Aidan Moffat

'I found my muse in a rat-infested cupboard under creaky stairs in a derelict pub in the middle of nowhere'...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 5 Feb 2015
  • min read
Aidan Moffat (right) is a master musician and poet who’s unafraid to turn his hand to anything from electronics to jazz, potent spoken word to lowdown indie.

Although he’s been instrumental in some of Glasgow – and Scotland’s – finest musical moments over the past two decades, he never spreads himself too thin. Each project always packs a massive punch of raw emotion and musical dexterity.

From collaborations with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite to solo electronic expeditions under the name of Lucky Pierre, later L Pierre, Aidan always brings his own brand of gutsy realism.

He seems to find his lyrical muse in the mirror, his words fumbling around his foibles, his songs as heartbreakingly honest as you’ll ever hear.

That’s not to say there’s no humour or smut in there – just listen to practically anything by his former band Arab Strap or the tender solo album I Can Hear Your Heart, which contain filth by the bucket load.

In 2011, Aidan teamed up with jazz misfit and former Arab Strap collaborator Bill Wells (left) for the album Everything's Getting Older, which went on to win the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award.

Driven by Bills’ inventive instrumentation and Aidan’s graphic lyrics, the set is a fragile and fallible reminiscence of passing time.

Lucky for us, the pair found some time to knock about in the studio again last year, culminating in their second foray, The Most Important Place in the World.

We spent time with Aidan to find out more about the ace new record…

We met in a pub sometime in 2002, and apparently I'd asked him to play on some Arab Strap songs within five minutes! I was already a big fan of his stuff – his Also In White album had just come out around then – so I suppose I didn't see any point in hanging around. He played on a couple of tunes on Arab Strap's Monday At The Hug & Pint LP, then we recorded our first song together not long after.

This is your second album with him – what made you go back for more?
I suppose we just felt there was more to achieve and we could take it further. I don't really like the first album all that much, to be honest – but then I don't like any of my records once they've been released – and I think we both agreed we could make a better one. We spent a lot more time on writing for this one, and we demoed every song too, which we didn't really do for Everything's Getting Older, and I think – and hope! – it shows. It seems a lot more coherent than the first, and more confident too. When you make your first record together, you're never really 100 percent sure what's working, but you learn what your strengths are for the second one. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Your first award-winning foray was really well received - why do you think the musical combo works so well?
It's difficult to say, but I think it's probably rooted in how we came together – it's not like Arab Strap, where we were two young mates working out a sound; by the time Bill and I came to work together we were professionals and both really liked what the other does, and so we knew what we wanted from each other. There are still plenty of surprises along the way, of course, but it started with a strong foundation.

How does the writing and recording process work between you?
For this record, we did a lot of pretty full demos at home – in fact quite a few home-recorded parts were used on the final album because sometimes you just manage to capture something good on the first try. So Bill gave me about 50 piano tunes and rough demos to tackle, and I chose what I thought would work and started to work on lyrics and beats or drums etc, and then we work on arrangements and stuff. Most of this was done at home, bouncing things back through Dropbox, so we were much better prepared for the studio this time around.

Everything’s Getting Older focused on age and the passing of time – what themes does The Most Important Place in the World tackle?
It's about cities and gods and children and how hard love can be.

What was the inspiration behind the new record?
Cities and gods and children and love!

Where did you find your lyrical muse?
In a rat-infested cupboard under creaky stairs in a derelict pub in the middle of nowhere.

You’ve been making music under many guises for a while now – in Arab Strap, The Reindeer Section, with Bill Wells and Mogwai, as yourself and also as L Pierre. What pushes you to mix it up and try different approaches with different people?
I'm restless and I've got idle hands, for one thing, so I always like to have something to focus on, and I've quite often got too many irons in the fire at once. In fact I've just started writing a record with someone else – it's a secret for now until we know how good it's going to be! And I suppose after spending 10 years in the same band with Arab Strap, I enjoy the variety now. I did a tour of folk music in Scotland last year, for instance, and there should be a film and an album from that soon, and with Bill there's more of a jazz and pop feel ... I don't think there's any genre I can't enjoy, so I like to keep trying. Don't know what's next though – am I too old for metal now?

How does your approach change for each venture?
I don't think it does, really. I've been pretty consistent in the way I work on all these things, which is really just to act instinctively and let it come naturally. Sorry, I'm shite at answering questions like this – I never really think about it, to be honest, I just let it happen.

What have you learned along the way?
To take my time! My work rate's a lot slower than it used to be, but the results are better. Plus I don't think you can rush the good stuff, it comes when it comes. That said, I've been meaning to write a book for two years now, and finding the time is becoming increasingly impossible, especially with children around too. I thought about going on one of those writer's retreat things, but I'd just be bored and lonely.

Your music has spanned indie, electronic and jazz – where do you feel most comfortable?
I feel pretty comfortable anywhere. Maybe that metal record's not a bad idea.

What do you get out of collaborating with others?
As much as I enjoy being my own boss, it's the collaborations that are the most exciting. When you work with someone else and it all comes together and everyone's happy, it's a very rewarding feeling. It might take a few shouting matches to get there, but it's worth it!

What keeps you making music?
Booze, lust, and fallibility.

You’re based in Scotland, and often work with a tightknit Glasgow-based crew – how important is that local network?
It's very important to me because I like to work with people I know well – if I'm comfortable with everyone around me and I've got a band I trust, I'm better at what I do. And Glasgow's full of great musicians who also happen to be top people too, so we're spoiled for choice.

Are there any new bands in Glasgow we should be listening to?
In all honesty, I don't know; I haven't been out to a local gig in a while, I'm afraid to say. But my friend Stevie Jones (who also played in Arab Strap and with me and Bill) made a great record last year under his Sound Of Yell name. There was a great launch gig too, although I must admit I was a little more taken with the support act, Nerea Bello. She's actually Basque, but she lives in Glasgow and she was amazing, and I hope to see her again.

The Most Important Place in the World is released on 16 March through Chemikal Underground.

Read our interview with Bill Wells from last year.