Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert on Here Lies the Body
We talk to Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert about childhood holidays to Blackpool, feminism and road trips ahead of their debut album together, Here Lies the Body
The pairing of flamenco-tinged, twisted troubadour RM Hubbert and sharp-tongued bard Aidan Moffat was always going to work, if their 2012 collaborative track Car Song was any indicator, but it’s hard to comprehend just how well it has on their first full record together for Rock Action, Here Lies the Body.
With Hubbert’s incredible ability to evoke emotion through guitar plucks and strums, and Moffat’s unmatched storytelling and unmistakable delivery, something truly wonderful unfolds on the pair’s debut LP. The vocal coupling of ascending star Siobhan Wilson, some unexpected sonic design and thoughtful, intelligent production reveal an album that is mesmerising, traversing taboo tales of love, sorrow and regret.
We’re in the bar made famous by the Begbie glass-throwing scene in Trainspotting, only in its newest incarnation there are no noticeable jakeys or junkies; the clientele are more concerned with craft beers than brawls. Some slightly dodgy taxidermy casts a beady eye over the now-upmarket eatery as blackened beasts are birling on a rotisserie.
Despite perceptions that Hubbert (playfully referred to by most as Hubby) and Moffat are musical miserablists, the two are a joy to be around. In song they can hit right in the heart and straight to the guts, but today’s pain comes solely from plentiful bouts of belly laughter.
"I would basically send off ten songs about death, and then they would come back about shagging,” Hubby jokes. “The whole theme of the album – death and shagging,” roars Moffat. Hubby adds: “While the words are doing their thing, the music underneath is going 'You know you’re going to die, don’t you? Enjoy it now.'"
Unsurprisingly, Moffat’s lyrics excel at uncovering the beautiful and ugly parts of life, unpicking and examining desire and the dark corners of the human psyche with an honesty and ease like few other artists. The album’s narratives are thick with the booze-soaked thrill of lost, lusty weekends as well as grim, gnawing parts of life that aren’t often exposed.
Moffat’s not afraid to call it a concept album. “People died in the punk wars for that fucking shit to be ended!” he laughs. “But these days I think it’s important that folk know that albums have a bigger function beyond just being some songs. The songs are on one record together for a reason, they all came from the same place and have the same characters in them.”
[A childhood snap of Aidan 'Adian' Moffat. Photo courtesy of Aidan Moffat.]
The story begins in Blackpool – a place close to Moffat’s heart through childhood visits and now through taking his own son there for holidays. It’s where the record’s main protagonists fall in love in the opening track Cockcrow, acting as an ideal backdrop for the unfolding story and surprising themes. “I don’t want to talk Blackpool down but obviously Blackpool is not the most glamorous place in the world,” Moffat suggests. “But also it’s a place where people go to have fun. I’ve had a fucking brilliant time there. It’s a good metaphor because it’s got this really glamorous fun side ostensibly but the other side of that, the darkness, isn’t far away, it’s not hard to find.” Hubby adds, “It’s the seaside equivalent of being a man in your mid-40s from Scotland, basically. You can have some fun but ultimately it’s going to hurt you.”
Both have fond associations with Blackpool, with Hubby recalling that potentially his first ever gig was there – Little and Large with Chas and Dave. Moffat chats about repeated trips, his love of Carry On culture and a series of old photos in his mother’s possession: “One time my dad was in Blackpool and he went in to buy me a T-shirt and there’s a picture of me. I’m wearing a kilt and this yellow Bionic Woman T-shirt because I loved The Bionic Woman when I was wee. He got my name printed on the top of it but he was pished and my name was spelt wrong. It said Adian.” Hubby erupts in laughter.
“They used to do this thing in Blackpool too, I’d get my picture taken with a fake pint,” Moffat adds. “Every year I used to go with my grandparents and there was a wee bar [The Golden Mile] and you’d get this pint with fake foam at the top, or sometimes I’d get a wee straw hat and they’d take your picture. It’s fucking bizarre but it used to be a thing, you’d take the weans to get their picture having a pint. The old days eh. The strange customs of seaside towns in the 70s!”
[A very young Aidan Moffat with his fake pint. Photo courtesy of Aidan Moffat]
Most wouldn’t have predicted that Moffat would pen a record around one of society’s last taboos, maternal abandonment, with several stories told from the female’s viewpoint. But neither feels the right to call themselves a feminist, having never personally experienced that flavour of discrimination, with Moffat reasoning that "men that do are creepy. It’s not right. Imagine if your girlfriend came back from work and she’s like 'I’m going out with my mate tonight – David.' That’s fine, aye. And then she followed it with 'He’s a feminist,' you’d be like 'Wait the fuck… He’s trying to get in to your pants, hen.'"
"Dear God," Hubby exhales.
The idea emerged after Moffat read an article in a magazine about a woman whose mother had left the family and how that’s still a rare occurrence. "It just got me thinking about that and the other perspective, the idea that men are pre-programmed to roam, which is fucking nonsense, there’s no real scientific or evolutionary evidence for this. So I just wanted to explore that and see where we’d get to and also, I’m just a bit sick of singing about myself all the time,” he laughs.
"It’s about time I tried to write about somebody else’s perspective, but I had to do it in a way that didn’t seem presumptuous or something. It’s still a bit detached. And that’s where Siobhan came in as well. I realised at that point that I had to get a woman to sing some of this and have her be a part of it too." "Having a different voice on the album was something that was appealing to me as well," Hubby adds. "Just having an album that isn’t about me and my shite. I like just being a musician sometimes."
Both are gushing about Siobhan Wilson’s involvement and talent, with Moffat describing her as the "perfect contrast to my rumble." As well as the inclusion of strings, piano and a female voice for one of the main characters, the record is littered with unexpected sounds and styles, from samba beats to country-tinged strums; rare, ancient field recordings of grief-wails, arcade bleeps and sinister fairytales centred around the mating rituals of wolves.
They’re pleased with how relaxed and easy the process of doing the record was, fuelled largely by the trust they held in each other and the others involved in the album’s creation. From Rock Action’s trust in the pair, to Tony Doogan’s expert production skills, Moffat suggests it’s he and Hubby’s decades of experience that’s serving them so well these days. “We decided to do it when we were having a laugh and it just kind of carried on,” Hubby adds. “Certainly with all my other work and I’m sure with Aidan’s as well, we have a laugh when we’re making that music. You can hit people much harder with the sad stuff if you’re making them laugh immediately before, it’s like dropping them off a cliff. Oh, you’re laughing – my mother’s dead.”
The seeds for the album were sown as they travelled to perform at Lau’s Lau-Land festival in Gateshead. “We ended up staying up all night fucking drinking and then decided to take the scenic route home for some reason and got totally lost on the east coast,” Hubby says. “I was having such a great time being half-cut in the car, let’s make this day last as long as we can!” giggles Moffat.
“I imagine it was more fun for you not having to drive,” Hubby chuckles as Moffat concedes. “We stopped in Berwick didn’t we, did we not have a wee stop there?” he queries before Hubby’s reply. “I was determined to find a Greggs somewhere.” Moffat roars with laughter before adding: “Did I not get some second hand books as well? We had a nice wee day of it, it was lovely.”
“It actually was very nice, yeah,” admits Hubby. “I had a steak bake, you had some literature. That sums up the album quite well.”