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Shooting For The Stars: The Xcerts' Murray Macleod On New LP 'Hold On To Your Heart'

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

The Xcerts have been labelled underdogs so often it’s almost become a running joke. In the context of the UK alt-rock scene, this makes sense: the Scottish trio have made three albums of angst-ridden power pop in a decade when it’s hardly been in vogue.

When the band’s name does crop up, it’s often alongside bigger or more influential acts they’ve supported, such as Biffy Clyro and Idlewild. As guitarist and lead vocalist Murray Macleod put it in a 2014 interview: “If I read something about our band it was always attached to other bands, treating us like the little brother.”

So it makes sense that ‘Hold On To Your Heart’, their fourth full length release, sees them “shooting for the stars”, in Macleod’s words. They’re not messing about when they say that either: key influences on the record include Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, the Cure and Prince.

“It’s the first time we’ve felt like a confidence band,” says the frontman. “It’s really grown in us and I think people can sense that. The focus has been on honing our songcraft this time around. The songs are a lot leaner and we’ve chopped off the fat.

“We’ve really started looking backwards in terms of influences, back to the Tom Pettys and Bruce Springsteens and Fleetwood Macs. There was a simplicity to what they did. So rather than faffing around, the new album is about getting to the point. When it comes to being the Xcerts, we know who we are now.”

Although the song structures on ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ are more stripped back, the hooks and sentiments are larger than life. ‘Anthemic’ is a word overused by music writers, but there’s certainly a fervour and optimism present on the band's new record that recalls synthpop compatriots CHVRCHES and Prides as much as any of their rock peers.

“I think it has something to do with the shows we’ve played over the past couple of years”, explains Macleod. "Playing older tracks in front of a sea of people just doesn’t generate the same reaction as it does in sweaty basement shows. I remember supporting Biffy Clyro at a huge Glasgow show in 2016 and realising that the songs people were responding to were the bigger sounding ones.

“That’s not to say we write for anyone specifically – we want everyone to like our band –but as you get older and play bigger rooms, you begin to slow down and showcase your songwriting a bit. We don’t jump around like a hardcore band as much now and it’s more beneficial. It’s what we like playing, too – we wear our hearts on our sleeves and love hearing people sing those words back.”

Given their nostalgic lyrics and emotive style, it’s odd to think of the Xcerts slowing down. Since the band released ‘There Is Only You’ back in 2014, their frontman has turned 30, they’ve toured relentlessly, changed label and gone through “so much dull and arduous business stuff.”

“People who really dug that record shouted about it, but it was only about halfway through the campaign for the album that press started picking up on it,” says Macleod. “And so, we toured and toured again. It was hard, but now we have a whole team working on the admin side of things, so we can focus more on the artistic side again. A weight’s been lifted.”

The sharpened focus on songwriting perhaps explains the album’s more adventurous instrumental approach, with dramatic synths used at various points, but there’s also a thematic continuity with previous projects. ‘There Is Only You’ was inspired by Macleod’s break-up with his long-term partner, and though ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ does not focus on such specific subject matter its lyrics are as shamelessly sentimental as its predecessor.

Describing himself as someone who “romanticises everything”, the frontman says the band were keen to capture the euphoric ending of the 1985 coming-of-age classic film The Breakfast Club. He describes it as “that feeling of wanting to be outside and experiencing life, getting off Facebook and getting the girl.”

“I’m still a romantic and a dreamer and whatnot. In your early to mid-twenties break-ups crush you. When I split from my partner of five years, the two years afterwards felt like a living hell, but you come out of it. Instead of feeling ill will, you just feel love.

“Writing songs about love is never going to be immature to me because I still think it’s really beautiful. The idea of falling in love and first kisses and stuff – I think I’ll go to my deathbed still thinking of that as exciting. I have a wiser perspective now, but the romanticism is the same.”

Alternative rock bands writing mostly about love and relationships might seem like something of a cliché, but for Macleod it remains a virtue worth celebrating, “in a world that can be so dispassionate” as he puts it.

In a music industry increasingly divided between superfluous hit makers and angry provocateurs, is there still space for hopeless romantics? “I think there is,” says Macleod. “The world feels suicidal at the moment, for sure. Everything going on with Trump and all the other ongoing stuff is horrifying and I understand artists want to document that more than what their heart is saying. But I’m still definitely drawn to romantic music.

“I love bands like Beach Slang – nobody is more romantic than them – and even mainstream bands like the 1975 have it in abundance. I don’t know about them, but for me it’s a type of escapism. But it can be realistic, too. I want people to hear this record and feel invigorated, to know that even amidst darkness, beauty and light exist.

“Maybe that’s simplistic, but I don’t feel educated enough to write a serious political song necessarily. For now, I think tugging at people’s heartstrings instead of staring at a computer screen is positive. When I talk about The Breakfast Club, that’s what I want our music to give you, that feeling of: ‘Fuck, I’m alive. What a privilege’.”

'Hold On To Your Heart' is out January 19 via Raygun Records

The Xcerts Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Sun February 18 2018 - LEICESTER O2 Academy3 Leicester
Mon February 19 2018 - SHEFFIELD Plug
Tue February 20 2018 - DUBLIN Whelans
Wed February 21 2018 - BELFAST Barsub
Fri February 23 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC Glasgow
Sat February 24 2018 - ABERDEEN Garage
Sun February 25 2018 - STOCKTON Georgian Theatre
Mon February 26 2018 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Wed February 28 2018 - CAMBRIDGE Portland Arms
Thu March 01 2018 - WOLVERHAMPTON Slade Rooms
Fri March 02 2018 - LONDON Heaven
Sat March 03 2018 - CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
Sun March 04 2018 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners

Click here to compare & buy The Xcerts Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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