South Africa may be Civil Twilight's homeland, but the Brit-rock inspired trio (which performs July 17 at Radio Radio) decided five years ago to make their name in an iconically American place of pilgrimage for rock stars, Los Angeles.
The bandmates — brothers Steven and Andrew McKellar and drummer Richard Wouters — first met as teenagers growing up in Capetown. Jams gestated into full-blooded songs, and they eventually had enough material to perform a few shows here and there. Wouters told NUVO that the band had no idea what to expect when they moved to Los Angeles.
“We were coming from a relatively small city in Africa that was kind of remote to L.A., which is just so crazy all the time," Wouters explained. "The first few months we were just trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. Because the band knew some people in the music industry, they managed to set up a couple shows in Hollywood, including one at the Roxy. That was exciting to play some of those clubs in Hollywood because they’re so famous. We had heard about them in South Africa."
Wouters says his band makes British-sounding alternative rock similar to Radiohead, The Police and U2. He also notes that other disparate influences: Oasis and Led Zepplin, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and for pure songwriting, Bob Dylan and The Band.
The band's first single, “Letters from the Sky,” was written in the studio after the band had just finished recording another song. Steven started playing a piano motive, soon Andrew and Wouters started playing along and the band had a finished track by the end of the day.
“We were just feeling it in the moment and constructed the song very quickly," Wouters said. "But it's cool because it feels live and fresh because it happened that way. It wasn’t a long thought-out thing; it just happened organically."
Civil Twilight have found airplay in the margins of the mainstream: “Letters from the Sky” was selected as an iTunes’ single of the week, and the band gathered to hear their song “Human” on the soundtrack of the House episode that aired after this year’s Super Bowl.
“As an artist you have all these associations with the music, and then seeing it used in a completely different context than how you’ve always thought of it is kind of strange and surreal, but it was really exciting,” Wouters said of the soundtrack spot.
The band settled on its name after looking over a list of aviation jargon. But they also drew on an certain legacy: Andrew and Steve’s grandfather and uncle are pilots, and one of the band's favorite bands, Wilco, is named after an aviation term.
“It means the specific time of dusk when the sun is just below the horizon, so i'ts dark but not quite dark yet,” Wouters said. He added that his band's atmospheric, mysterious sound is in keeping with the name.
Civil Twilight has been has been touring for just over four months, and the band plans to be on the road for most of the year, with a break in August to work on new songs. Wouters says Civil Twilight is getting better and better live. “We’re always learning and as musicians you never arrive. You’re always developing,” he said.
Promotional video for "Letters from the Sky":