Arab Strap

During the CMJ Festival I spoke with Aidan and Malcolm from Arab Strap. They were staying at The Gramercy Hotel. I had just seen an interview with them in The Face. They were interviewed by model Helena Christensen, who claimed to be a big fan, which seemed unlikely. There were pictures of her with Aidan's arms around her. This was a bizarre matching.

I am big fan of Philophobia, one of the darkest records ever made. Arab Strap has been together about ten years and are from Falkirk, Scotland. In the recent year, America has seen the release of Elephant Shoe and a live record, both on Jetset Records. Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffatt have been an inspiration to many, including Belle & Sebastian, who named a record after them. I never liked Belle & Sebastian, and was surprised that fans of this horrid band tended to like Arab Strap as well. I found myself waiting outside the Bowery Ballroom to see Arab Strap with a bunch of B & S nerds. I feel like Jack Black in the film High Fidelity when the other nerdy guy puts on their lame-ass records.

Malcolm and Aidan ordered a coke, talked about seeing the new Exorcist and playing video games. Their show was gloomy and bizarre. People were really quiet and respectful.
AL: Have you toured in America often?
Malcolm: We toured for two weeks in 1998. Mainly in the Northeast.
Aidan: We just finished a long tour with Tindersticks.
AL: You toured with Dot Allison about a year ago.
Aidan: That's right. She's doing quite well over here. She was better received here than in the UK. I was surprised that she was supporting us.
AL: You did a remix of a Dot Allison song.
Malcolm: Yeah. We don't do many remixes, but it's something to do. That was the least special remix we did.
Aidan: It's fucking amazing. We do remixes when we have time. It depends if we like the person who gave us the tape.
AL: How do you feel about Belle & Sebastian calling their record The Boy With The Arab Strap?
Aidan: They have a sense of humor.
Malcolm: Because Arab Strap is quite an interesting name. The words go well together. That's why we chose it as a band name. We're friends with them, but there's a limit to putting someone else's name on a album. They’re taking away something from us.
AL: Did people think it was an Arab Strap album?
Malcolm: Uh. yeah.
Aidan: Helena Christensen did.
Malcolm: Many people bought it because they thought it was a collaboration between both bands. We still see them around in Glasgow.
AL: Is it hard living in a small town?
Malcolm: People in Scotland don't like to see other people do well for themselves, for some reason. It's a Scottish thing. We don't talk about being in a band to normal people. You have to be in a band to have any interest in touring Japan or America. They wouldn't understand it or appreciate it.
Aidan: Most of our friends are somehow connected to a band.
AL: Elephant Shoe was release quite a while before in the UK. Why the delay?
Malcolm: It came out a year ago in September on Go Beat Records. It was a fiasco. We couldn't manage to get it released over here in time. The live album will be coming out on Go Beat and Jetset in January at the same time. We hardly played any songs from Elephant Shoe the other night, because we played it to death for a year.
Aidan: The live album is material from the first two albums. The first two albums were released on Chemikal Underground, then we went to Go Beat briefly, and now we're back on Chemikal Underground this year, which is run by The Delgados. That's their label.
AL: So you will come back to do a proper tour?
Malcolm: Yes. Since we are back on Chemikal Underground, we can have more control over what happens. Our next album will come out in February and it should be synchronized so it comes out here at the same time. Hopefully there's not a fuck up like there was with Go Beat.
AL: Go Beat is probably more concerned with Gabrielle?
Aidan: She's doing quite well.
AL: How did you guys meet up? Was there an idea that you would form a band from way back?
Aidan: I'd like to think that some greater force predestined it. It was always in the cards.
Malcolm: When we were 19 or 20, we were always in bands and stuff. It's such a small town that you meet people who listen to the same kind of music. We just decided to do some stuff together. Aidan had done some demo tapes himself, under the name Arab Strap. It was good.
AL: So you were the original Arab Strap?
Aidan: Not in any good way.
Malcolm: We had sent off some tapes to nine or ten labels and when Chemikal Underground wrote back we were shocked. But it seemed natural too because we were confident about what we were doing. After we finished the first record, the label said you have to play and promote this record in two weeks time.
AL: How did you feel about that, Aidan? You look uncomfortable up there onstage?
Aidan: No. Not really. I enjoyed it. Everybody gets in a bad mood.
AL: You pace around onstage. You fidget with the gear. Or you look for a beer.
Aidan: You need a drink, definitely?
