Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
James Allan was a different man from the time he entered the studio in Austin, Texas during a nice and warm South By Southwest Week last month to the time he exited. It was the day before all the hoopla began down there and he and the rest of his black-wearing bandmates were stoic in their demeanors, crunching across the pebbly courtyard with an important cadence, an air of toughness or was it exhaustion? You couldn't blame them at all for the trepidation as they're the reigning owners of the title of the most famous, new-ish band in Europe, the band that's likely been featured in some blustery way in more issues of NME over the course of the last year than everyone but Kings of Leon. They're HUGE and they're 40,000 watts or more of raw energy just waiting to get sizzling into the kind of atmospheric tension that has earned them this status. Allan, the lead singer, has been blessed and cursed with the facial shape and look of Joe Strummer and when he dresses, he dresses with Mr. Strummer in mind as a model. His brother and guitarist, Rab Allan, is a big man who looks as if he could throw a motorcycle into a tree. Bassist Paul Donoghue is thin and cemetery worker looking, embracing the appearance of a man who does most of his living amongst the dead and their marking rocks. Drummer Caroline McKay is a shy one, but no less imposing with a stern walk and gaze. They look raised on the mean streets of a broken down city, grimacing and reserved, perhaps holding in their vinegar and their ire. They'd all already gotten more than enough direct sunlight, with Rab Allan's shoulders and cheeks a vibrant lobster red. They were burnt, if not burnt out, and yet their session - a three-song set that they chose to perform as a stripped down version - was full of the kind of U2 heaving and boiling that makes for the sensitive punk rocking that the band does so well. The way that James Allan sings, in his sloppy accent and with the kind of oomph of Mike Ness singing about angels and death, is a counter to the way he looks and works. He says so much in his songs - about absent fathers, about crippling loves - and he does so with a spiky curl to his words, biting them off with a phantom curse, in a way. He's a sensitive guy behind those dark shades, singing about lonesomeness and emptiness in a way that Joey Ramone did so long ago it seems. There are so many coping mechanisms working in his look - sadness lingering behind the exterior toughness and it's enchanting. The wiggling guitar line on "Geraldine" and the howling backing vocals that burn up into an ashy fire are complementarily dark and caring, just like everything Glasvegas does - turning the pits and squalor into something that can give back. As James left the studio, he seemed happy for the first time, having gotten those words out again, shaking some of those demons before they return to sink their talons in again. He expressed himself and his temporary happiness in a way that was incoherent and completely understandable.