The Xcerts and Sam Carter on new track ‘Ache’: ‘It’s shoegaze meets Blink-182’

Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)
Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)

After nearly deciding to end their careers, British pop rock band The Xcerts saw another way through: to rebrand entirely. Leaving behind the straight-forwardly melodic territory they shared with Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic, this forthcoming album is shoegaze-inspired high-spirited pop that even took influence from electronic hyperpop misfits 100 Gecs. If that weren’t surprising enough, metalcore frontman Sam Carter of Architects appears on the second single, out now.

The fuzzy and exhilarating pop track ‘Ache’ tells you “life’s a bitch” before making sure you know to take care of yourself. You probably won’t recognise Carter’s Britpop vocals blending with Murray MacLeod’s soaring Scottish voice but that’s sort of the point: both these artists are going somewhere they’ve never been before together.

In this ‘in conversation’ interview, the pair of longtime friends talk about their unusual collaboration, Carter helping MacLeod pick up the pieces after the latter’s band was dropped by their label and management and the varied sources of inspiration for The Xcerts new album.

Murray MacLeod: I sang on Architects ‘Youth Is Wasted on the Young’ on Lost Forever // Lost Together but I think Tom [Searle] approached me. That’s how our bands collided but me and Sam have been best friends since we were 17. That first collaboration is when our friendship properly cemented in a way, though.
Sam Carter: That was the first moment where I was able to talk about Murray properly because before that it had just been shouting out his band but this was no, we value this person’s creative output and we want them on our music.

MacLeod: We took our time to ask Sam to sing with us but I’m glad we waited now because I think it’s the perfect song for him. It wasn’t like Sam’s a big name now so let’s get him on. Sam doesn’t scream on this song and I think a lot of people think Sam will be on there and just go ‘bleugh!’ and it’d be a conversation starter. But actually you sound like Bowie or Jarvis Cocker. You were like, I can’t do it, I feel uncomfortable, and I was like, that’s exactly the point. This whole record feels uncomfortable. You did it once and it felt so good.
Carter: It’s funny because that’s more in keeping with the type of music I listen to, that tone of vocals as well, Bowie, Beatles, that 60s, 70s era. It was nice to really be able to have a lot of fun with it.

Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)
Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)

MacLeod: We just didn’t want to have Sam feature and for it to be what he usually does. I think a lot of Architects fans will be surprised by what you do on it.
Carter: And they’ll be really nice about it I’m sure [laughs]. We’ve actually done a bit of writing together before that’s like it: 60s, dreamy Oasis type stuff because of the gap with Covid and lockdown. Me and Murray and Ryan who plays live keys in Architects. I think Murray might have been like, ‘he’s alright, let’s do it’.

MacLeod: Yeah, he wasn’t just ‘bleugh’ on everything. It’s the fact I’ve known him since I was a teenager: I know what Sam can do with his voice because I’ve heard him sing in every environment. I’ve seen him play Wembley, I’ve seen him in karaoke rooms, I’ve seen you sing in my living room. I have all this information about Sam’s voice; it’s just what Sam does in Architects is a specific thing in a specific way. So, I knew we needed Sam’s voice and the weight of Sam – I knew Sam could do what we wanted. As soon as you sang the first line in the studio, everyone was like: oh my god.

Carter: I’m always so anxious when I go into a studio but going in with Murray and the rest of the boys it felt so normal. It just felt like having fun, not like I had to get it perfect, more like ‘let’s just try it out’. 

MacLeod: We were already having a ton of fun making the record for a year so when you came in it was like great, let’s experiment. Like Sam says, when you go and do a feature on a song, you go in and you can feel the tension, you sense the feeling in the room where they’re stressed out and they’re putting pressure on you to deliver.

Carter: I bubbled with Murray during the pandemic too so I’d heard the song a lot.

MacLeod: I was excited by the song because I remember telling you ‘I’ve written something that’s shoegaze meets blink-182’. I think I immediately asked you to sing on it and played it to you in the park. It has been an ongoing joke from you: ‘we had you on an Architects track when you were nobody and you don’t want me’.

Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)
Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)

Carter: I was being needy.