AL: Is drink a major influence?
Aidan: It comes enough.
Malcolm: It's one of the pitfalls of touring with a band, because there's nothing else to do. You get to the venue, and it's usually a bar. It's usually in the middle of nowhere.
Aidan: We're becoming more professional though. We're very conscious of not drinking too much before playing live. Because the first two and half years of playing we just got totally wasted. It was very amusing to watch but it wasn't very musical in any sense.
AL: What about the songs?
Malcolm: Aidan writes all the lyrics and we both write the music. It's not just about writing, it's about actually producing ourselves. We make the songs on tape. We both come up with ideas. We used about three studios in Glasgow.
AL: Why do you write these sort of lyrics?
Aidan: I just write to piss off my girlfriend.
AL: The lyrics seem like a diary.
Aidan: I never kept a diary. I like to think of the album as a diary. Just key events. Just what I'm mulling about at any given point. I like to mull. That's something I'm very good at.
Malcolm: Some journalist described it as picking scabs once.
AL: But from what part of the anatomy?
Aidan: The brain. A scabby brain. I don't care what anyone says. Doesn't matter.
Malcolm: We have that advantage. We always made demo tapes for friends and each other. We always made records in the same way. We have no notions of a third party hearing the songs. The records are very intimate.
AL: It's also unique. You or anyone would be hard pressed to find an influence. Do you think that this music is agitated or is it something you can chill out to?
Aidan: I think that you can take it both ways. There's a lot in the records to relax to but there's also a bad mood. I like to encourage that.
Malcolm: People can relate to the subject matter of the songs. It's not stuff that many people sing about. It's not about "Oh baby I miss you." It's the small things that everybody can relate to. It's a record you want to listen to by yourself, not with friends or at a party.
Aidan: I like making records for the stoners as well. There's a lot of interest in us from the stoners.
AL: What do you think of some of the focus on Scottish music, especially now with Travis?
Malcolm: Travis is fine. They are just one of those bands, like Texas, which are, from our point of view, harmful to music. Travis is selling a shitload of records, that you can get them now at supermarkets, all over the world. It's just pop music.
Aidan: Music to buy at a supermarket. Meaningless.
AL: It seems like you guys utilize silence and quietness in your songs. It means more when you hear those blank spaces. When someone is talking it just ruins the effect.
Aidan: I was really impressed at the level of silence in the audience the other night. I was surprised because it was a CMJ show and people get in free and they could not give a fuck. They could just chat among themselves.
AL: Do you have any other hobbies?
Aidan: I have a Dreamcast actually. I like to play that whenever I can.
AL: Do you get on the Internet and check out what people are saying about Arab Strap?
Malcolm: Occasionally, yeah. The official site doesn't have much on it. The unofficial one has more activity. It takes up a lot time.
Aidan: I don't pay any attention to it at all. If I had an Internet connection I would just look at the Star Wars sites anyways.
AL: You were talking about the Exorcist. Did you like it?
Aidan: I think it's a wonderful film. But they ruined it by adding on a terrible ending. Stupid.
Malcolm: I hate stuff like that. Imagine that they re-released an album in ten years time with overdubs on it. Took bits out and change bits. Surely you don't touch it once it has been made. They always come out with director's cut.
Aidan: The Star Wars Special Edition was terrible as well. It's just pointless. The time and the feel of a film when it was made and released is very important.
AL: Do you have a personal messages to the fans out there?
Aidan: Buy our new record.
Malcolm: I always like to say to our fans, "Please don't be an asshole." And "Be good to your Mum."
AL: Are these words to live by?
Aidan: I'm a total asshole and I'm rotten to my mother. Don't shit where you eat.
AL: Don't shit what you eat?
Aidan: Actually I have to make a trip to the bathroom quite soon. It's annoying when people pay money to see you and act like fucking idiots when you're on.
Malcolm: It's perfectly understandable. They might have a few drinks. They might get excited.
AL: Some girl might have something slipped into her drink. Then she jumps on stage and takes off her clothes. She goes crazy.
Aidan: It doesn't happen often.
Malcolm: There's this image of us being these mad Scottish alcoholics. People outside Scotland think this is how we are and we'll do the same. Bunch of drunks. Just buy our records and not the other guys.
AL: I'm going to go home right now and put an Arab Strap CD in the player and glue it shut.
Aidan: That would be wise. Wait till the new record comes out though.