Steven McKellar sounds a lot like Bono. It seemed like he was aware of that when we spoke.
He fronts Civil Twilight, a quartet from Cape Town, South Africa that also includes his brother, Andrew. You’ve likely heard the band and not known it, as they’ve soundtracked everything from One Tree Hill to the WWE to The Vampire Diaries to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
They come to Birmingham on Saturday, March 22, and Steven spoke to Weld about when to expect a new record and what to expect from the show.
Weld: How old were you when you figured out that you sounded like Bono?
Steven McKellar: [Laughs.] Gosh, I was probably mid-20s.
Weld: That long? You went that long without knowing that voice was inside you?
SM: My voice — I sounded like a girl for many years, and I still kind of do. [Laughs.] Yeah, I think that’s when people started to give me that reference. I was probably about 25 or something.
Weld: Your music is all over television and film — do you write with that in mind, or does it happen by accident?
SM: It’s a happy accident. Our music seems to be suitable for TV shows because there’s a vagueness in the lyrics and there are a lot of metaphors. And then Andrew’s guitar playing and my voice often create an atmosphere that’s suitable for Housewives of [City] or something [Laughs.]. It’s certainly not in mind. It was just recently that we started writing specifically for shows, and we definitely want to get into that more, but when it comes down to our records, it just happens to be what works.
Weld: When you’re writing, is Andrew an active part of the process, or do you bring him an idea and let him build around it?
SM: It’s changed over the years, and right now, where we’re at for this third record is very much a combination of all of the techniques we’ve used in the past, which is playing as a band — just strumming chords for a few hours and singing over that — and me working on songs by myself, presenting it to the band and either getting a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Kevin [Dailey, keyboards] is a new member of the band, and he’s also starting to write himself. So it’s kind of all over the place right now — I may have to answer that when the new record comes out [Laughs.].
Weld: How is your relationship with Andrew? How do you not kill each other when you’ve played music together for so long?
SM: Yeah. Good question.
I think we have a massive respect for each other as individuals as well as brothers, you know? It’s certainly not been easy. There’s moments in a close relationship like that, there’s one incident where you think, “Gosh, if I just applied extra patience right now, this will really help us in the future.”
And we’ve had to make a lot of decisions like that, in regards to our relationship; just be very communicative and supportive, and we’re definitely better at it now than we used to be. We love each other very much. That helps.
Weld: Is Nashville still home for you, and how often do you get back to Cape Town?
SM: Nashville — we’ve been here five years now, it’s great. We’re all based here, we live close together. I like it very much. It’s not as beautiful as Cape Town, but the people are beautiful. I think we get back to Cape Town twice a year — we were just back there recently, we did two shows there, which usually helps us fund the trip to go back and see friends and family. We’ve been blessed that way.
Weld: How far are we from the new record?
SM: We actually just submitted songs to a list of producers today. I don’t know — it all depends on who’s available and when, but we want to bring it out by the end of September. Hopefully, there will be a single out before then. And touring.
Weld: How much of the new material can we expect at the show?
SM: We’ll probably do three new ones, I think. We have three out of 30 plus songs that we demoed, there’s three that all of us liked [Laughs.]. So, yeah, we’ll probably play those three.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
SM: Gosh, interesting question. Every band I’m thinking of is from the other side of the pond.
Nirvana, definitely. The Strokes. White Stripes. Those are all typical, I guess, huh?
I’ll give you three, how about that?