Aidan Moffat on the final L. Pierre album

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This interview originally featured in The Skinny

Aidan Moffat bids farewell to L. Pierre with a carefully constructed final offering that picks apart our changing consumer habits and professes the death of vinyl

We meet up with Aidan Moffat at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe just hours after Theresa May’s surprise appearance as the corpse of Thatcher dug up from Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. He’s remarkably upbeat; she didn’t announce a world war at least. Perhaps optimism is a symptom of the setting-in of middle age that he refers to a lot lately – he’s attempting a new regime of early nights and less booze; we drink tea so he doesn’t stink of beer for the school run. Despite being a self-anointed grump, his chat is woven with hearty belly-laughs and impish chuckles. The old mischief remains and he can’t resist stirring, putting the proverbial two fingers up when he can, something he does beautifully on the fifth and final offering, 1948 –, from solo project L. Pierre.

1948  is a carefully crafted comment on the state of the music industry and the changing habits of music consumption. Sampled from the very first 33 1/3rpm 12″ LP pressed (recorded in 1948) – a Nathan Milstein version of a popular Mendelssohn violin concerto that Moffat ripped from YouTube in its entirety – it jolts and unsettles in more than just its musical delivery. It’s presented entirely sleeveless, pushes the sounds to the end of the record’s locked groove and is available in a limited run (although he admits it’s already on a second pressing). The private SoundCloud stream being used for review purposes will completely disappear upon the record’s release (28 Apr).

“I was reading about the history of vinyl and about how LPs began and it struck me that the LP is kind of in the same position now as it was in the 50s,” he begins. “In 1948 the Mendelssohn concerto was the very first thing to be released as a 12″ LP but it was always marketed at adults, it was a grown-up format. Then as rock and pop music came in, when the first 7″ happened it was two different generations listening to these formats.

“The kids were buying seven inches because they were cheaper and they had music that appealed to young people, whereas albums were pretty much classical pieces or soundtracks to shows or Frank Sinatra or jazz. The 7″ was the pop format and albums were the adult format. I think that’s where we’re at now, except instead of [the] 7” we’ve got streaming. It struck me that it’s pretty much come full circle, the LP, and I don’t think it’s got anywhere to go.”

Moffat has been openly critical of the rising popularity of streaming services and their impact on artists’ ability to make a living. “I don’t want it to sound like a tirade against streaming because the battle is lost, the war is lost,” he states. “There’s no point fighting streaming because me, and people like me, were roundly defeated. But we’ve mainly been defeated because streaming, like any big business, is a sweatshop. It’s great for consumers, it’s great for the platform, the business, but the workers are getting fucking shagged.

“It’s pretty much the age-old story with music contracts,” he continues. “There were so many pop stars who made, wrote and performed amazing records that never saw a fucking penny. It’s kind of going back to that attitude I think – even politically, everything seems to be returning back to this place where things are getting harder and harder, to be heard certainly. Voices are getting silenced and music is a part of that too.”

He doesn’t buy as many records as he once did, but still cherishes his old vinyl. Now it’s about paying for digital albums and listening to MP3s on his phone; he doesn’t really need LPs in his life and is dismissive of people that buy and never play them. “Part of the reason physical formats aren’t as popular as they used to be is because the process of listening to music for most people now is an intimate act,” he suggests. “You’re almost plugging it in to your body, literally. That need for physical contact isn’t there as much and people of my generation, us middle-aged weirdos that like to touch music, are on the way out. In 40 years we’ll all be gone so I can’t imagine vinyl’s survival beyond that.”

The survival of 1948  in its physical sense is as pivotal to its concept as the way the music on it sounds. Presented ‘naked’, without artwork and with just a copy of the letter Moffat sent to Melodic Records introducing the idea, it’s designed to scuff and scar. “As much as I love vinyl I’ve never been one of these fucking snobs. I hate that ‘warm sound’ argument, who gives a fuck! What’s important is the music in a song, the sense of a song, the words, that’s what people connect with,” he says. “I could hear it through the shittiest fucking system… like all these brilliant old blues records you hear, they still sound amazing. Terrible recording but they sound brilliant, because of the bad recording a lot of the time as well.

“It’s the same with the samples I’ve used… it has the idea that it’s survived. I really like the idea there is a mobility to that sound, something has been through a lot and managed to survive,” he explains. “It’s the same reason for doing it with no sleeve – it will survive through this process of you taking it home, it might have a few scars and scratches but it will still be there. We did talk about that too, that people who would normally buy LPs will be fucking furious! It isn’t really intended [to irritate them] but it is an amusing side effect of it certainly. I wanted it to get damaged. All the LP records started with that sort of dusty, scratched, surface noise sound and I thought ‘why don’t we make that part of the actual record itself?’

