Arab Strap: 20 Songs for 20 Years
Cult heroes Arab Strap have reformed ten years after they first split in order to celebrate their 20th birthday. An eponymous compilation of their singles, plus “secret hits and rarities” is out now on Chemikal UndergroundRecords, the esteemed Glasgow label who signed them in 1996 on the strength of a demo tape.
The duo – Aidan Moffat on vocals and Malcolm Middleton on guitar – will play two eagerly anticipated Barrowland gigs with an expanded band this weekend.
We spoke to Aidan and Malcolm individually, Mr & Mrs-style, about the reunion and the prospect of revisiting their candid catalogue of lo-fi confessionals ten years on.
You can read what Aidan had to say tomorrow but first here are Malcolm’s thoughts on the matter, starting with their reasons for reforming.
A celebration of what we’ve done before
“Ten years ago, we went to pub and said ‘something is not right, let’s put an end to it’ and as soon as we decided that we were happy and went on a farewell tour for the rest of the year but in the pub that day we did say ‘let’s do something in ten years time’ as a joke. I still don’t know the moment last year or this year when it became solid. We wanted to do it on our own terms and not because promoters were giving us money. We’re doing it as a celebration of what we’ve done before and we don’t know what’s beyond these gigs. We’re getting on well in rehearsals, we’re good friends now but it would be a whole different thing to think about recording again.
Blazing rows and eggshells
“It’s easy to say these things in hindsight but I think the first half of our career as Arab Strap was arguments and blazing rows and the second half was tiptoeing on eggshells which was even worse. When we split up we didn’t speak for about a year. Then we started socializing again and that’s when things started picking up. I’ve thought about this recently – would I have preferred it if nothing had happened and we had stayed better friends throughout our 20s and 30s? It felt at times it would have been better without [the tensions] but it definitely made us the way we were.
“There’s stuff that’s different now and stuff that’s comfortably identical. It wasn’t until the third practise that Aidan turned up forty minutes late and hungover, and it suddenly felt like we were in the band again. Aidan has noticed that his voice has changed, even the more spoken word stuff he’s trying to sing a bit more. I’m probably a better guitar player so I’m actually enjoying keeping it simple. Back in the day I would play too much sometimes and now I’m thinking the space is good. Let’s not let talent get in the way of youthful enthusiasm.
“The setlist war has gone on for the past six months before we even got a band together. We’re like chalk and cheese so I was quite surprised when we both wrote a setlist and they were quite similar. I just don’t know if our idea of our best songs is the same as people who like listening to us. Aidan’s favourite Arab Strap songs tend to be the obscure b-sides that weren’t released for a reason. Sometimes his lyrics are more interesting on those rare b-sides because he didn’t really hold back. The more personal things must be difficult [to sing now]. There was always humour in the spite but it’s different when you’ve grown up and had kids, you must be thinking it’s difficult to stand behind that lyric.
“The reason why he could write those words was because we didn’t at first expect anyone to listen to them, and then we did have that freedom because he discovered he could say what you want because it was just a song. It’s only years later that I appreciate Aidan more for what he was doing. I think at the time I didn’t. I think he’s definitely unique.
Would it work?
“I think there’s some pressure to keep going. I probably feel it more than Aidan does because he’s a bit more laidback than me. I’d be concerned if the dates go well and we try and record together, I wonder where the difference would lie between the lyrics Aidan’s done since and coming back into Arab Strap. Would there be elements of our solo work or do we just go back to our Arab Strap roles? So I’ve no idea how it would work or if it would work. Aidan said Arab Strap was a couple of guys in their 20s writing about what they were doing – you don’t want to hear about a couple of guys in their 40s writing about what they are doing really…”
Arab Strap play Barrowland on Sat 15th and Sun 16th October. Arab Strap: 20 Songs For 20 Years is out now on Chemikal Underground