Exclusive Interview with Civil Twilight’s Drummer Richard Wouters!

The Civil Twilight

The Civil Twilight

The Vampire Diaries TV series not only boasts a hot cast, rich story-lines and tantalizing twists, but also unforgettable music as well! From Santigold to My Morning Glory, TVD is home to a variety of talented artists — and sometimes those artists are highlighted more than once! Take Civil Twilight for example — the South African band powered by brothers Andrew and Steven McKeller, Richard Wouters, and Kevin Dailey, had their tracks “Human” and “Fire Escape” featured on TVD episode 3.04 and TVD episode 3.15, respectively. We just love hearing their energetic music pop up — especially during high-action scenes — so we thought it was due time that we chatted with them about their new album Holy Weather, their thoughts on music on TV, and what fans can expect from their summer 2012 tour. Find out what Civil Twilight drummer Richard Wouters exclusively revealed!

TVD: Do you watch The Vampire Diaries and how excited were you to hear your songs on the show?
Rich: I actually don’t watch very much TV at all, so I don’t watch the show but I have watched the parts where they used our songs and it was great. It’s always really cool to hear our music on TV, and I’ve heard a lot about that show, so it was exciting to be on it for sure.

TVD:There are many theories floating around out there about how your name originated. What’s the real one?
Rich: The real story about our name? It’s kind of random, but two of the guys in the band, Andrew and Steve, they’re brothers and their uncle was an pilot — we were looking for a name and they were speaking to their uncle about flying planes, and we were looking through a bunch of names, like aviation terminology and civil twilight was on the list. [Pilots] use it in aviation terminology to describe the time of day where they take weather conditions, take atmospheric pressure readings or something. It’s like where the sun is just below the horizon, like six degrees below and we just kind of—well, it was before the Twilight movies, so…. [Laughs] We get that question [about Twilight] a lot! [Continues} And the name just clicked and we liked the flying connotation of it and decide, ‘Yeah, that’s our name!’

TVD: A fan wants to know you felt about playing to 10,000 people last year at Rocking the Daisies music festival? Will you return this year, and are you planning to play to play and summer music festivals in Cape Town?
Rich: We are planning on coming back to Cape Town this summer. It’s for us, we want to do a few cities, so it will be their summer, not our summer—in America, it’s different. It’s like our winter in Cape Town so you can say that we’re technically planning to come back for the summer, and Rocking the Daisies was a lot of fun. It was an honor to play in our hometown. We had a lot of fun doing it and appreciated all the people who were there to support us and watch us.

TVD: What’s something specific that you miss about South Africa that you can’t find anywhere else?
Rich: There have been things we’ve missed on tour. The natural beauty, is one thing that’s just—whenever we go back is sort of amazing. Cape Town, especially where we grew up, is just a spectacular city, sort of surrounded by mountains and oceans and some f the food, like (laughs) some of the seafood, and we grew up eating a lot of—there’s kinds of like local food, like sausages and meats and like local dishes that we really enjoy. And the local wines as well, we always really enjoyed them! So it’s like a real—the kind of lifestyle there is really cool, it’s very much surrounded by nature. I love it, beautiful place, good eating… quite different to New York! [Laughs] But we like New York City too!

TVD: How does Holy Weather compare to your debut album?
Rich: Well, we went in trying to do a few more different things, we wanted to make the arrangements of our songs shorter and more concise. We also added a few instruments and experimented a more with the sound. Now  there’s more keyboard sounds on the record, and we actually added a new member to the band as well, there were three of us and we’ve just added a fourth.

TVD: You began as 3-piece band. When and how did you decide to add Kevin Dailey as the fourth member?
Rich: It was a lot to do with the record, we recorded the record with just the three of us, but we put a lot more kind of instrumental sounds on it and we weren’t able to play live with just three people, so it was either we record backing tracks and play with those live to be able to play the new songs or we get another member who can play some of that stuff and Kevin, who we ended up asking to join us, is a good friend of ours who lives in Nashville. We’ve known him for a while and he’s a really talented musician and we asked him to come play with us but we really enjoyed playing with him so we asked him to join the band, so it was very much related to the songs in the new record, so we felt like we needed a new member to play them live.

TVD: You record around the world! Does setting ever play a factor in the kind of songs you create and the tone that’s set in your albums?
Rich: Yes it does. It’s hard to describe exactly how. We often work in new York City and this record, we actually recorded some of it in London as well, but working in New York, it’s kind of an intense city and the feel that the city translates into the music. I think that if we were working on the album in Cape Town, for example,it might come out a little more subdued, a little more laid back in some way. I think [setting] does play a significant role. It’s always hard to say exactly how, but we’ve been, you know, we’ve traveled so much and we wrote I think part of this record in Nashville, part of it in New York, some of it in London, so the album features different experiences in different parts of the world.

