Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton started collaborating in the mid-nineties under the name Arab Strap, and for over ten years produced music that would in turn influence another generation of musicians, helping to imbue the Glasgow (though they both hail from Falkirk) music scene with a different kind of creativity and palette. Signed to Chemikal Underground, they would go on to create six records; The Week Never Starts Round Here (1996), Philophobia (1998), Elephant Shoe (1999), The Red Thread (2001), Monday at the Hug & Pint (2003), and The Last Romance (2005), as well as various EP’s.
What began as a spare, raw sound, evolved into something that drew on heavy, pervasive influences at the time, namely dance and indie music, but they drenched these influences in reflectiveness, and at times nakedly honest lyrics about isolation and despair, and pursuit of pleasure at varying costs. Since they parted ways, they have been very busy; Middleton has released five solo records, and has moved on to another moniker Human Don’t Be Angry (a record should be released this year), and Moffat also made use of a moniker for a while – L. Pierre (under which he released three records), but has had an even more diverse output, recording the spoken word record I Can Hear Your Heart (2007), which also featured a cover of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart“, and a Dorothy Parker poem; performing as Aidan Moffat & the Best Of’s who released the record How to Get to Heaven From Scotland, in 2009, time as ‘Uncle Agony’ with The Quietus, humorously answering people’s problems with his I’m No Expert column, and generally being as contrarian and creative as we have come to expect. In the last year, he has worked with brilliant Edinburgh-based collective FOUND on the Unravel project (http://www.unravelproject.com/) which is part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (20th April – 7th May), and completed the beautiful collaborative record with Bill Wells Everything’s Getting Older, which took eight years to complete, and which was worth the effort.
Middleton and Moffat have, of course, worked together since their Arab Strap days, and are still great friends – last year saw them release a cover of Slow Club’s “Two Cousins 1999“, and they reunited as Arab Strap last year for a one-off performance to celebrate twenty years of Glasgow’s Nice ‘N’ Sleazy venue, supported by RM Hubbert and The Twilight Sad. The night was, by all accounts, very special, with the board outside the venue advertising a concert by the mysterious “William Harness”, and they rattled through songs such as “The Shy Retirer” and “The First Big Weekend“, with Moffat later stating that it really would be the last time Arab Strap play together, but we can only hope that means….for now. Siobhán Kane has a very quick chat with the time-addled Aidan Moffat ahead of his show with Bill Wells at The Grand Social.
Love, all different kinds, from romantic, to familial has framed so much of what you write about, from Arab Strap work to more recent work – is it the one thing that still seems like an unknowable mystery to you? I think this sounds like a pub discussion, preceded by several pints of strong cider. I suspect the conclusions reached would be fairly mundane though, to be honest.
A lot of people don’t seem to believe in the mystery of life anymore, the Wizard of Oz has been revealed, but it is not a Wizard I want to visit. What are your thoughts? I resisted a lot the social networking stuff for ages, and used to think that a bit of mystery was a good thing, even an essential part of an artist-audience relationship. But the world’s not like that anymore, and if you want to compete then you have to embrace it. I only really do Twitter, but what I realised about that was that I don’t have to worry about being myself or having any sort of image, because I don’t have one. I’ve always been pretty upfront and honest – to a fault, maybe, in my records, so me on Twitter’s really just an extension of what I’ve always done, except now I moan about everything, instead of just my inept love life.
Your grasp on language is something that has always marked you out, who do you go back to? There aren’t a lot that spring to mind, to be honest. But in general, I can’t really think of anyone specific. I probably listen more to instrumental music these days anyway. I’ve always got time for Tom Waits and I’ve listened to him since I was a teenager. In literature, I’m a huge fan of B.S. Johnson and he’s probably the only author who I reread, with the exception of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan, I must’ve read that a few times.
Do you see the way you write and your music as very different to your Arab Strap work, or not at all? Do you feel like the same person, or changed somehow? Does Scotland remain a muse? Ha ha! I’m not sure. To delve any deeper would require alcohol and a few more hours. I am influenced by the oral tradition and storytelling certainly, and the Scottish – and maybe Irish – sense of humour is a big part of the way I write, that self-critical thing where you make sure you’re the butt of the joke so no-one else does.
There are many things I think of in relation to you, but one of them is your particularly black sense of humour, who makes you laugh? Nothing in particular, I’m open to all kinds of humour. I could watch Brasseye then a Carry On film, and enjoy them just the same, and I’ve got a soft spot for cheesy American rom-coms. Have you seen Crazy Stupid Love? I thought that was brilliant. And I almost cried – both tears of joy and tears of emotional stress – at The Muppets.
I liked that piece you wrote for Under the Radar about National Lampoon’s Vacation, especially since I love Chevy Chase – have you ever seen Foul Play with him and Goldie Hawn? It’s so brilliant. I also love Bill Murray around that time, and Gilda Radner. I haven’t seen that, no, but my other half loves Goldie Hawn so I might try and find it. Bill Murray is amazing, of course!.
In that interview you did with Ian Rankin a few years ago, sharing your love of comic books, you mentioned that Britain has such a rich history of folk tales, but the USA is still relatively young, so is evolving its own kind of folk tales, and myths, and a vibrant tradition that they have harnessed is the comic book tradition – what are some of your favourite comics? Ha! Seriously? Of all the writers I’d probably say Grant Morrison is my favourite, along with writer-and-artist Charles Burns – they’re probably the two I keep coming back to. One of my favourite artists is Frank Quitely – he did the artwork for the cover of Everything’s Getting Older, which was fantastic – but there’s loads of them that I could happily sit and discuss for hours.
What are you reading and listening to? Are there any great local bands and writers you think are quite interesting? To be honest, I feel a bit out of the scene these days, I don’t go to anywhere near as much gigs as I should, and every time someone asks me that question I draw a complete blank!