Noise Annoys: Chat from Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap, plus The Bobby Lees, Follakzoid and The Music Tapes
As their Irish tour approaches, Noise Annoys chats to Arab Strap man Aidan Moffat about the success of their reunion album As Days Get Dark, unlikely appearances on radio and TV and Madagascan death rituals...
"THE Turning of Our Bones got a few plays on Radio 2, which was quite shocking," recalls Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap's 2020 'comeback' single, the Scottish duo's first new music for 14 years and the opening track of last year's superb album, As Days Get Dark.
"Radio 2 is very much the nursing home of radio stations, but Jo Whiley's got a show there. I think she's probably the youngest DJ they've got. She played it a few times and did an interview with me live on air."
Fair play to the former Radio 1 Evening Session (RIP) co-host for staying true to the Arab Strap cause 24 years after giving the Scottish indie anti-heroes' debut single The First Big Weekend its first major airplay.
Perhaps Radio 2's middle-aged to geriatric listener base was the correct target audience for the band's darkly humorous electropop moment, which Moffat says was inspired by an article he read about ancient Madagascan post-mortem rituals.
Apparently, it was once the Madagascan way to exhume corpses once every seven years for a party at which the deceased's family would dance with the cadaver – a cycle of festivities that would only conclude when all flesh had finally decayed from its bones, thus signifying the final departure of the late lamented's soul.
"It's not practised so much nowadays, obviously," comments the Glasgow-based Falkirk musician, a Radio 3 man himself.
"You still get it here and there, but I think they sort of do it in a slightly less grisly way now. And it definitely seemed like a perfect metaphor for many things, including getting Arab Strap back together."
Indeed, while the song includes the comically ghoulish line "as her hair and teeth fell out, we did our best to be devoted", it also sets out the band's stall with its pointed opening couplet, "I don't give a **** about the past, our glory days gone by".
Although spoken about a (possibly deceased) lover in the context of the lyrics, this can also be read as a statement of intent for a reformed musical duo who are intent on working in the here and now – a journey kickstarted by this very song.
"The Turning of Our Bones was the very first demo that we completed to the stage where we were ready to take it to a studio," explains Moffat of how The Turning of Our Bones unlocked the door to an outpouring of new Arab Strap material from himself and St Andrews-based bandmate Malcolm Middleton, a fellow Falkirkian.
"We were really, really pleased with it – it was definitely the song that spurred us on."
Fittingly, this key track will soon have its lifespan expanded yet further when it reaches millions of ears which will have never knowingly listened to a note of Arab Strap's music before.
"I'm not sure how much I can actually say about this, but we have just signed off on it being used as the theme for a gritty new Scottish detective show on ITV," reveals Moffat of The Turning of Our Bones.
"That's a very peculiar thing to happen. Its reach certainly has been far beyond what we ever expected."
While As Days Get Dark might be Moffat and Middleton's first record together since 2005's appropriately titled The Last Romance, in the intervening years the pair have blossomed as musicians while enjoying successful solo careers, entertaining the faithful while attracting new fans who had maybe never even got the chance to see Arab Strap.
Both camps were appeased in 2016 when sporadic bursts of live Arab Strap reunification first began. The positive reaction to these shows, initially based around the 20th anniversary of their debut album The Week Never Starts Round Here, eventually led Moffat and Middleton to thoughts of attempting to pen new material in order to avoid the band becoming a 'nostalgia' act.
"We're weren't trying to 're-invent' Arab Strap or anything," explains Moffat of how the band approached their latest tunes.
"But certainly we were quite concious to do new things and that we were making a record with sounds that were relevant to now, and lyrics that are relevant to now – I think that's important too.
"The last thing we wanted to do was just to try and make a record that sounded like 1996. That just seemed pointless. I think we're engaging the modern world as much as the older world."
This progressive approach was vindicated in fine commercially successful style: As Days Get Dark hit number 14 when it was released last March, Arab Strap's highest ever chart position for an LP (it also topped the charts in Scotland – another 'career first'), hot on the heels of Rock Action labelmates Mogwai scoring their first ever number one record with As the Love Continues the previous month.
