Catching Up With Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat

A lot has happened since Arab Strap called it quits back in 2006. Now, as the alt-folk legends from Falkirk reunite for a highly anticipated tour, Aidan Moffat offers his take on the years they've been away

Feature by Chris McCall | 27 Sep 2016

2007: Alex Salmond becomes the SNP's first First Minister. There's been an inconceivable number of political changes over these past ten years...

"The past few years have been mental, aye, but it was great to see the country so politically engaged – and sometimes enraged! Salmond as FM was a first step toward the indyref, of course, and while I voted Yes, it's not hard to see why plenty of folk aren't keen on him. I'm exhausted by it all now, though, as I expect most of the country is, but the UK's in a right state now. Seems like we're all having a rest and saving our energy for the next time."

2008: The Promise, by Girls Aloud, storms the charts. Best pop song of the noughties?

"I love Girls Aloud and I'm very happy to say that I saw their last show in Glasgow, and it was absolutely outstanding. The Promise is probably my favourite of theirs too, but I'm not sure we can call it the best pop song of the same decade that Beyoncé's Crazy In Love came out."

2009: The Twilight Sad release second album Forget the Night Ahead. You obviously know James & co. well, but do you ever fear they might call a halt to the band? Critical acclaim doesn't always pay the bills.

"They've just done about 30 dates with The Cure in America, and they're doing another 30 in Europe later this year, so I don't think they've ever been stronger! I'm more worried that I'll have to speak to James's assistant PA a few years down the line just to organise a Thursday pint."

2010: Celtic Connections hosts a celebration of Chemikal Underground. Now that you're about to release a compilation spanning 20 years with them, how would you describe your journey with the label?

"I was always into more of a DIY ethic, and Chemikal were perfectly suited to that when we signed – they were formed by a band to release their own records, so they all know exactly how a band functions and understand what the artists want and expect. Nothing's really changed since then, to be honest. It's no secret that indie labels are struggling these days, but it's great to see Chemikal going strong, and long may it last."

2011: Arab Strap perform a one-off show at Glasgow's Nice 'N' Sleazy. Did you receive offers to do a bigger reunion tour?

"Not really, and we did that gig for free to celebrate Sleazy's 20th birthday, so we were going pretty cheap at the time! There was a vague offer a few years ago and the money being talked about was great, but I didn't want to do it and the final offer never materialised anyway. I didn't want to do it on someone else's terms, I only wanted to do it if the time was right and we were in control, and that's what we've done.

"We don't even have a promoter for the Glasgow gigs, we're doing it all ourselves. I was always a bit uncomfortable with that idea of throwing money at old bands and telling them what to play – 'Here's a five-figure sum to reform, but you must play one of your old albums!' I'm not interested in that sort of thing."

2012: The fabled opening ceremony of the London Olympics. Worth the hype?

"I liked the bit with the nurses, and Tim Berners-Lee, but I'd forgotten all about it until you asked."

2013: Pixies release their first record in 20 years – should such iconic bands ‘only’ reunite to tour?

"I'm very rarely impressed with reformed bands' records, and I'm afraid to say the Pixies' ones aren't an exception. Sometimes it works – Dinosaur Jr. have done okay, but the one that really impressed me was Suede's last album from this year, Night Thoughts. It's probably their best record, and their gig at the Concert Hall was spectacular. So it can work sometimes, aye... but if you're hinting at an Arab Strap one, there's nothing planned. It depends how you do it. I think if you do it just to try to recapture your youth and repeat what you did before, it can only ever end up a bit shite and pointless. That's what Suede got right – it's still them but with a new perspective. And they still get to play a greatest hits set on the tour, so it's all good for everyone."

2014: The Kelpies are officially opened in Falkirk. Do you still feel an affinity to the district?

"I've been to see the Kelpies, aye, they're pretty cool, as is the fancy new Helix playpark next to it. I go through and visit my Mum every few weeks, but otherwise I don't really know much about the place anymore – I haven't lived there for nearly 20 years. I'll occasionally go for a walk through to see how it's going, and there's a shop in the Cow Wynd I always buy summer shirts from, but I feel far more at home in Glasgow now.

"I did actually think about moving back when my son was on the way, because I suppose we all want our children to have the same sort of upbringing we did, and it was a good place to be a child. But in the end, my kids ended up being first generation Weegies and we're all happy where we are."

2015: The Hug & Pint sets up shop in Glasgow. How does it feel to have a bar named in your honour? 

"I think it's great, and they even let me design their logo, which I'm really chuffed with. I try not to think about being a part of any kind of culture too much – that way arrogance lies."

2016: Political rubbish aside, the year has been dominated by surprise album drops and confusing conversations about Tidal. Do you think the way we hear new music is changing, for better or worse? 

"Back when we started, there was a blueprint, a set of rules on how to release a record, that everyone followed. But these days you can pretty much do anything you can think of and afford to – and that's the key. Bands like Radiohead can afford to do a name-your-price album, and big pop stars can afford to live off streaming.

"I think there's a real class system within music now, whereas in the 90s we had more of a level playing field – Arab Strap even scraped into the Top 40 once! But everything still seems a little in flux, so it's hard to get a grip on anything. There's no short answer here – definitely a four-pint pub chat."

Arab Strap play the Barrowland, Glasgow, on 15 & 16 Oct Arab Strap, a self-titled compilation via Chemikal Underground, is out on 30 Sep