Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert combine to release a new album, Here Lies The Body, on 11 May via Rock Action.
‘The album title has a dual meaning – sex and death.’ These are common themes from Aidan Moffat; since his early days with Arab Strap, he has explored these subjects with a grace and grit that plunges deep into the human soul. But this is no re-hash of the past, rather a further leap forward for Moffat, now teaming up with fellow Scot, singer and guitarist extraordinaire, RM Hubbert, for this new project.
‘It can be read as romantic surrender, but of course it’s also a phrase you’ll find on a tombstone,’ Moffat elaborates. Equally multidimensional is the music contained within, weaving beautiful, spidery guitar work, haunting piano lines, lush strings, delicate percussion, fizzing 808 beats, synth pop, samba, and moments of jazz, while Moffat’s rich voice carries the narrative in rich grumbles, hushed whispers, and revealing spoken word.
In many ways it feels like a modern folk record, in that it features traditional storytelling rooted in an acoustic-based backing. However, much like Moffat’s recent explorations in award-winning 2016 documentary Where You’re Meant to Be – in which he travelled remote parts of Scotland exploring his country’s relationship with folk music – the results are a reimagining: mutated music for modern times. However, categorising music is not something that interests Moffat. ‘The guitar and voice are the heart of the record, yes, but I don’t really think about genre, I just try to use the sounds that I think best illustrate the idea and feeling of the song. We can literally access almost all music ever recorded for free now, and you can make an album on your phone, so there’s an unlimited palette these days. I think modern ears are more accepting of different genres than ever before.’
Moffat and Hubbert met many years ago. ‘I can’t remember when we first met, but I’m sure it would have been at a gig or a pub in Glasgow somewhere,’ Moffat says. Hubbert, a one-time Glasgow gig promoter, recalls, ‘I’m pretty sure I put on Arab Strap’s first show back in the day!’ Their first collaboration, Car Song, was released in 2012 on Hubbert’s Thirteen Lost & Found album, which went on to win the Scottish Album of the Year Award – only a year after Moffat won the same award for his work with Bill Wells.
While Moffat and Hubbert are the core of the record, it comes fleshed out with some crucial accompaniment in the form of Siobhan Wilson, who sings and plays cello (and who released her own There Are No Saints album last year to great acclaim); Louisville, Kentucky’s Rachel Grimes on piano; and veteran jazz saxophonist John Burgess.
The recording process was a smooth one. ‘It was all very relaxed and casual,’ Moffat says, ‘100% stress free.’ A further sense of ease came from the natural roles the pair found for themselves, allowing one another the requisite space to be creative. ‘I don’t see the point in asking someone to collaborate then trying to shape what they do,’ Hubbert offers, with Moffat echoing, ‘Aye, it’s all about trust, and letting the other writer do what they do.’
There’s a rich narrative that flows through the album. Influenced, Moffat says, by ‘an article I read about mothers who abandon their families, and how that still remains a pretty taboo subject in our times. When marriages break down, it’s almost always the man who leaves.’ The album begins with the chance encounter of two old flames as they enjoy hen and stag parties in Blackpool – a prologue, in the form of a page from a screenplay, will be included with the album artwork. We then follow the story as it moves forwards (and backwards) with wit and wisdom, exploring themes of love, family, fortune telling, deceit, death, Schrodinger’s cat, the multiverse … and marshmallows.
The result is a moving, diverse record of great beauty that straddles a line between light and dark and faith and fear; at once fun, funny, and forlorn; both melancholic and sanguine, and inherently melodic throughout.