It's been a tough five years for The Xcerts.

The band - formed in Aberdeen but now based in Brighton - released their fourth LP, Hold On To Your Heart, in 2018 and scored their first top 40 album in the process.

The trio - singer and guitarist Murray MacLeod, bassist Jordan Smith and drummer Tom Heron - looked to be on the up-and-up until being hit with the triple whammy of a global pandemic, being dropped by their record label and tumultuous personal circumstances.

As such it's taken until now for fifth album Learning to Live and Let Go, a heavier, more experimental record than the Springsteen-influenced Hold On To Your Heart, to see the light of day.

MacLeod explains: "The stories that formed the record started, I would say, from when we started touring Hold On To Your Heart.

“A lot of life happened on that campaign for us, we were on tour pretty much permanently and life felt very loud at the time.

“Then all of a sudden the pandemic hit and it felt like somebody had pulled the plug on the party.

“Even though life became so quiet I felt there was a great deal of volume to that silence. During lockdown we were sat on like 25 demos for the record and I would just listen to them every single day, all day.

The Herald:

“Even then when nothing was going on, everything was too loud for me in a really weird way. It’s quite hard to explain, it was almost like the silence was overwhelmingly deafening

“Predominantly the stories are pre-lockdown, because we’d started writing the record before then. I was involved in a really toxic relationship which didn’t have much love there.

“It was very much based on a sexual tension between the two of us and it was just really ugly. That’s why the songs aren’t maybe quite as heartbroken as they have been in the past, because it was a bit more ugly.

Read More: 'You had so much to lose' - The Aces on growing up queer and Mormon

“This was – in hindsight – just pretty funny so there’s a lot of humour in the record. I kind of hear it now as being beautifully tragic.

“A lot of chaos is involved, it’s a pretty messy album because my life felt pretty messy.

“I think certain things were inspired post-lockdown too, where I just went feral – which came with its own problems.

“I didn’t see much light in myself, so it was a real process to get back to feeling I was deserving of love.

"About halfway through making the record we parted ways with our management company and our record label withdrew their offer on the album.

“We were very much stranded at sea and had to really rely on one another to feel that hunger to make something we believe in.

“I didn’t think the bond between the three of us could get any stronger but it really did because of that.

The Herald: The Xcerts release their new album later this monthThe Xcerts release their new album later this month (Image: Zak Pinchin)

"We kept insisting that the record needed to be worked on more, and more, and more – I think as a way to deflect from the fact we were petrified of getting back on stage.

“We signed a deal with a new management company and they were like, ‘this is mania at this point and you have to stop. It’s done’.

“So we got back out on stage and it was totally life-affirming and we felt right back at home. But it was a tricky period for sure.”

The new record is something of a departure for the trio, going from the heavy, electronic tinged 'Ache' - featuring long-time friend Sam Carter of Architects - to the Prince-influenced 'Lovesick'.

It's a bold step for a band who had just scored their first top 40 album.

MacLeod says: "We knew we wanted to shake things up, because we released Hold On To Your Heart and then we toured an EP we released called Wild Heart Dreaming.

Read More: From Queer Pop to post-punk: Glasgow festival The Great Western unveils its line-up

“I think after the touring of the EP we all had this feeling that we weren’t representing ourselves in the way that we wanted to.

“We kind of foresaw ourselves going down this very safe and comfortable road and that didn’t interest any of us. Playing it safe is just not who we are.

“We wanted to let our freak flag fly because that is our band, so once we got into the studio we just started experimenting a lot more and started writing without any sort of fear or concern for the outside world.

“We just wanted to feel as free as possible, it was a really freeing experience to write those songs. We had no management company or label telling us what to do so we kind of felt like when you’re a kid and you’ve been left alone by your parents for the night and they’ve left you money for takeaway – we just ran riot.

“We used to use fear as fuel in the studio and this time round that couldn’t exist, and we just said to one another, ‘if we want to do something let’s just do it’.

“If it’s a good song and it feels true to us and authentic then it’s going to stick, we had that mentality the entire time and were kind of unapologetic about it.”

The Herald:

Experimentation isn't something new, with the band going from post-hardcore on their debut, through power-pop on 2014's There Is Only You, to the E-Street stylings of their last album.

That first record, In The Cold Wind We Smile, was something of a sleeper hit.

