“I haven’t danced outside of my house for decades. Slayer in the kitchen.”
The Scottish duo Arab Strap have a proudly preserved cult status. Led by Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, the project has recently came back from the dead with the astonishing seventh album, As Days Get Dark. We reached out to the duo to ask whatever’s on our mind, engaging in a lovely and sincere conversation. You can the read the interview below, or check out the Turkish version here.
Congratulations for your new album, As Days Get Dark. How does it feel to resurrect Arab Strap after so many years and putting forward your long anticipated record in such a strange period in time?
Aidan: Oddly, it’s actually a really good time to release music because there are a lot of music fans at home just sitting waiting for something new. And the response has been better than we could have hoped for, it’s amazing.
Malcolm: Thanks, it feels great! I enjoy just writing and playing guitar again and not having to sing or worry about lyrics for a bit. It’s nice to finally hear what people think of the album, rather than working away in secrecy for a few years. The response has been great.
How long had you been forming these songs, both mentally and physically?
Aidan: Physically, we started writing them in early 2018, but only really in our spare time – we both had other solo albums and tours on, so we just chipped away at it whenever we could. Mentally, I’m not sure – we tried doing some non-Arab Strap music together for a soundtrack a few years ago, but it just sounded exactly like Arab Strap so we abandoned it.
Malcolm: Yeah, mainly since 2018. It was just for fun but then we realised things were sounding good so we made some plans to actually go into a studio, and then Rock Action said they’d be up for putting the album out, so things moved quickly from there.
You kick off the album with this unique apocalyptic mood through “The Turning of Our Bones”. Can you tell us about its background? There’s surely a lot going on there, both lyrically and instrumentally.
Aidan: Lyrically it’s all about resurrection – it was inspired the Famidihana ritual from Madagascar, which sees families exhume corpses and dress them up to celebrate, so it started as a metaphor for rekindling romance but soon started to say something about bringing Arab Strap from the dead too.
Malcolm: Aidan sent me the drums and I’d recently written the first guitar part so it seemed to work. It’s quite an unusual song but it works.
I think that through such moods, your old nickname “the proclaimers from Hell” makes legitimate sense. It emcompasses both the doom and the dark humour within your music and lyrics. Would you settle down for another nickname, or are you happy with that?
Aidan: Ha ha, no, I’m very happy with that one!
Malcolm: I still like “the Scottish Steely Dan”.
The song’s music video makes me wonder if you’re horror fans yourselves.
Aidan: Aye, definitely it’s probably one of the few things we agree on!
Malcolm: Yes, we both grew up on Hammer and old black & white horror films. Anything overly dramatic with lots of staring and fake blood.
Who and what were your inspirations while making the album?
Aidan: Nothing specific, but I got some ideas from life and some from books – when the themes became apparent, I focused on books about nighttime to help tie it all together. I tend to try and not listen to music so much when making a record, I don’t want too many ideas to influence me.
Malcolm: Nothing really, maybe just our back catalogue and trying to live up to our older songs. We both have quite different musical taskes but finding things we both like for Arab Strap has always been pretty straight-forward.
“Here Comes Comus!” could well be your most danceable song thus far. What are your personal favourite songs to dance along to?
Aidan: I think we’d probably agree on N-Trance’s Set You Free, an old rave tune from the 90s. Or, in my case, I usually can’t resist a shuffle to soul songs.
Malcolm: I haven’t danced outside of my house for decades. Slayer in the kitchen.
The title “Kebabylon” is funny as hell, particularly for a Turkish listener, It would play to the crowds if you were to give a concert around here again. Speaking of that, how do you foresee the future of concerts in the lights of both the pandemic and Brexit?
Aidan: I think we’re just crossing our fingers that both will have come to some kind of conclusion by the time we need to tour Europe – we’re doing some UK dates this year in September, and plan to try Europe next year. We played a brilliant festival in Istanbul years ago, which I think was our only gig in Turkey, and it was great – so we’ll be back as soon as we’re asked and it’s safe!
You said in another interview that you demoed around 20 songs while recording the album. Nowadays a lot of artists put forward deluxe editions of their albums. What is your stance in this trend, do you plan to release an expanded version of As Days Get Dark?
Aidan: I think a couple of them might pop up on a 7” over summer – we’re hopefully going back to the studio to finish off some loose ends. Otherwise, I expect all the unreleased stuff will sit on a hard-drive for 25 years and we can release the on our 50th anniversary.
Malcolm: There were a few things left over from the album sessions. They’re good but didn’t quite fit with the album. They maybe sounded a bit too similar to our older stuff so we left them off.
It feels sort of inevitable, because the artists are relying heavily upon releasing new music nowadays due to the inability to give concerts, so it seems plausible that many resort to alternative plans of production. In an age of constant online presence and demanded creativity, how do you plan to continue on?
Aidan: We were talking about an online show but recent news in the UK suggests we’ll be able to tour in September, and we’ve even had a few festival offers, so we’ve decided just to wait until we can play in front of a proper audience again.
Malcolm: If there’s a 3rd lockdown, then yes, we might do something…
If you could get one of your lyrics written on your tombstone, which one would it be?
Aidan: There’s a song about death on Philophobia called The Night Before the Funeral, so I’d maybe choose something from that – “Kick me out to sea” sounds about right.
Malcolm: I have a song called “We’re All Going To Die” so I’d use that.
You can check out Arab Strap’s Bandcamp page here.