Jeremy Williams-Chalmers, Arts Correspondent

In Conversation With Arab Strap

Almost 28 years after their debut, Arab Strap has never sounded more essential, and this new record is a fierce testament to their laser focus on wider horizons. Written and performed exclusively by Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat and finessed with longtime collaborator Paul Savage, the album furthers the band’s transformation from swooning, slow-core romantics to raging, alt-pop chroniclers.

I'm totally fine with it 👍 don't give a f**k anymore 👍may sound like the title of an album by a band giving up (it's just a text from the band's live drummer that Moffat thought was funny), but in reality, it's an album that clearly defines a new creative period for Arab Strap. The band recently wrapped up a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1998 album Philophobia, and this new album feels charged by a desire to move forward and explore new terrain.

“The tour’s been fun, but I’ll be glad it’s over so we can move on,” laughs Middleton, while Moffat echoes him.

“The Philophobia gigs have been a way of saying goodbye to the old us,” he says. “It was a very gentle, quiet tour, so I expect this year we'll just be playing banger after banger. I think we've earned the right to make some noise now.”

With a tour to accompany their upcoming release, we caught up with Aidan Moffat to learn a little more.

Arab Strap
Arab Strap
Hello, how are you?

Aidan: Pretty good, thanks. The return of some sunshine to Glasgow is sufficient to make me happy to be back in shorts.

Your 25th anniversary celebrations have come to a close, and you have delivered one of your finest singles to date. Tell us all about Bliss.

Aidan: It's actually the oldest song on the album, written around the time of As Days Get Dark—we knew it wouldn't fit on that album, so it was the first step towards this new one. It's one of the most explicitly electronic tunes we've done; it was originally filled with guitars, but we stripped all but one of them out.

How did you select it as the lead single for your upcoming new album?

Aidan: We always intended The Turning of Our Bones, the first song we wrote for the album, to be the first single, just as we did with the last album. The Turning of Our Bones was our first finished song, and we let that lead the way too.

We love the title. I'm totally fine with it. Don't give a fuck anymore—what's the story behind it?

Aidan: It was a text message from our live drummer, Jeansy, in a group chat about touring. I took an instant screenshot because it made me laugh, and I'm not sure why I liked it so much. I believe I suggested it as an album title the following day. There's an irony to it, of course—I think the lyrics on the album make it pretty clear that I care about lots of things—but maybe there's a bit of hope in it too, a sense of breaking free and rising above.

Is there a song you're desperate for people to hear?

Aidan: Not specifically, really—I'm an old-fashioned lad who'd prefer folk to listen to the album as a whole. Although I'm very fond of Sociometer Blues, which may or may not be a single later in the year,.

What do you think is the secret to making a strong album?

Aidan: I honestly don't know, but I can tell you that I think we've got better at letting things go over the years. You get very attached to all the songs you create, but sometimes you have to be ruthless and let some go.

You're entering your 28th year as a band. Did you ever anticipate reaching this point?

Aidan: I'm not sure if that really counts, because we had a ten-year separation in the middle! But we both kept working during that time and hopefully got better at what we do. Music should be like any other job, and your skills should improve with time.

Looking back at those early years, do you recall your initial ambitions?

Aidan: I never expected more than a couple of years at best—my only ambition was to do a session for John Peel, and he broadcast our first ever live show in 1996, so I would've been chuffed with just that.

What ambitions remain unfulfilled?

Aidan: None; I only had one!

You will be back on the road later this year. How will you balance showcasing the new album with the classics?

Aidan: We're focusing on the last two albums, of course, but we're not daft enough to ignore the old songs, so we'll definitely be playing a few. At last week's rehearsal, we tried Infrared from the Red Thread album, which we haven't played in 20 years, so that might make it. There's another song from that album that we've never played live before that we hope to try too, but we'll see how it goes. We have an awful lot of songs to choose from these days.

And lastly, which song do you get the biggest kick out of playing live?

Aidan: My favourite two in recent years have been The Turning of Our Bones and Fable of the Urban Fox, but I'm looking forward to all the new ones. When we made the album, we were quite conscious of how the songs would work with our live band, and they're bringing it all together nicely. I expect the gigs for this album will be our liveliest and noisiest yet—in a good way! 

Tour Dates
20th May Carlisle, England - The Brickyard
21st May Sunderland, England - Fire Station
24th May London, England - Koko
25th May Manchester, England - Gorilla
26th May Leeds, England - Brudenell