Though it didn't chart at the time, it attained enough popularity over the next decade the band embarked on a 10th anniversary tour in 2019.

An album caught between Aberdeen and Brighton - 'Home vs Home' as the opening track puts it - it dealt with death and heartbreak with a recongisably Scottish bent - "and if I only hurt you/why sit in the winter cold with me for company?" - making it a firm favourite at any house party which had perhaps gone on just that little too long.

MacLeod laughs: "I’ve been told that a lot, which is really cool. I really like that, because I think we were unaware of it at the time and still are slightly unaware of it, because at the time we weren’t playing to many people.

"I think it’s become this very cool, cult-y record. The Scottish music scene at the time was amazing because it was the time when us and Twin (Atlantic) were coming up, Biffy (Clyro) had blown up, Fatherson were just starting to form – I remember it feeling like a really special time but I don’t think I quite grasped how kind of beloved that first record is.

"We were a little bit hesitant to do that tour, just because we wanted to look forward and we were like, ‘we’re not there yet, we’re not a nostalgia act just yet’.

“But then we had a conversation about it, and we’re still so immensely proud of that album. Really the first two records we released we were playing to very, very empty rooms so the whole point of that was to go and honour the record.

“It deserved to be played to full rooms, it was like: ‘you deserve this’. Not us – we felt the record deserved its moment in the sun."

A full 14 years after In The Cold Wind We Smile, it's fifth album time, and The Xcerts aren't afraid to admit they've got a lot riding on it.

MacLeod says: "I can’t lie and say I’m not nervous about it, because I want as many people to dig the songs as possible.

“We’re not quite the 14-year-old punk band we once were where we’re like, ‘we don’t give a shit about anything we just want to make noise’.

“It’s not that, we want to be… I guess, liked. It’s so simple and basic, but it’s true.

"I’m a little bit nervous but the main feeling is excitement.


The Herald:

"We’ve started work on the set (for the tour), but I feel like it’s going to be a bit of a celebratory tour just based on the fact we’re still here and we made it through such a brutal time.

"We’re so proud of the previous records and we’re well aware that some people in those rooms connect more to our first record than our third, or have connected more to Hold On To Your Heart than they did Scatterbrain.

“We’ve got to take that into account and make sure everyone in that room is catered for. We’re there to entertain, and live shows are the greatest form of escapism so we want to make sure everybody walks out of those rooms with a smile on their face.

“It’ll be pretty new record focused, but the record is only half an hour long so we’ve got another hour to fill from our back catalogue.

“I don’t think we’re going to play the whole of the new record, there will be about seven songs in there - and three of them are under two minutes.

“I think we’re going to try and put together the longest set we’ve ever done, which is really exciting for us."

Though it's been over 15 years since MacLeod and Smith swapped the north-east of Scotland for England's south coast, the singer's vocal delivery remains unmistakeably of the Granite City.

They may reside south of the border these days, but they remain resolutely a Scottish band.

MacLeod says: "I’m glad people in Scotland didn’t turn their backs on us when we moved!

“The weird thing is we kind of started doing well in Scotland after we’d moved to Brighton, we had a really big following in Aberdeen when we were younger but we kind of became more beloved when we moved.

Read More: Ian Rankin, Val McDermid join Mull Historical Society for new album

“It always feels special to come back. Tom would probably argue this because he’s English but he’s an honorary Scotsman at this point and we still very much feel like a Scottish band.

“There’s so much history there and we’ve played everywhere in Scotland, we’ve really grafted across the country to try and pull people in.

“It just feels like home every time we come back.

“I remember when we were younger Glasgow seemed impossible to crack. We played our first show in Glasgow and there were like, four people there. It was upstairs at the Barfly and we just thought, ‘this is never, ever going to happen for us in Glasgow’.

“We had come down for shows at the Barrowlands and Tuts, I remember first walking into Tuts and thinking, ‘oh my God if we could just get a show here’.

“We’ve always been so in awe of Glasgow, and just Scotland itself and the Scottish music scene.

“The crowds are just really, really special and I can say that pretty safely having toured across the world.

“There’s no place like Scotland, and it always feels like a homecoming. Those shows in Aberdeen and Glasgow are going to be something else.”

Learning How To Live and Let Go is out on UNFD on August 18. The Xcerts play The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen on October 13 and St Luke's in Glasgow on October 14, tickets are available here.