Music Features

Aidan Moffat (interview)

It’s hard to believe that Aidan Moffat has now been part of our lives for seventeen years, ever since Arab Strap’s seminal The First Big Weekend was released as a 7” single on Chemikal Underground. Whilst Moffat remains best known for his work with Arab Strap over the course of six albums, culminating in 2005’s The Last Romance, he’s been more nomadic than most people realise, becoming something of a musical polymath over the course of his career. Besides Arab Strap, he’s been a part of Glaswegian collective The Reindeer Section, recorded with both The Angry Buddhists and Aidan Moffat & The Best-Ofs, worked with Mogwai, and released one of the albums of 2011 with jazz musician Bill Wells.

Moffat has also flourished solo, releasing five albums – including two this year alone – under his L. Pierre sobriquet. The most recent of these, The Eternalist, was unique in that it was recorded and distributed through Vine, the app owned by Twitter that allows the sharing of six-second user-made videos. Continuing his theme of being prolific in 2013, Moffat is soon to release a new L. Pierre EP, entitled Surface Noise. However, he first found time to answer the questions of Joe Rivers. 

Joe: As someone who came to this EP through my love of Arab Strap and your collaborations with Bill Wells, I wasn’t quite prepared for how different to these your work as L. Pierre is? How would you describe L. Pierre for anyone unfamiliar as I was?

Aidan: I'm not really sure – I'm useless at describing anyone's music, especially my own. I suppose the consistent element is recycling – it started in the late 90s as a way to make music to help me relax after I'd been out 'dancing', and I had loads of old, dusty charity shop records that I found bits and pieces of samples on. The last one was made mainly with public domain stuff I found online, but that recycling idea's still the main ingredient, although the purpose of the record is much different. So how about, "Wordless, threadbare spirals, mostly"? Aye, I quite like that.

J: Can you describe the writing process for this EP? And how does that differ for work you’ve done in the past?

A: It started when I was playing a record at home with a scratchy run-out groove that was looping round after the music was finished, and I really liked the rhythm of it and wanted to use it on a bit of music. That ended up being Movement V on the EP, and the piano parts were chopped up from a public domain piano lesson and reformed to make the melody. There was a lot of surface noise on the recent album, The Island Come True, a lot of which I added myself, so it seemed like a pretty natural step to make it more prominent and have it upfront.

J: The music on Surface Noise sounds to me in parts reminiscent of faded Hollywood glamour, grandiose 1920s-style arrangements frayed round the edges by found sounds and vinyl crackles. Would you agree with that description and were you trying to capture a feeling of nostalgia or loss with these songs?

A: There's definitely an inherent sadness in the music that comes from the surface noise, yes – that sound of being beaten up and used. But there's a resilience in it too, of course, so I think that's where notions of nostalgia come in; it might be old, but it's survived. It creates a kind of plaintive solace, and because it's instrumental it's a pretty blank canvas for the listener so they can project whatever they want into it.

J: There have already been two L. Pierre albums this year – what’s caused this purple patch of creativity?

A: After the album I made with Bill Wells, I was pretty wiped out lyrically. There were a lot of words on that record and I took a long time to finish them, and then I had to tour and sing them a lot over the course of nearly two years, so I think I just wanted a musical busman's holiday. I had a few ideas and I tried some different kinds of demos, but it quickly dawned on me that I already had the perfect outlet for making instrumental music and resurrected L. Pierre after a few years of silence.

J: Earlier this year, you “released” an album on Vine. How did you come up with that idea and why decide to use a medium limited to six seconds?

A: You know that FM3 Buddha Machine? I'd always been quite jealous of that idea, it seemed perfect for the L. Pierre stuff I used to do and so I've always wanted to try something similar with single, repetitive loops. I was thinking about doing an app, but they cost a lot of money and time to put together, but then I realised I had the technology to do exactly what I wanted in my trouser pocket and it was free to use. So I spent a couple of days finding samples and videos, then put it together one afternoon after opening an exclusive L. Pierre Vine account that's solely for those tracks. I was very pleased with it too – it worked better than I thought it would, to be honest – and it works perfectly on the Vine app on phones. There are a lot of new ways to make albums these days, and a lot of artists are questioning what the term really means now, but as far as I'm concerned if I say it's an album, then it's an album. The Eternalist can either last about 45 seconds or, theoretically, forever, so the length of the album's up to the listener on a particular day and in a particular mood.

J: Upon the release of The Last Romance, you said that Arab Strap had run its course. Eight years on, do you still feel that’s the case or is there any unfinished business?

A: No, Arab Strap's over. It was a very specific time of our lives, and Malcolm and I have spoken about this a few times and we're just not the same people we were then, so to try new music together with the same name wouldn't be right; we've both moved on. We may well work together again – in fact, we already have on a couple of wee things – but we just don't have the same sort of inspiration or philosophy we had back then. That said, it might be fun to play the old songs again one day, but that would be the extent of it.

J: On Twitter, you’ve enthusiastically supported a number of pop stars, particularly Cher Lloyd. Do you think that other musicians feel they wouldn’t be credible if they admitted to liking pop and who’s your favourite pop star right now?

A: I've got no time for music snobbery and I don't understand it – if you have a genuine interest in music, then you'd be a fool to ignore pop. It doesn't matter to me how or where your record was recorded, if it sounds good, then I'll buy it. I've got no time for the credibility/manufactured nonsense, and anyone who judges music in those sorts of terms really doesn't understand or care about it. Everything is valid, from Girls Aloud to Black Pus to Arvo Part to William Basinski to whatever; I'm happy to listen to Joseph Hammer's loop experiments on Pan and then move on to Katy Perry a couple of cans later – her new single, Roar, is brilliant. I love the new Kanye West album too, although I'm not sure that strictly counts as there's some genuine invention on there that most artists could only dream of.

J: What’s next after this EP, both for Aidan Moffat and L. Pierre?

A: L. Pierre's going back in the box for a while and I'm not sure he'll ever be back – I've got lots of plans that don't include him, so we'll have to wait and see. I won some funding to write some modern Scottish songs in traditional styles, and I'll be touring them with free gigs around Scotland next year as part of the Commonwealth Games arts program – I may well do the rest of the UK too, and I haven't decided on whether to do a record or not yet. If all goes according to plan – fingers crossed – I should have a children's book out for next Christmas, plus I'm working on more stuff with Bill but we tend to work slowly, so I've no idea when that'll be ready. It's an ongoing thing though, so I hope it won't take a few years like the last one. We started writing a musical too, but finding the time to do anything's getting increasingly harder because my family just expanded by one wee girl, so my only plan for any schedule right now is 'eventually'!

L. Pierre’s Surface Noise EP is released 16th September 2013 on Melodic Records. For more information, visit Aidan’s website or the Melodic homepage.