Embracing their passion for all things 80s on fourth album 'Hold On To Your Heart', The Xcerts are back from breaking point and have set a course the top. The very top.
Murray Macleod has always had a not-so-secret love for 80s pop culture. It was inevitable for The Xcerts’ singer and guitarist after being raised by a mother who adores the likes of Bruce Hornsby and the recently-deceased Tom Petty, and a father who is described by his son as a “Bruce Springsteen fanatic”.
“I’m an 80s baby,” starts Murray, taking a break from packing for the band’s recent European tour to chat to Dork. “When my mum did the school run, she would always have these mixtapes called ‘The Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time’ or something, and I would always hear stuff like Tom Petty and Boston on them.”
The soundtrack to the Decade of Decadence is an influence which The Xcerts rather candidly wear on their leather-jacketed sleeves for their long-awaited fourth album, ‘Hold On To Your Heart’.
Embracing the era sonically and aesthetically, the Scotland-bred, Brighton-based trio have thrown one hell of a curveball, especially following the earnest and introspective alt-rock tones of their 2014 record ‘There Is Only You’.
“I’ve always said songwriting is like TK Maxx – you have to sift through the bullshit to get to the good stuff!” Murray laughs. “The first batch of songs that we write after we release a record either sound like they could have been on the previous record or they just sound a bit confused and unfocused.
“To be honest, we were the most confident we’d ever been coming out of an album cycle and going into the writing, and recording of another record,” he continues. “We just know when it’s not right and none of the songs were really inspiring, they were just really sad songs, and it wasn’t beneficial for the band.”
That said, The Xcerts couldn’t sound less miserable if they tried on ‘Hold On To Your Heart’. Co-produced by long-time collaborator Dave Eringa and new friend Gary Clark – you may know him as the frontman of cult 80s pop outfit Danny Wilson – it is an album which shines with soaring power-pop hooks, synth-driven choruses and even an indulgent saxophone solo.
Murray fondly recalls writing the first song to make the final cut, the energetic single ‘Daydream’, claiming it was “a real ‘holy crap’ moment of feeling strong and powerful” for him, bassist Jordan Smith and drummer Tom Heron.
“I remember when I first came up with it and I felt kind of invigorated,” says Murray. “It reminded me of Rick Springfield and Cheap Trick; then when we played it together in the practice room, it really sounded like Springfield turned up to 11. Everything we wrote after that just came out of us, and it just so happened to have a real 80s influence to it.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t listening to a lot of 80s records, because I totally was!” Murray admits. “When we wrote ‘Daydream’, that was the benchmark, that was like the lift-off. The two worlds of pop and rock have to coexist, and I like the idea of us bringing a bit of dirt to pop music or bringing a bit of pop to rock music.
“It’s interesting to think where we would be if we wrote a really miserable record, I’m not 100% sure we’d be in the same position we’re in now.”
Despite the high that he and his bandmates were on when they wrapped up the cycle for ‘There Is Only You’, Murray reveals that this record was ‘born from much darker times’ compared to its predecessor – times which pushed the frontman to his emotional limits, and The Xcerts to boiling point.
“Usually I could go in the practice room and escape from what was happening on the outside,” Murray sighs. “We would go in, turn up the amps and just have fun with it.
“But I was miserable in my life; I was miserable in the practice room, I was breaking down and arguing with the guys and not treating them well. There was just this all-encompassing black cloud over the band and myself all the time, and it kind of reached a point where it just wasn’t healthy.”
After being hit with the double tragedy of his grandmother and one of his closest friends dying while writing ‘Hold On To Your Heart’, Murray was inspired to make a positive change to his outlook on life, both in and out of The Xcerts.
“I was not living; I was like a shell, I was walking around just completely empty. I’m now well aware of how beautiful the world is, and I’m gonna go find that beauty, and I’m gonna run at it at 100 miles per hour.
“We, and very much so myself, desperately needed to write this record,” he continues. “I needed to write positive songs because I was in such a bad place personally. I always used to think that to be a cathartic writer you had to talk about the dark and you had to sing about negativity, but that’s not life. Life is up and down; it’s light and dark, it’s beautiful and terrifying. In each song, there is always light breaking through.”
Boosted by a heightened appreciation of everything in his life, Murray is eagerly anticipating letting ‘Hold On To Your Mind’ run free into the world, as well as the mammoth 13-date tour across the UK and Ireland in February and March. After their appearance on Reading & Leeds Festivals’ esteemed main stages last year, it might be your last opportunity to see The Xcerts in such an intimate capacity.
“At times I feel like when we play smaller venues now, it’s almost like we’ve put on too much weight and we’re bursting out of our clothes,” chuckles Murray. “The songs now are too widescreen for the smaller room. Before [now] we had the mindset of television, now we have the mindset of the cinema.”
It’s not just larger stages that The Xcerts have their sights set on in 2018 – with an album as immensely entertaining as ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ now firmly under their belts, Murray and co. are, at long last, strapping themselves in for promotion to the top tier of UK rock bands.
“We want to be up there with the big boys,” the confident frontman says. “We’re an incredibly ambitious bunch, and we really want this record to elevate us and run us 20 more steps up the ladder.
“Now is the time to capitalise on all the good stuff that’s happening to us, and we just wanna go out there and prove ourselves.”
The Xcerts' album 'Hold On To Your Heart' is out now. Taken from the February 2018 issue of Dork, order a copy below.