MacLeod: We’ve been saying we wanted you on for ages.

Carter: Yeah, yeah, you say that now – you’ve always wanted me on.

MacLeod: [laughs] I am aware that you’re a very sought after frontperson so I wouldn’t have been completely surprised if you said no.
Carter: I would never have said no. You’re playing at my wedding soon. That’s the thing with working with Murray – I’d do anything. I’ve always wanted to talk about The Xcerts in every interview or when we go on radio – who do you want to play? I’ve felt like they’re severely underrated and that’s through no fault of their own. When it came down to do the music video and an interview like this, it’s no problem because I want to be doing this stuff.

MacLeod: I’ve been really struggling with the industry at large while making this record. We parted ways with management when we were making this record, then the label withdrew their offer. I was completely stranded and Sam was the first person to be like right, we’re making a plan, I’ll speak to these people. And that’s how [our record deal with] UNFD came about.

Carter: It was a rough few months because from the outside you’re seeing someone you love creating something you can tell is really special and has taken a while because they’re getting it perfect but you’re seeing everything around them go and it doesn’t feel very fair. I was with Murray when they first lost their management and I was like, this fucking sucks but you’ll be okay. Then I was like I can get you some emails and get this train back on the road and then you messaged me saying the label have gone too. He messaged me while he was at work at the bar and I got a cab immediately and was with him at work within ten minutes. Murray is working a hard job, at a bar, and he doesn’t want to be at that bar, he wants to be on tour but Covid and everything’s happening. And I knew I had to grab him and be like this is what’s happening, this is who we should talk to, this is what we’ll do and I’ll drag you through it. 

MacLeod: Sometimes when that happens you can feel gassed and like, yes this will be fine. But because it was post-Covid, I felt like I was at the bottom of Everest with this and I was like, I don’t know if I’ve got it in me. I felt so broken – kind of about the world at large too. I was in a deep sadness. I thought The Xcerts is coming to an end, I can feel it. I didn’t think this was how we were gonna go, during the fucking pandemic, I thought we would end in a blaze of glory on stage. I was exhausted from working a day job then being in the studio every day. When you feel like nobody has your back…our team had just fallen apart. I felt I didn’t have it in me. Me and the band are a proper brotherhood but they were feeling it too. It was the first time it’d ever been too hard. When Sam came to grab me and shake me, I think it was even raining outside [laughs].

Carter: And within two days, everything had turned around.

Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)
Sam Carter and Murray MacLeod (Picture: Bridie Cummings)

MacLeod: We had a new team and we were drunk and celebrating: it’s not over, the band continues! That’s the nature of the fucking industry. The new album is very different from everything we’ve done. I’m really big on shoegaze: Slowdive, My Bloody Valentines, stuff like that but a lot of that music is rooted in mid-tempos so I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we sped it up and then made everything sound fucking hyper. I also got big into Charli XCX and 100 Gecs – I find hyperpop really interesting in terms of the sonics and production. Those acts, what I took away from it, they’re so bold, they have no regard for the listener. I loved the how i’m feeling now Charli album: the mixes are incredible. The sounds she pushed to the forefront are really great. Everything’s clipping. I wanted to make an album where it’s almost white noise, the guitars are clipping and also take the influence of our love for the self-titled blink 182 album. I was also thinking of The Klaxons [laughs]. That was kinda hyper at the time, so I’m gonna incorporate that to make big hyper, emotional fuzzy pop.

Carter: I love the new record in general. You’ve had a real rebrand of everything. From the outside, it feels like a new start.

MacLeod: We had a mild identity crisis in 2019 where we thought we had to follow the path of becoming Snow Patrol. I was like oh no, that’s not us. It was plain to me, no seasoning. You need some chillies in there. I feel like a lot of bands think they have to do that and be beige because that’s how you age gracefully. But we were like, I don’t really care about that. We just wanted our freedom back. In actual fact, the way we feel most comfortable is playing scuzzy guitars and big hooks and choruses. So then we thought, let’s get Sam on one of the songs so if people don’t like this one, we can say, ‘oh it’s because of Sam’ [laughs].

Carter: Blame me, I can just about take it.