TVD: On your debut album, Soldier is a politically charged track. Are any of the songs on Holy Weather?
Rich: No, I don’t think so much; we’ve never really considered ourselves a political band, and we don’t as a band have a specific political agenda, and I think this record—I can’t think of anything on the record that’s downright political. We tend to try like more about things that—I guess more emotional things that people anywhere, in any culture, any political persuasion could relate to.

TVD: What comes first during the songwriting process — the melody or the lyrics?
Rich: For us, usually it’s the melody and so we create a mood with the music and then the lyrics after that. People often—a singer will have a melody and maybe one or two lines that he’s got, that he’s writing, the music or the melody and then you build lyrics around that afterwards.

TVD: What is your favorite lyrical moment from Holy Weather?
Rich: Hmm…I don’t know about a specific lyric but I can tell you which song is one of my favorites. The title track, Holy Weather — it’s like this whole story that fits really well with the music as well, and I kind of like that aspect — that it takes you on a journey through the song, so that one for me is a standout.

TVD: Do you have any funny fan stories you could share from your tour? Do you guys play pranks on each other?
Rich: We’re not real big pranksters  we need to brush up on our prank skills a bit! [Laughs] We have a lot of fans while we’re traveling and the guys have a good sense of humor and Kevin has also got a good sense of humor and fits in pretty well so we just kind of talk about funny things and tease each other a little bit as we going around and doing our thing. But actual pranking? There hasn’t been a lot of that. In terms of funny fan stories? Hmm. [Laughs] Steve once had to hide in our van from some crazy lady who was going to hug him and wouldn’t leave him alone. But for the most part, our fans are pretty well behaved actually. There was a lady who — when were in an arena flashed Steve, but for the most part, we adore our fans and they’re pretty respectful actually. 

TVD: A @VampireDiaries twitter fan wants to know how hard is it to be a rising band in a time so infatuated with mainstream music?
Rich: I think in today’s musical world, it takes a lot more to get noticed because there’s so much stuff out there in general, like people over the internet, and media—there’s so many things that people can do and see and especially in music, there’s so much access to entertainment in anything, so there’s a lot of kind of noise and it takes a little bit more to break through the noise. We work hard and we tour a lot and we have a good team with us, We believe that if we make the best music we can — and put our hearts into it — and put out the best music that we can that eventually will make a way for us. It’s definitely hard, but then there are shows like The Vampire Diaries that are tremendous and help introduce emerging artists and bands. For us, one of the things we like the most is the way television embraces putting new band sin their soundtracks, and that’s been a huge thing for us and such a great way to gain exposure. We really love that combination of music and film, music and the visual thing when television and film combine with music.

TVD: We love your cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrops”! What goes into choosing a cover song during a concert?
Rich: Well, then it was just because we really like the song, and we were fans of Massive Attack and we’ve been fans of that song for a long time and we were playing in a rehearsal one day and Andrew our guitar player starting playing that opening lick on the guitar, and then we all kind of started playing it and it just sort of came together and we enjoyed it, so that’s how that one came about! We usually don’t discuss the song, just start playing it in a rehearsal and we all join in and see how it feels and if we like it we might play it live. Generally, we’re able to catch on, and then if we’re going to do it live, we’d stop and talk about it as well, but we’d be able to play just a rough idea, just catch on and kind of channel it out. We’ve always kind of been like that, we’ve always tried to give ourselves space to play spontaneously in rehearsals and live, actually, and we’ve been playing together for quite a well, we all grew up together so we kind of have a musical understanding, so we’re able to do that. So that’s something that we enjoy doing.

TVD: When was the precise moment when you and guys all decided, ‘You know what? Let’s form a band!’
Rich: When we were younger, we were all starting to play our instruments around the same time and we decided to make a band because we were all friends and we were all playing different instruments, so we were like let’s just be a band and write songs, and we never really thought it would go anywhere or be our profession, we just thought it would be fun. And we did that for quite a long time and then we started to get better and have more songs and start to play some shows and people seemed to like the music so we recorded some of it, and then more people would come to the shows, so we were like oh, maybe we could actually make something out of this. And that’s when we decided to move to America and try to give it shot in the big leagues.

TVD: You have a big tour coming up! Which songs are you really looking forward to performing live?
Rich: It’s a little different for all of us, but I know we all really enjoy playing “River,” which is part of the record.

