For a lad who got kicked out of school with no qualifications, Aidan Moffat has an impressive CV. He started out shaping the future of Scottish indie with Arab Strap, and last year he and Bill Wells released the remarkable album Everything’s Getting Older, to what seemed like unanimous acclaim.
This month sees the pair of them go off on tour (you can see them in Sheffield with us if you like) and release a brand new song, ‘The Powers And Glory Of Love’. I say song – Aidan drunkenly accepted a bizarre challenge made on Twitter, to create a song combining the music of Jennifer Rush, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Huey Lewis And The News, who all had hits in the eighties called ‘The Power Of Love’. The track he and Bill subsequently created is a surprising success, which even has bits of ‘The Glory Of Love’ by Peter Cetera thrown in for good measure.
Here, Aidan explains his love of eighties pop, and also tells us about his new L. Pierre solo album, a fascinating project he’s planning with Edinburgh’s premier experimentalists FOUND, being a dad, The Brits and going to see The Saturdays. Before we get to that though, if you follow Aidan on Twitter, you might have heard that he lost his hat…
DiS: The important question – did you find your hat?
Aidan Moffat: No, I didn’t find my hat. Two people went to the car park in Falkirk where I think that I lost it and they didn’t find it but I suspect it might be in the park as well. I loved that hat. I bought it on an Arab Strap tour in 2001 or 2002 and I’ve loved that hat for ten years. I only hope that someone has it now and they’re enjoying it but I suspect it’s probably in a bin.
DiS: Well, looking to the future, you have a new track coming out, the gestation of which almost sounds as though it was joke to start with.
AM: I didn’t expect it to work. We weren’t even planning to release it but the final thing came out pretty well so we’re quite chuffed with it.
DiS: When the gauntlet is laid down, you kind of have to put something out.
AM: To be honest mate, I was drunk when I replied, then the next day I went, ‘Oh fuck, I completely forgot all about that’. But the idea was great. I know a couple of DJs who won’t play it because they hate the songs that we’ve covered which is quite funny because that never occurred to me. I have a genuine affection for all these songs, the Jennifer Rush one especially, but they’re not songs I’d listen to every day.
DiS: I did wonder whether music of that period genuinely appealed to you, or was it tongue-in-cheek?
AM: No, there’s no irony involved. I still have all of those records. It isn’t intended to be funny at all. It’s a very genuine thing. I mean, I love these songs. So no, it’s not meant to be funny or tongue-in-cheek but it’s meant to be fun.
DiS: You can see how it might be taken as a bit of a jibe because it’s a strange idea. If you think of the Aidan Moffat of a song like ‘The Copper Top’ now covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood – it’s a strange contrast.
AM: It doesn’t seem that strange to me though. I know other people might think it peculiar but I think if anyone came in and looked at my record collection they’d be quite surprised.
DiS: Would you ever cover a contemporary pop song, or is there something about that particular period in the eighties that you think nailed it?
AM: I think a lot of the stuff I hear in pop music now is pretty dire but I think some of it is fantastic. I really loved the Nicola Roberts album last year. I like half of Cher Lloyd’s album. I’ve got quite a thing for The Saturdays. I went to see The Saturdays recently and the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow. It was slightly disappointing to be honest with you. I mean, it was good, they did everything well, they performed as well as can be expected. They’re not that bad but I just don’t think it was the kind of atmosphere I like – plus I was surrounded by loads of screaming children which was quite annoying. And even worse than that was their mothers. The kids are screaming and the mums are trying to calm them down so it just ends up with families having arguments.
DiS: What did you make of The Brits?
AM: I thought The Brits was pretty horrific all-round to be honest with you. I mean, there is very little about The Brits which is related to artistic merit in any sense whatsoever. It’s just about celebrating who makes the most money by the looks of it to me. I can’t really be bothered with it. All awards to a degree are backslapping events. I find them all quite tedious. Thankfully I’ve never been in one of them so the day that I become part of an awards thing, that’s when my attitude will change!
DiS: What if Arab Strap got the Outstanding Contribution thing that Blur got – would you reform and perform at the o2?
AM: In the very unlikely event that that happens we’d have to wait and see. I’d love to tell you that we’d knock them back but you never know! The comfortable position I’m in is that I don’t ever have to worry about making decisions like that.
DiS: Unless with this hidden affection for pop music – would you ever want to make an all-out pop record yourself?
