Scotland’s Glasvegas dives into L.A. life
The quartet trades Glasgow for Santa Monica to work on its sophomore album, ‘Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\,’ and gets a hit of inspiration and excess.
Glasgow’s rainy streets are a far cry from the sunny shores of California, but for Glasvegas, Los Angeles felt like a perfect fit as soon as the Scottish quartet stepped off the tour bus in front of the Troubadour. It was January 2009 and the band had just released its self-titled debut album to much critical acclaim, and was about to play its first L.A. gig at the legendary venue. “I felt like I was home, and I don’t know why that is,” lead singer James Allan says of the first time he set foot in L.A. “Everybody told me I’d hate it.”
Thoughts of living in L.A. lingered as the band toured the globe, opening for U2 and picking up a multitude of awards along the way, as well as a nomination for the prestigious British Mercury Prize, whose judges cited its debut album’s “bittersweet sounds of classic rock ’n’ roll” and “gloriously elegiac anthems of contemporary life.”
When it came time to get serious about writing their sophomore album, James and his band mates — guitarist and cousin Rab Allan, bassist Paul Donoghue and drummer Caroline McKay (who has since left the band and been replaced by Jonna Löfgren) — decided to return to L.A. to set up shop in an idyllic three-story beach house rental next to the Santa Monica Pier. For five months they wrote and recorded tracks for what would become “Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\,” which came out May 17 on Columbia Records.
When asked why they chose the Southland, of all places, James Allan says, “I went to Los Angeles to put myself in an unfamiliar setting and see how that would influence the music. It’s such a fascinating place, Santa Monica. I always think that if ever anybody thinks it’s easy they should go and spend a bit of time in Los Angeles. If you do that and you come back and you’re still inspired, then you can wear the badge that says ‘I survived L.A.’”
The city’s complexity brought challenges for the enigmatic frontman, who was once a professional soccer player in his native Scotland. He found himself indulging in some of the city’s excesses, leading the band to cancel its first coveted Coachella slot due to “exhaustion” — but later acknowledging that drugs had been involved, and participating in five-day party marathons with little or no sleep.
“Like anything that’s that beautiful, if any bad stuff is inside of you, [Los Angeles] will bring that bad stuff to the front of you,” Allan says. “The brighter the sunshine, the blacker the shadow, as well.”
He says dystopian images of Los Angeles from the 1982 sci-fi film “Blade Runner” penetrated his subconscious and informed the sound of the new record. “I used to think of [Los Angeles] in a Ridley Scott, Vangelis, ‘Blade Runner’ way,” he says. “It was always post-apocalyptic noir and it was always on the beach. That’s what I was imagining we could make something sound like.”
The result is an ambitious 11-track album that transports listeners into a dream world with swirling synths and layers of reverb underneath Allan’s yearning, passionate musings on love and ambition. The band’s Santa Monica beach house provided the inspiration it was seeking. “My favorite place in the whole of Los Angeles was our house,” Allan says. “That was our little cave. That was where we’d talk about our ambitions and aspirations … and that’s where a lot of obstacles were overcome.”
When they weren’t plugging away on the album, the band had some adventures and discovered a few favorite L.A. haunts. “We used to go to Swingers diner and hang out in there a lot,” Allan recalls. “There was always something going down or some mischief or gossip happening there.”
The singer also spent a lot of time walking along the pier, where he once thought he spotted a shark. When he informed someone working there, the man asked Allan if he was sure it was a shark. He responded, “No, I’m from Glasgow. We don’t get big fish like that in Glasgow!”
The band members also ended up at Lisa Marie Presley’s birthday party, and regularly hung out with actress Daryl Hannah, with whom they became fast friends after being introduced by a mutual friend at a Banksy premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre downtown. They also found their way into Hollywood to visit Amoeba Music (“One day I got my sister [Bob Marley and the Wailers’] ‘Catch A Fire’ on vinyl, and I got Paul the Smiths’ album ‘Meat is Murder,’” Allan recalls), and to Echo Park to catch gigs at the Echo.
Glasvegas will headline the Troubadour (the show has long been sold out) once again on Wednesday before heading back across the Atlantic to begin the European summer festival circuit. When asked whether he would consider living in L.A. again, Allan pauses a moment and says, “I really miss it, but I don’t want to go back to the old house and revisit something that was so intense. It’s like if you get married to someone and you divorce and don’t see them in years, how would you feel? There’s a lot of desperation in Los Angeles, but if your heart’s in the right place it can be absolutely unbelievable and electric.”
-- Laura Ferreiro
‘EUPHORIC’: The Glasgow band’s new album riffs on a darker vision of Los Angeles. Credit: Pip