TVD: Is it true that “River” was written in just one day?
Rich: [Laughs] Where did you hear that? [Contemplates for a few seconds] It might actually be true, because Steve wrote that song and a few other songs, he spent about four days at home in Nashville locked in his room and he wrote about ten songs and River was one of those songs. About half of those songs ended up on the record. He had this creative overflow. So, I mean, we adapted it a little after that, but the main part of the song was written really quickly, so yeah, it could have actually have been written in one day! I’ve never thought about that.

TVD: Do you play them aloud to decide what goes on the album?
Rich: Yes, we like to do that. This record, we didn’t do that with everything. We did it with some of the songs, we tried some of the songs out live first but some of the songs were written quite late and kind of only came together in the studio. Another one of our favorites to play live is “Highway of Fallen Kings”—it’s an interesting one, it’s kind of moody and the whole vibe seems to come across quite well live, and then there’s this section in the middle that gets kind of eerie. That piece in the middle where the band drops out and it’s just the piano for a while and then the guitar comes in and it kind of bolts out back into the song again—that was like completely spontaneous in the studio, we were just playing the song and we just had this moment where we all just stopped and Steve just kept playing that little thing on the piano, and we were recording, so the tape was running and we just kept that whole section. That was the first time we’d ever played it and we kept it and put in on the record like that. When we do that live, it’s kind of fun and the groove feels good live. It’s just an interesting song to play that’s a tad different from some of the others. That was an amazing moment actually. We had another moment like that when we wrote “Letters from the Sky” which was on our first record and that song has done pretty well for us, but it was very spontaneous.

TVD: How did you come out with the title for the new EP?
Rich: I also like that title, actually! I mean, Steve, he writes all the lyrics of our songs and he wrote the words to that song last record and he just came up with this concept, he had this idea in his mind of two lovers being separated by war, in a time of war, and that was kind of the concept he had in his mind, and then one of them being in a concentration camp and receiving letters from their lover far away and these letters start falling from the sky. I don’t know exactly how he came up with that in his mind, but yeah, a lot of people have found different and deeper meaning in that song, so I don’t like to tell people how it is because there’s a lot of layers of meaning and even Steve when he was writing didn’t fully know everything that he was communicating, which is kind of a cool thing about songwriting, I think. Sometimes you feel like you’re just channeling something instead f making it all up yourself, it’s just kind of flowing through you in a sense.

TVD: As a drummer, what’s your perspective like when performing live— are counting beats, looking at the audience, and so forth?
Rich: I’m trying to stay in time! [Laughs] I think for all of us, we play the best when we’re not listening to ourselves as much as to the other people in the band and I try to listen to the others and flow with them. The actual playing, the playing of my instrument, it becomes second nature. I don’t think about it too much or concentrate on counting beats or anything, so I try to play with emotion and feel and try to listen to the others and play with them in a sense, listen to what they’re doing and complement what they’re doing with their instruments.

TVD: Are their any musicians — past or present — that you and your band-mates especially feel inspired by?
Rich: Yeah, there’s been a lot over the years. I think the Pogues have been, the Beatles…Bob Dylan’s been a big lyrical inspiration for Steve. Also, Jeff Buckley’s a big inspiration overall. Most recently? Bon Iver, Arcade Fire.

TVD: Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” was covered in Vampire Diaries Season 2 by an artist named Birdie. It was definitely a heartwrenching song selection!
Rich: Oh wow really? I have to hear that then. I think he’s amazing, he’s one of my favorite current artists, his music is beautiful — in fact, his new record is just so beautiful — and we’re all big fans of his.

TVD: What does the future hold for you guys ?
Rich: [laughs] You never really know what the future holds! That’s part of the adventure, but  we’re heading out on the road soon and doing some headline shows of our own. We’re also planning to tour a bit in South Africa in November or December and we also want to write some more music and keep the creative juices flowing. When you’re touring a lot it’s hard because your schedule is very busy, but we’d like to keep writing and we’d also like to do more music for TV shows. Maybe one day we’ll look at doing a soundtrack for a film or something. We’d love to do more of that. We’re really interested in that whole world and aspect of music.

TVD: Would you like to give your fans and Vampire Diaries viewers a shout-out?
Rich: Of course! We just want to say that we really appreciate the support and people getting excited our music and we realize that we can’t do what we’re doing without them, so we appreciate that and people writing and asking questions and hopefully it speaks to them and we’ll continue to make the best music that we can and hopefully people continue to listen.

*FYI: It’s a pity we couldn’t post an audio file of our phone call with Rich because he’s got such a charming South African accent! He would fit in very well with the Klaus and his Original vampire family, that’s for sure!*

The Civil Twilight - Holy Weather

Follow Civil Twilight on Twitter at @civiltwilight for more exciting updates, download their new album Holy Weather here, and check out their official website for more information on their music and 2012 tour dates!

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