WHEN Johnny Lynch previewed new songs from Thumb World, his eighth album as Pictish Trail, during last month’s Celtic Connections, he remarked how strange it felt to be performing them to 600 people at Saint Luke’s – his biggest headline show to date.

They’d been formed over months of banging them out to no-one in his shed on Eigg, then explained Lynch, flanked by members of a live band which includes vaunted multi-instrumentalist Suze Bear, bass-playing Super Furry Animal Guto Pryce, and Joe Cormack, one of the guitar-mastering brothers who front The Massacre Cave, the Hebridean island’s only thrash metal band.

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“Joe is an amazing guitarist, and he’s got lovely hair as well,” says Lynch, speaking to The National from Edinburgh.

Pryce, still a member of the Super Furries from his new base in Fife, simply asked Lynch if he could join his live team following performances on Eigg with Gulp, the Welshman’s side project with his partner.

The National:

“His touch on the bass is incredible,” continues Lynch. “He knows when to make things go super psychedelic, he can do disco numbers, he can go into the wilds of progressive rock, classic rock. And having Guto on bass meant I could move Suze to synthesizers. It’s been really cool for her, I think, as she always wants to try something new. I can’t believe I’ve got this band together, really. I’m totally spoiled.”

From the gentle cosmic trundle of early track Double Sided through the squally indie of Bad Algebra and house grooves of Turning Back, that eclecticism is in evidence on Thumb World. And though it was there too in Future Echoes, Thumb World’s colourful, Scottish Album of the Year-nominated predecessor, here the hues are more muted and the tone is one of wistful reflection.

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Lynch’s new songs may have been seeded in physical isolation on Eigg, but they often seem shaped by the confusion and bewilderment that often accompanies having the rest of the world at our thumbtips.

It’s also the most collaborative record of Lynch’s two-decade career, with string arrangements from Kim Moore, a cameo from Alex Thomas – one of the most versatile, astonishing drummers in the game – and production from Adem, and Idlewild’s Rob Jones. Perhaps even more decisive was a dialogue with Swatpaz, aka Davey Ferguson, the Scottish animator behind crime-busting TV adventure series Turbo Fantasy.

Not only do Ferguson’s drawings feature on Thumb World’s cover art and in charming videos for Bad Algebra, Turning Back and the yearning Slow Memories, his input helped shaped the sound of the record, says Lynch.

The National: Pictish Trail perform in Carlisle, credit: Kate ReesPictish Trail perform in Carlisle, credit: Kate Rees

“I sent Davey a work-in-progress mix of the album,” he says. “He came up with amazing characters, and gave me a study of each one. I hadn’t finished the songs by this point and seeing what Davey had done made me think about what was missing from the songs, made me think about them more visually. The album came together like that, matching the characters to the songs, so Thumb World is like a 1980s arcade game on a mobile phone.”

Like much of his back catalogue, Thumb World’s songs were first conceived as fragments sung into a phone while out walking.

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“I’m more and more aware of my dependency on the phone,” Lynch says. “Having opposable thumbs is supposedly what makes us different from animals and yet we use them to constantly scroll though this endless timeline of awful things, this claustrophobic, end-of-days hellscape.”

“A lot of the songs are about this feeling of being trapped, of being on an endless loop of life folding in on itself. I wanted to offered music around all that which was some form of escape. I wanted to use that to make something that sounds as epic as it could.”

He adds: “Why not? Who just wants to hear some bloke from the Hebrides whining away on his guitar?”

April 9, Tolbooth, Stirling, 7pm, £17

Apr 10, Beat Generator, Dundee, 7pm, £16

Apr 11, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 7pm, £17

Apr 12, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 7pm, £15.40


Thumb World is released on February 21 via Fire Records