Hold On To Your Heart as rock trio The Xcerts make their return

The Xcerts
The Xcerts

With the release of their fourth album Hold On To Your Heart, rock trio The Xcerts wear their hearts on their sleeve like never before.

Frontman and main songwriter Murray Macleod wrote the intensely personal title song about the break-up of his five-year relationship.

He tells The Guide: 'For a long time, especially if you’re British there’s this stiff upper lip thing, and "Woah woah, don’t cry", hold that back, bottle it up and get on with life.

'I’ve done some work with a charity called Calm, which is the Campaign Against Living Miserably. Basically the suicide rate in the UK for males is unbelievably high, it’s insane.

'For me being so raw and personal in these songs, it’s important. I want people, male and female, to get out of this record, to know that it’s fine to unload and cry, and feel pain, because it’s a privilege being here on planet Earth.

'It’s important to know that it’s fine to hurt.'

'It is catharsis for me - and it’s a lot cheaper than therapy!' he laughs.

'I wasn’t good at articulating in the day to day how I was feeling, so writing it down on paper in the lyrical form seems to be easy for me. And healthy.'

The song was written in 15 minutes flat, which Murray admits took him by surprise.

The lyrics were just kind of there – I’ve heard of other artists say that before, and I thought, what the hell are you on about?

'I was in the studio with Gary [Clark, the album's producer], and I only had the chorus. I opened my notebook and boom! Within 15 minutes we were recording the vocals. It was quite odd, I can’t explain it, but they were just there, and the melody was there.

'There’s no real formula to it, I guess, and that’s the excitement of songwriting. Other times, it’s a real labour of love and I’ll go through heaps of sets of lyrics to make sure they’re as honest and as good as possible.'

The trio, originally from Aberdeen, but now residing in Brighton, have lost much of their spikier roots, and on this album in particular have been channeling their '80s rock heroes. And on recent single Drive Me Wild they even cracked out a saxophone solo.

'This is the first time we’ve used sax. It’s not the first time we’ve thought about using it, we’ve wanted to do it for so long, but I don’t think we’ve had the confidence. When we were younger we were worried about what would be perceived as cool or lame, and whatnot, and then it was like, we love saxophone and rock’n’roll and turn it up to 11!

'Once we kind of clocked we were tapping into this '80s influence, it made all these influences that we have like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Bruce Hornsby, they all started seeping in to the album really seamlessly, but that song in particular, when I wrote the opening chord sequence, I remember thinking this is really Tom Petty, there’s no point in shying away from it.'

Producer Clark was in the band Danny Wilson who scored a huge hit in 1987, but since went on to write and produce the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, Melanie C, Julia Fordham, McFly and many more.

'He he’s a really big writer for pop musicians, and he was a popstar in the '80s, so for us to tap to into what is a new sound for us, it was ideal.

'I went to his studio, initially just me, to have this conversation and work on a few demos. And him having this experience and telling him we want this record to reference all of these artists, he knew exactly what we wanted.

'The only way I can describe it, is we were in a room full of doors, and there was one door only Gary had the kkey for it, then all of a sudden this world opened up. Gary never stamped his authority on it, he always said these are your songs, this is your record, but how about you try fgoing down this path?

'He was more experimental than I thought he'd be. And he pulled out the pop elements of what we're doing, I really wanted the melodies to buzz, and he just tweaked tiny details to make it, in our eyes, from being good to really great.'

Hold On is the band's first album in more than three years – There Is Only You was released in November 2014, and Murray naturally has high hopes for the new release.

'I’d be lying if I said I didn't want this to be the record to take us to arenas. But to be honest, I just hope it enables us to continue being a band.

'We signed up to this with longevity in mind – we want to do this for a long time, but I hope this record nudges us up a couple of rungs on the ladder so we can play in some bigger rooms.'

And he wants it to inspire strong reactions one way or another.

'I hope that people really, really cherish the record. I don’t want anyone to think it’s just okay. I’d rather they despise it - not a 5/10, god no. I want people to really embrace it and live with it, and hopefully make some memories with it.'

The Joiners, Southampton

Sunday, March 4