"The way we work hasn't really changed at all," reveals the band's resident lyricist of how he and Middleton approached writing and recording of As Days Get Dark.
"I mean technology is different and obviously we can achieve more at home than we used to but it's pretty much the same thing – he'll send me a guitar part and then I'll try and work around that, or I'll work on some sort of rhythm track and send it to him.
"It used to be that we did that on Four Tracks and cassettes and quite often wouldn't know what was happening until we got into a studio. But we can do so much more work now before we even get to the studio. It makes you more confident that you're doing the 'right' thing when you've got that extra time to work things out."
While the band released a brand new single back in March featuring two tunes culled from the As Days Get Dark sessions, they have already started thinking about what comes next, as Moffat explains.
"We've been writing brand new stuff," he tells me.
"We were going to put out a new EP this year but we realised that there's no point, because we're still touring the album that came out last year – and we only got to do something like six gigs in 2021."
Happily, with the nostalgia circuit now safely swerved, it seems that having a whole album of new tunes to cherry-pick has already enhanced the live experience for both Arab Strap and their audience.
"It's great getting out and playing the new songs, it's been good fun," Moffat enthuses, looking forward to the upcoming Irish tour with stops in Belfast (July 14), Cork (July 15), Limerick (July 16) and Dublin (July 17 and 18).
"I mean, obviously, people love the old ones too, but judging by the reactions I think a lot of the new stuff is really working with audiences as well."
Indeed, in addition to its instant classic opener, As Days Grow Dark is riddled with an abundance of highlights which demand to be heard live: brooding, sax-riddled nitelife anthem Kebaylon, slow-building electro-folksy stomper Fable of The Urban Fox (complete with hilariously great Game of Thrones strings) and Here Comes Comus!, a slinky lament about hedonistic self-destruction.
Those are but three of Noise Annoys' favourites from what is surely one of the best Arab Strap LPs to date.
"That does slightly concern me," chuckles Moffat.
"It's been so well received I do kind of worry that maybe we've maybe peaked a bit too early."
File under 'luxury problems'.
:: Arab Strap, July 14, The Empire, Belfast, 7.30pm. Tickets via ticketweb.ie
THREE TO SEE NEXT WEEK
:: The Bobby Lees + Problem Patterns, Sunday July 3, Ulster Sports Club, Belfast, 7.30pm
STRAIGHT outta New York state, The Bobby Lees will scratch your itch for scuzzy, fuzzy, artful garage punk trash with filthy clawlike nails until it's red raw and oozing. Their last album, Skin Suit, was recorded by Jon Spencer while they were still Alive Natural Sound labelmates with our very own The Bonnevilles, though they've recently signed their souls over to Mike Patton's Ipecac Records. And, if that wasn't enough to get you off the settee on a Sunday night, Problem Patterns are now back to full strength following Alanah's recent brush with Covid and ready to give the headliners something to think about.
Tickets £11 via ticketweb.ie
:: Follakzoid, Wednesday July 6, Ulster Sports Club, Belfast, 7.30pm
ARE you hungry for Chilean Krautrock? If the answer is 'hell yes', then dont wait another second - enable your interweb capable device and grab a ticket or 16 for Follakzoid at the Sports Club next Wednesday night where you and 15 of your closest friends can oscilate wildly to the pulsing psychedelic minimalism of this Santiago duo. Forget scorching space rock, these specialise in hushed 'n' hypnotic mind melts powered by 4/4 electrobeats. Prepare to be transmogrifried.
Tickets £14.85 via ticketweb.ie
:: The Music Tapes + Buí, Friday July 8, Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast
NOISE Annoys' longtime friend of taste and distinction Mark 'Dirty' Harris is very excited about this one: Julian Koster (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Music Tapes co-founder Robbie Cucchiaro arrive in Ireland for their first in-person appearances since Covid hit with a special duo-format tour. Expect tunes from their entire musical catalogue, including Koster's fictional narrative podcast Orbiting Human Circus. All this, plus sublime indiepop slackedelia from Belfast's own Buí. I mean, what more do you want for £15? On second thoughts, don't answer that.
Tickets £15 via theduncairn.com