I have been a huge fan of AIDAN MOFFAT’s work for nearly 20 years. I am fairly vocal about my love for his particular brand of self-deprecating humour, warts-and-all storytelling and his ability to express complex internal thought processes across his multitude of projects. Arab Strap represented the harrowing comedown after the Britpop party. Propelled by legendary Scottish label Chemikal Underground, they excelled at spacious, deft guitar motifs atop an intense introspection that allowed their protagonist to leave all of his foibles on display. Subsequent records have displayed an evolving, wizened euphoria beneath the sometimes-macabre veneer. Nowadays, Moffat cuts a statesmanlike figure in the Glasgow music scene, having won Scottish Album Of The Year in 2012 with his collaboration with Bill Wells, the magnificently-titled Everything’s Getting Older.
I wanted to find out more about his newest collaboration with RM HUBBERT, the live show coming to Liverpool and the spectacular record Here Lies The Body. What I got was so much more: we talked at length about the award-winning film Where You’re Meant To Be, other projects he has worked tirelessly on (including an EP he made 17 years ago in tribute to the John Carpenter film Halloween) and how his career has developed with its fanbase.
Can you tell us about the collaboration with RM Hubbert and how that came about?
Hubby and I have always been part of the same scene. He used to run a club in Glasgow about 20-odd years ago. But it really started when he made his second album six years ago. He asked me to sing one of the songs on that. If he was doing a gig and we were in the same city I would always come on and sing it with him. We were on our way down to Newcastle to do a show which I opened with a spoken word set that went dreadfully, as I recall. I very casually suggested we should do a few more songs and maybe make an album together. This was probably five years ago, and it’s taken us years to find the time to do the record and put it out. So, it’s been a long time coming, aye.
So, this was an ongoing project while other projects were being worked on?
Aye, but everything’s like that. I’ve always got two or three albums on at any given time. I like to have things planned out. You have to these days. Gone are the days where you could put out a record and it would last you three or four years with touring – certainly at my level. You can do that I’m sure if you are a huge star, but I’ve got to keep working in. But that’s good though, because I like working in.
There is a thread running through most of your records to date. Would you say there was a common theme behind Here Lies The Body?
Oh, definitely. Every record I’ve ever made has a story behind it; some more obvious than others. Even the six Arab Strap records have a story behind them and, in fact, they tell a story from start to finish as well, if you listen to them all in a row. With this one, the first lyrics I wrote were for the last song Fringe. That was inspired by an article I’d read about a woman who left her family, and how that was still such a rare occurrence – for the woman to leave. So Fringe is about the aftermath of that, where the woman is eyed suspiciously by other mothers and things like that [laughs]. After I’d had that idea I started to fill in the blanks about what happened before it. Every song is about the same two people. Perspectives shift throughout the record, but it’s a story about how that happened. You know that the first album ever released was a 10” by Frank Sinatra? It took eight of Sinatra’s hits at the time, 1948 I think it was. They were put in the sequence that tells a story. So, the very first LP was a concept record. You’ve got to try and keep these traditions alive [laughs].
I wanted to ask you about the songwriting process. I remember reading in the Arab Strap liner notes that you did everything non-musical. I wondered if this has changed over the years, or even if this changes from record to record?
I work pretty much the same as I’ve always worked. For this album, Hubby would send me a recording of a guitar part, then I’m left to my own devices. So, I’ll add drums or keyboards and I’ll write the words. It’s exactly how it was with Arab Strap. In those days, Malcolm [Middleton] would just give me a cassette. It was a wee bit different with Bill [Wells]; he would have things a bit more fleshed. He’ll have an idea for a melody and then he’ll have a string part written in his mind and all that kind of stuff. So, it was a bit different working with Bill, but for the most part it’s the same for each record.
What is the band setup for the tour? What can we expect in Liverpool?
We are actually doing things a wee bit different for these gigs. We are going to do new arrangements. It’s going to be me, Hubby and Jenny Reeve, who played with Arab Strap, too. We’re going to make it a bit more intimate and quieter. The plan is to record it as well. We’re recording these gigs, and may do a Record Store Day live album. These five dates are the only time we’re going to play like this. So, you’ll get something a wee bit special.
