.
AW: Did you feel like the PledgeMusic campaign for the album was a success? It definitely was an engaging process with the updates on the record and the unique items (even demos on a cassette).
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: Yeah I think so. I think it was an effective way to engage with fans throughout the process, and in the lead-up to the album coming out. It gives people a little more than just the record. It gives them a view into what’s going on behind the scenes, and PledgeMusic I think is a good platform to be able to do that. It worked out pretty well for us I think, and hopefully, the fans liked it, but from our point of view, I feel it was pretty effective.
AW: One of our contributors is from Georgia, and he thought it was interesting that you recorded this album in Atlanta instead of Nashville like fans would expect. What made you decide to record in Atlanta?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: That was actually because we wanted to work with Ben Allen, who produced the record. He lives in Atlanta and has a studio there, and he pretty much wanted to work in his own studio and he asked if we’d be open to doing it in Atlanta. We all live in Nashville now, so we could do it here and there are advantages to working at home for sure, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of town and get into a new environment for the record. To get away from the distractions, demands, and concerns of your everyday life and so there’s definitely some advantage to that. We hadn’t spent much time in Atlanta [before] so it was definitely a discovery process for us, but we definitely had a good time. We really enjoyed it.
” We all walked away feeling really excited, and thrilled with the album and what we had created…”
AW: Sometimes producers can be intimidating to work with. Ben Allen has some pretty solid records under his belt, from Bombay Bicycle Club to Asher Roth to Animal Collective. What did he bring to the table when you worked with him?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: We really enjoyed working with Ben; we were looking for someone who was probably a little more hands on than other producers we had worked with in the past. Going into the recording process we had 40-50 demos to choose from, and we wanted someone who could help us hone in on what the best songs were. We actually had a trial day with Ben where we went out to Atlanta and recorded a song with him, to get a feel for how he worked, and how we worked with him and if we worked well together. He immediately had a vision and helped us simplify and get rid of a lot of the ‘excess’ stuff musically, and hone in the core foundational ingredients in the songs and what made the songs good. That was what we were looking for, we wanted the songs to be really good, and we didn’t want it to be too eclectic of a record. We wanted everything on the record to need to be there and to be saying something, and he had that same approach, so that made us work really well with him.
There were definitely times where he was very opinionated, not in a negative way but he has some very strong opinions, so there were times where we may have clashed a bit. But he was cool in talking about it, and all of us just wanted to make the best record possible. So I think it worked well, we kind of pushed each other and had slightly different perspectives and strengths, but it was a really good process. We all walked away feeling really excited, and thrilled with the album and what we had created.
AW: I remember when you released The Courage or the Fall to fans via email. I noticed you mentioned that the band had a lot of songs when you went into the studio. Is there any chance you may have some of those songs leftover that you might do something with later on?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: Yeah we do actually, and we would like to do something with them later on. I’m not sure exactly what either, but we have a bunch of demos and a number of songs that were recorded and fully produced but didn’t make the record. We’ll see! Maybe we can do another thing like we did with The Courage or The Fall. With that song that was something we just recorded and produced ourselves in our guitar player Andrew’s living room. So that was us just doing our thing, and it turned out pretty good. For what it was, I think it was cool! We love to write and to record and it would be nice to release some more, that’s a good idea. Maybe we’ll put some more songs out soon.
AW: One of our favorite releases of yours is the Holy Weather Remixes EP, because it mixes different genres of music with your original songs, but it doesn’t feel like too much or that it was overdone. What was the process for the EP like? How did you select these artists to remix the Holy Weather songs?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: You know your stuff [laughs]! Yeah, let’s go back to that one. That was actually a really fun process. We wanted to do a remix album because we hadn’t really done anything like that before, and we were already into remixes or at least that electronic type of sound. So the process for that was actually really fun because we had a competition where we released the stems for a couple of songs, and let a bunch of fans make remixes and give it their best shot. Then we listened to all of them and picked out our favorite ones. I think 1-2 of those we put on the remix EP, and then we got a few of our favorite mixers, just people that we liked to remix a track and produce some stuff too. The competition side of things was very cool, just listening to remixes of our songs that the fans had made. Wow, that’s been a long time now [laughs].
AW: Do you have a favorite album or favorite songs by another band at the moment?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: Well personally I’ve been listening to a lot more poppy stuff. There’s a couple of tracks from Justin Bieber’s new record that I actually like, and a couple of tracks from The Weeknd record that I like as well. There’s this one song that I think is amazing by a band called Niki & The Dove, they’re a little more indie, and I think they’re from Sweden. They’re kind of an indie-rock electro duo and they have this really cool track called ‘Play It on My Radio’.
Also Alabama Shakes’ record is good, Kendrick Lamar’s latest is very good. Lastly, there’s this band from Nashville called Myzica, they have a song called ‘Wait Just a Minute’. That’s all stuff that is worth checking out for sure.
AW: What’s next for Civil Twilight? Touring for the album in 2016…maybe a new single?
Richard Wouters [Civil Twilight]: We have a couple of shows coming up. We’re actually going to South Africa in March, and then we’re doing some summer festivals in America which we’re pretty excited about. Also we’re looking to do some spring touring as well but nothing has been confirmed yet as of this point, so nothing that I could really mention. But we’ll definitely be touring some more this year on this record for sure.
There’s talk of another single, I’m not sure of what it will be yet, but we have a couple of ideas. But nothing set in stone yet for sure. So we’ll see!