"WORK as if you are in the early days of a better nation”. Alasdair Gray’s famous quote has become a rallying cry for those who can envision a brighter future. It is a quote that might as well be emblazoned across the latest offering from Skye four-piece Niteworks.

The night has always felt, unsurprisingly, like Niteworks’ realm. But with Air Fair an La, which translates as “at dawn of day”, the band – Innes Strachan, Christopher Nicholson, Ruairidh Graham and Allan MacDonald – appear ready to take strides into the sunlit uplands of Gray’s better nation.

READ MORE: New Niteworks album is music born from poetic injustice

And while this album feels like something of a new beginning for the band, Air Fair an La is hopefully just the latest step in a continuing musical journey.

Unlike the band’s debut album, NW, however, this time they have brought in some outside help in the shape of respected techno artist and producer Alex Smoke [Alex Menzies who has worked with Glasgow’s Soma Records among others]. It has clearly paid dividends for the band. Air Fair an La is an album that showcases the band’s growing maturity as artists and that relinquishing of control is key. Bringing in an outsider has allowed them to pare back their sound and let the singers, and the songs, step into the limelight.

That’s not to say the album is devoid of the kind of dancefloor-fillers with which the band made their name. It’s just that here the big tracks are more considered affairs. The sound throughout, though, is unmistakably Niteworks.

“We were conscious back when we started thinking about getting the album together that we wanted to bring in a producer,” says piper MacDonald. “Because we’d never done that before we didn’t really know what we were missing and we also felt we’d reached the zenith of our own technical abilities.

“So we wanted to work with a producer and we made a shortlist and Alex was top of the list. He was such a massively high-profile name when we were younger. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d be able to get Alex because he’s in such high demand but we were put in touch with him by a mutual friend.”

That initial contact was not, however, as promising as the band had hoped.

“His immediate reaction was like ‘this sounds fine, and I’m flattered to be asked but I have absolutely no experience with any sort of traditional music and quite frankly I don’t think bagpipes belong in club music,’” says MacDonald. “So I emailed back and said that was exactly why we wanted him. I think he then listened to some of the old stuff and decided he could work with us.”

Menzies’s ability to guide soon paid off and MacDonald freely admits that he is in part responsible for reining in some of the band’s impulses.

The title track, for example, is given over to the vocals of Sian, the exciting all-female Gaelic singing trio comprising Ellen MacDonald, Ceitlin LR Smith and (National columnist) Eilidh Cormack. Here, the music provides a platform allowing the voices to shine and never intrudes.

“In the past we had a bit of a tendency to throw too much at a track,” admits MacDonald. “The songs we chose for this album we chose because we really liked the melodies in them anyway and they’re all such powerful pieces in their own right that we were definitely trying to be more complementary rather than just sticking a big beat over them.

“We also used a lot more acoustic instruments than we did on the last album. The strings are a much bigger feature also. And with a lot of the synth stuff we opted for less of the crazy-in-your-face electronic sounds than previously. It’s just a progression really and hopefully it works and it still sounds like us.”

MacDonald has no need to worry on that account. This is unmistakably Niteworks.

And the band clearly still have the ability to attract the best vocal talents in the country. From Kathleen McInnes on NW, to Julie Fowlis, Iain Morrison, Sian and Ellen MacDonald on Air Fair an La, the range of voices is dizzying.

The National:

“It’s certainly getting easier to get people to buy into what we’re doing,” says MacDonald. “When we first got Kathleen on the first album to sing Maraiche and it did well and was picked up by a couple of VisitScotland adverts and I think it helped.”

Getting people on board is one thing, but finding time in their schedules is another thing altogether.

“Both Julie and Iain are super high-profile and both were in the middle of recording their own albums so it was difficult, but one of the beauties of modern recording is that you can do it remotely,” says MacDonald.

“For the first four demos Julie did she just sang into her phone and then sent it to me on WhatsApp and then we ran with it from there. Once we had the structure the way we wanted it it was just a case of trying to block off a day in her diary to get her into the studio.

The National:

“Alex brought a level of professionalism to us that we didn’t have before but having Julie on board is like another level beyond that.

“Her confidence and her delivery is unreal. We were delighted to have her on board.”

For a band rooted in Gaelic culture, however, sometimes finding the singer is easier than finding the song.

“It’s one of the hardest parts,” admits MacDonald, “finding a song that you like, that hasn’t been done to death and that you think you can do something different with. We’ve used some fairly common songs in the past before. In fact we’re by no means the first to do Air Fair an La but we’re definitely doing it in far different fashion to what anyone else has done in the past.

“The good thing of having people like Ellen, Julie etcetera on board is that we can really try and leverage them to help us look for stuff and we can also bounce ideas off them.

“There are great resources online as well. And we find tunes and songs at sessions as well.

“For instance, with the tune that became [opening track] Dookin I was at a session and someone began playing that melody so I recorded that on my phone and learnt it from that.”

This passing on of tunes and songs is at the heart of traditional music – even for an electronic act such as Niteworks.

“What’s kind of flattering is one of our songs from NW, Maraiche, which even Kathleen had sung before, was being sung at this year’s Mod by something like three choirs. And it was basically our version or the way we had arranged it.

“It’s good to know we’re having some influence even on Mod choirs which are about as far away as you can get from what we do. But it’s quite cool as I guess it means people are listening.”

And it is unlikely they are going to stop listening anytime soon.

Air Fair an La showcases a band in their prime. There is no Scottish cringe with Niteworks. They have redefined traditional music for a post-referendum generation who are confident, outward looking and modern and yet who retain a deep and abiding connection to the land and its history. They are unashamedly Highland, unashamedly Scottish and unashamedly a folk band.

They are a band worthy of Gray’s better nation.