How was making Where You’re Meant To Be, and is film something you’d like to do more of?
It was the hardest I’ve worked on any one thing, without a doubt. Not the songs, the songs were a piece of pish. But I wrote at least 100 pages for the narration of the film. The final script was five pages long. Now I have a greater appreciation for how much you throw away when you make a film. There were hundreds of hours of footage that we could have used. Getting among that and finding the story you want to tell is the really hard part. I’m very proud of it. I loved doing it, but I’m in no hurry to dedicate that many years of my life to one project again.
There is a great part where you are singing one of the reimagined folk songs a cappella, in a social club, and there is a young man looking at you with a look on his face that says, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’
Those earlier gigs were absolutely excruciating. But the mantra all the way through filming and doing the tour was, ‘Don’t worry, it will look good in the film’ [laughs]. Luckily, I’m absolutely happy to look like a dick, I don’t care. Obviously, when you go into other people’s communities they’re going to treat you suspiciously, but as long as you don’t wade in there acting the wank, and you have no pretensions about yourself, it’s a way to disarm people. We met a lot of great people through that.
Do you have any memories of working with Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia/The Magnolia Electric Co.?
Aye – there’s actually going to be a reissue of The Lioness soon and I’ve written some sleeve notes for it. For all the sadness in his songs I only remember having a good laugh with Jason. Whenever we met we would go to the pub and talk about heavy metal. So, I only remember him as a fun guy. I didn’t see the sadness that he had.
I remember a long time ago reading something you’d written about him in a magazine, and that’s how I got into his music.
Ah, great. The first time I met him was during the very first Arab Strap tour of America. I was given a sheet of all our upcoming gigs, and I was looking through who was playing with us. Five or six gigs down the list, Songs: Ohia were supporting us in Detroit. I already had his first album at this point. That’s where we first met and he was great, but as his voice matured the records just got better and better. In particular that The Magnolia Electric Co. album when they were still called Songs: Ohia. I mean, he had some bizarre attitudes towards naming these albums, but that record is amazing and everything after that seemed to be great. It’s a great shame we’ll never hear a new song by him.
You’ve written a children’s book as well…
[laughing] I’m actually looking at boxes for those right now! I’ve got quite a lot of boxes of them in my house…
Alright, I’ll mention it in the article then!
If you could [laughs]. It’s available exclusively from me! The publishers folded and were actually going to pulp the last few hundred books they had. I said ‘No, give them to me, that’s just not happening’. Now I have masses of books in the hall that I need to get rid of. I really loved writing the story and Emily who did the pictures did an amazing job. I’m very proud of it.
And what’s this about a new/old Halloween record, and the name Ben Tramer?
Ben Tramer is a character in the film Halloween, but you never see his face. He turns up in Halloween 2 wearing the same mask as Michael, but he gets mauled down by a police car [laughter]. So, you still don’t get to see his face… I was obsessed with that film when I was younger. Anyway, those records were found in the Chemikal Underground offices when they were doing a clear-out. They were just gonna put them in a skip, so they asked if I wanted them. It was very much like the book, actually! So, I took them and managed to sell them out in two hours. Andy from Chemikal says there might be another 10 in the office, so I’m going to have a look next week when I go to the studio.
My introduction to your music was Mad For Sadness when I was about 16. I remember seeing the Arab Strap farewell tour when I was in first year of university in Liverpool in 2006. Now I’m 33, I feel like your music has soundtracked a lot of my growing up. Do you feel like your audience has grown up with you?
Yeh certainly, but you’d be surprised how many young people were at the Arab Strap reunion tour. Even with Bill, I mean audiences were predominantly middle-aged [laughs], but younger people were coming to the gigs too. Generally speaking, we’re all going at the same pace, aye.
Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert play Leaf on 5th November. Here Lies The Body is out now via Rock Action Records.