AM: No, no. I’ve never been beautiful enough or positive enough to make that sort of music. You have to make records that work with yourself. What I choose to write about isn’t the sort of thing that pop music tends to be about. All pop music is really about shagging isn’t it, when you think about it? But not the way I write about it.
DiS: There’s a sense of humour in your music though. The idea of you and Bill Wells covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Jennifer Rush, it’s a funny idea in a sense, but the track itself is really beautiful. I was listening to ‘Man Of The Cloth’ from the last EP and it’s got that line about you dressing as a minister so you can go to a fancy dress party as a paedophile and that line just slays me, but the song itself, there’s a lot of isolation in it and a real insecurity.
AM: Well that’s the thing, people pick up on the humour. But underneath that there’s a guy who has to get dressed up and go to a stranger’s party and not really connect with someone so it is a pretty dark thing, but the only way to write about these things is with a sense of humour. That’s what I’ve always done since Arab Strap. The criticism was we were miserable but I don’t think the people who paid attention to the records ever really thought that. We dealt with a lot of really dark feelings but there was always a sense of humour there and that’s the only way to do it. No one wants to spend fifty minutes with a double album if it’s all just fucking misery.
DiS: When it came to doing stuff with Bill Wells, was that a challenge, because musically it’s very different from the stuff you’re best known for?
AM: I didn’t really see it like that. Obviously Bill’s music comes from a jazz root but I’ve never really heard it as jazz music so it didn’t really seem like a different genre to me. It seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do and very early on when we first started it seemed to work right away. With Arab Strap we were two young mates and we started a band because we were pals; Bill and I met because of a mutual affection and respect for our music so you kind of have a different attitude going into that. Arab Strap, we were just fucking about at the start, we were lucky that people liked it and then we started to take it seriously.
DiS: The live show, what can people expect from that?
AM: It’s going to be a bit more sedate than some of the songs on the album. I mean, it’s a pretty sedate record anyway. It’s a very adaptable thing. We did a gig in Glasgow recently with just piano, trumpet and vocal and it worked really well and people seemed to really enjoy it. Up until now we’ve really been doing a lot of the stuff with a band and then we did a four-piece tour in Europe which went really well and now we know we can do three-piece. But it’s a test for the songs to see if they work in those ways and it seems to be pretty adaptable so we’re pretty chuffed because I quite like going out and playing different versions of the songs live. When I see a band and they sound exactly like the record I find it a bit tedious.
DiS: And I think there’s a certain kind of simplicity to the arrangements on the album, which means you can be flexible with playing about with it a bit.
AM: Yeah, and I have more fun if we’re going out and doing something different anyway. I’ve always believed if the guys on stage are having fun the audience can tell and that means the audience can enjoy it too. I remember those times in Arab Strap where we would be playing the same songs so often, doing long tours, and the audience knows you’re just bored with it. That was when we would do different versions of songs and have a bit more freedom in how they were played and I think that’s the way to do things. I think people should get something different for their money going to a gig too. I’ve already got the record at home, I don’t want to hear the record, I want to pay to have a different experience, you know?
DiS: Is your work with Bill Wells your main job now?
AM: We are working on a new record soon. I’ve got a folder on my computer with about fifty tunes that Bill has given me that I have to sift through and find the ones that I want to use and then I think we’re going to try and get it ready for next year. And there’s other plans with that as well. I think we’re going to try and expand. Shall we just say it may well be more than just an album.
I used to make records under the name L. Pierre and I’ve got a new one of those coming out in June on Melodic. I didn’t really think I would do one again. I had pretty much buried that then I started messing about at the end of last year and a few weeks later I had an album, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ There’s no point having it sitting on the computer, I might as well do something with it. So that comes out in June and then I think Bill’s got a record with a band called The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland, which are neither a trio nor jazz but that’s what they’re called. So we’ve both got other things to do but we’re definitely doing another record.
There’s another thing as well! You know the band FOUND? I’ve just done an installation thing with them called Unravel, which we hope is going to be an album and an app and things too. If it happens there should be an album that changes every time you listen to it.
