It’s been a rollercoaster ride for alternative rock trio,The XCERTS, over the past couple of years following the release of Hold On To Your Heart. Smashing it out of the park with huge, euphoric hits like ‘Falling In Love’ and ‘Daydream’ to breaking our hearts and taking it down a notch with ‘Cry’ and ‘The Dark’. After consistently climbing up the ladder playing with the likes of Twin Atlantic and You Me At Six and featuring on the line ups of Reading & Leeds, TRSMT and 2000 Trees festivals, they’re now itching to record their next album.
However, 2020 took a turn for the worst resulting in having to sit tight for a while. Lead singer and guitarist, Murray Macleod explains disappointedly, “The plans for recording our next project kept getting put on hold. Studio time kept getting pushed back and our producer was stuck in L.A, he couldn’t fly back to the UK to make the record so we ended up having a lot of time on our hands. We wanted to keep being productive and to have some sense of purpose”. Not all hope was lost with putting out new material when they were presented with the idea to record a cover. On the list were all 80's songs and it didn’t take long for Macleod to be convinced after seeing that ‘We Built This City’ was an option.
“...I thought maybe I could do something with this song because the production on that thing is so wild...If you listen to that thing on headphones it’s just incredible. I thought to myself maybe I could strip it back and do something a bit more tender with it.” The cover really took off and the suggestion for releasing more as an EP was born.
"It was all very carefree and fun"
Taking a trip down memory lane to the early 2000s where lies fond memories and great music, Macleod declares his love for Avril Lavigne and what it was like featuring HEIGHTS on their cover of ‘Complicated’. “I think she’s brilliant and at the core of Avril Lavigne’s work is just phenomenal song-writing.” The hit debut single still remains a firm favourite today being the song with the most Spotify listens out of her entire discography 19 years later. Looking closely at the lyrics and thinking about how else we could interpret them now, The XCERTS “thought it would just be cool to have the song in its purest form where the words can just really breathe… I’m glad we were able to put our spin on it.”
Their previous material has been hugely shy of featured artists. However, this is about to change as Macleod hints at collaborating more for the next project. When asked about featuring Chelsea as her new project, HEIGHTS, he gave a thorough insight into the reason for having two voices on the cover. “She’s got a great voice and she loved Avril Lavigne as much as us and we also thought it would be great to have a woman's voice on the track so it sounded more conversational which the original doesn’t have. I think we were maybe also heavily inspired by Taylor Swift’s song ‘Evermore’ with Bon Iver on her new record.” Playing close attention to some of the biggest names in pop, The XCERTS makes a conscious effort to keep educating themselves about being more inclusive and celebrating female artists and how much they have to offer in the music industry. “Women are just so far ahead right now in the pop world, it’s crazy. I could list so many artists that are just five steps ahead of everybody else.”
“If you’re making pop music, which I consider we do, and you’re not looking at what the women are doing in music then you’re going to fall behind rapidly.”
The new album is well and truly in the works in terms of the writing and the themes covered. Not wanting to give too much away about their huge project, Macleod gives us a little taste of what’s to come. “...we need to make a record that includes every aspect of everything we love. It’s a statement, that’s for sure… it’s full of lots of self belief, it’s where adult us meets teenage us.” Stepping away from personal experiences, The XCERTS have expanded their horizons by including “different stories from other people’s perspectives” hoping that listeners will put themselves in the songs.
After trudging through endless images of banana bread, embroidery and other new hobbies we have taken up to pass the time during lockdown, new ideas for other projects pop up. Macleod reminds us that it’s important to have something to hold on to and how we can use that time effectively. “During the first lockdown, I wrote a lot of music. I was writing some quieter songs for an idea possibly for new projects or new XCERTS stuff.You have to give yourself just a little bit of purpose for each day, maybe not all the time, I’m completely onboard with nobody should be hard on themselves during these times. If you don’t make banana bread, that’s okay!”
The impact of coronavirus has been devastating both personally and collectively. “You can’t go out and see the reactions to the new songs, you can’t connect in a room with people which is a horrible, horrible thing.” As much as we can use zoom and livestreaming to watch small sets online, it can’t match the energy and warmth of physical presence of people coming together to shout your lyrics back at you and express similar emotions. There’s a huge shift in focus around the discussion of mental health and protecting each other during these times, especially with live music being a huge release and comfort."
This conversation has also opened the doors to the issues surrounding men’s mental health. Coming from a household comfortable with showing emotion Macleod has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many other men.
“There’s this idea that if you’re a man you don’t cry, that’s not what men do and that conversation to me is so ridiculous and laughable because we’re all human beings, we are complex individuals and we all have a lot going on.”
Alongside the discussion of looking after your mental health being particularly important, is the challenge of what it means to be masculine, feminine or not bound to either of those terms. “I think it’s great that you have somebody like Harry Styles, he’s just such an icon and such a star and having somebody like him on the cover of Vogue wearing a dress, that’s a brilliant thing. Even if people are confused by it or outraged it’s great because we’re still having the conversation, this should be normal.” If anyone can take anything from the past year it’s that love and acceptance goes a long way.
With an optimistic outlook on the future of live music and pushing through to work on such a huge project, The XCERTS pull together to get as much as they can done while keeping themselves sane and healthy in the process. When live music can return, they’ll be sure to blow the roof off.