AM: It’s difficult to explain what Unravel is. From the audience’s point of view you go into a room and there’s a keyboard, a set of musical pipes and a drum kit, all with robotics with them, and a record player with a bunch of seven-inch singles. Now, these are my seven-inch singles. There’s ten of them, so you take out one and you play the record, but instead of the song that the record used to have on it, there’ll be a short story from me about a memory connected with that song and the accompaniment will be the robots in the room. But, the story changes dependent on different factors, like if you go in after four o’clock, which we’re using as the watershed, then you’ll hear a more racy, filthy version of the story with lots of swear words. If Twitter says that people like the installation you’ll get a happier, more confident performance or if it’s raining for instance, the weather affects the mood of the installation as well. So hopefully the idea is people go and hear something different depending on when they go.
There’s talk of doing a gig with it as well and we’ve even talked about doing a wee tour with it or something but we’re not quite sure yet. You need to keep the idea as part of it so we were talking about how we could do a gig where the audience can choose what versions of the songs we do. I think there’s like 180 to 200 different versions of the songs or something, so I don’t know how we can possibly manage that.
DiS: Now you’ve got a got a young son to look after, is there a bit more pressure to do stuff that you can make a decent living from?
AM: To a degree. I live with my girlfriend so we do well enough as we are. I would certainly like to make more money. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. I live in a flat in the south end of Glasgow. It would be nice to move out and get a garden or something but at the same time I do like it here and we seem to be doing okay, but very soon we’re going to have to start worrying about schools and things like that.
DiS: Are you in a good catchment area?
AM: Yeah, I think we’re pretty cool actually. We’ll be alright. We’re not in the best area but certainly a decent one, aye, and nothing that would worry me. It’s more to do with gardens and things like that. We’ll see. I’ll have to have a Christmas number one before I start thinking about that.
DiS: Now you are a kind of ‘family man’, the lyrics on Everything’s Getting Older are still as confessional as before, if perhaps not as debauched. Is this a character or are you still trying to be autobiographical?
AM: Everything on that record is autobiographical with the exception of ‘Glasgow Jubilee’ which was based on a play. I almost always write about myself, certainly with everything on that record, and I will on the new one too, but the new one won’t be quite as nice. The new one is the one that will get me into the most trouble with my family.
DiS: Why’s that?
AM: It’s a midlife crisis album. I think it’s going to have a happy ending – we’ll see. There’s still a year or two to go before it comes out.
DiS: It’s maybe a bit early to ask you how you’ll be celebrating your fortieth birthday next year.
AM: I haven’t really thought about it. I’m not really one for celebrating birthdays anyway. Because I’m such a miserable bastard and I like staying in the house on my birthday, this year I’m thinking about having a birthday party on Twitter, which means I can just sit in the house by myself and get drunk and talk to people and imaginary friends online, and have an internet party. I was thinking about doing a wee mix that I could play on Soundcloud and we could all have a wee party at home. But also my mate’s stag night is on the 13th, so that is my night out. That will probably end up with two days in bed afterwards.
DiS: Comparing that to the stuff you talk about in an early track like ‘The First Big Weekend’ though – what do you think your son will make of the ‘dad’ portrayed in that song when he’s old enough to appreciate it?
AM: That does terrify me. I don’t know. I can’t hide it from him. I’d like to think we’d have a fairly sensible, open discussion about these sort of things when he’s older but I can sense there’ll be a great deal of problems when I tell him not to do something that he has audio evidence that I did anyway! But you know, kids will be kids, they have to do these things to grow up and I can’t keep it a secret. Maybe he’ll decide to rebel and go the other way and turn out to be a tee-total, straight-edge, puritanical Christian, and that will be his way to rebel against his family!
DiS: Especially when he gets to his teenage years, he’ll probably want to be nothing like his father.
AM: That’s actually quite a good plan. I’ll just continue to do everything I do and I’ll be able to threaten him by writing a song about him as well. If he’s being a total cunt I’ll just say, ‘Look, you’ll turn up in the next album, y’ wee prick!’
‘The Powers And Glory Of Love' is released on Chemikal Underground on March 26th.
Bill Wells And Aidan Moffat will play the following dates on their forthcoming tour:
March 27th – Cambridge, Portland Arms
March 28th – Norwich, Arts Centre
March 29th – Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
March 30th – Dublin, The Grand Social
March 31st – Sheffield, Queens Social
April 1st – Nottingham, Glee Club
April 2nd – Gateshead, The Sage
April 3rd – Leeds, Brudenell
April 4th – York, The Duchess
Unravel will be on show at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art from April 20th to May 7th.
And you can wish Aidan a happy birthday on April 10th @AidanJohnMoffat.