“I initially thought about doing a glass paper sleeve with the paper inside so every time you took it out it would get worse and worse. The problem with that is I’d have had to do it all by hand, it would have been an enormous job,” he says. “Secondly there was that old Durutti Column album (The Return of the Durutti Column) in the 80s that was made of a sandpaper sleeve, which was a different thing as [it] was on the outside and the idea was it destroyed everything it came in to contact with, which was brilliant and funny, but I felt [my idea] was a bit too close to that as well. Then I thought ‘fuck the sleeve, let’s just leave it to the elements, let it live and breathe in the world’.”

It feels like a neat end to the project, and Moffat likes neat endings. L. Pierre has always been his most leftfield stream of work, and his swansong is no exception. Moving, unsettling, and at times a little harrowing, 1948  might spark differing opinions, but it again marks Moffat out as utterly unique among his peers. “It’s interesting what people say. I’ve seen a couple of people say that I haven’t really done anything, that I’ve just lifted this stuff and put it on a record, which I quite like, I quite like the mystery behind it because it kind of shows that people don’t really know the original piece. Which I don’t expect them to, I didn’t know it until I heard it, but I think it’s curious that they think this [new LP] is what Mendelssohn’s concerto sounded like. It wasn’t like that at all!”

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L. Pierre – 1948–

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This review originally featured in The Skinny

Aidan Moffat bows out of his L. Pierre project, but not before leaving an indelible, eerie commentary on our changing consumer patterns and how they could kill the music we claim to care for

From Arab Strap to collaborations with Bill Wells to the reimagined bothy ballads of Where You’re Meant To Be, Aidan Moffat’s lyrical genius, and indeed its delivery, have been pivotal to his persona. But over the past decade and a half, the creative outlet of L. Pierre has enabled Moffat to say so much without words, creating emotion and stories through soundscapes alone.

But it’s time to say goodbye with his fifth offering 1948–, and round off the project with a fitting end. Nathan Milstein’s version of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948 was the first 12″ LP ever pressed. Here Moffat has lifted the recording in its entirety from YouTube, reimagining the piece through a warped manipulation of short samples to create an unsettling but bonnie beast.

The concept was pitched via post – just one rough LP with an accompanying letter to Melodic outlining what he was trying to say through the pieces and their presentation. It’s a commentary on changing consumer habits; the value of formats and the potential end of the road for vinyl, which he believes has come full circle and is teetering on the brink of extinction. The vinyl-only format is presented sleeveless, with no artwork to speak of (save for a copy of the letter), and in Moffat’s own words it’s designed to be damaged. He wants it to get scratched and battered, for each copy of the (initial) limited run to bear its own personal, unique scars.

It opens with sound akin to nuclear fallout; a scary near-silence of destruction, before a darting climb of repetitive, startled strings give the sense of panic like the scenes of shock and despair that might inhabit silent films. Things take an even more mournful turn with jarring, overlaid string sections seeking to compete, before anxious clips dance under scratched, cyclical surface noise.

What’s striking is the record’s flit from paranoia to foreboding, which lingers to the end of the vinyl’s locked groove. According to Moffat it’s a metaphor for how the lifespan of the LP is in the hands of consumers and listeners. It’s sad to see him part with Pierre, but as ever he’s pitched it right and bowed out in good time, leaving an indelible soundtrack of intelligent and bittersweet beauty.

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Andrew Wasylyk – Themes For Buildings and Spaces

 

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This review originally featured in The Skinny

If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then who knows what music that’s written about architecture is comparable to. Either way, this series of pieces inspired by multi-instrumentalist Andrew Wasylyk’s hometown of Dundee further augments his talents as both musician and composer.

Originally conceived as an arts festival piece, Themes For Buildings and Spaces paints an elegant but eerie aural picture of an ever-changing cityscape, and despite the absence of Wasylyk’s normally exquisite vocal, this sits well as a stand-alone soundtrack, not just for those familiar with the evolving architectural aesthetics of Scotland’s fourth largest city.

Cyclical piano lines weave through subtle, filmic strings and sorrowful brass embellishments on opener Drift, with the delicate percussive touches and playful keys of Under High Blue Skies following. Via Crucis invokes 1940s movie mysteries while Ghosts of Park Place is disconcerting with haunting synths and distant echoes of carefree children at play. Come the Autumn is a horn-driven, brooding beauty before the rhythmic riffs of Lower Dens Works echo the jute mill machinery of Dundee’s days gone by. The Howff is the formidable final scene; sinister with a lingering, sorrowful air.

This type of music-making might not be entirely unchartered water for Wasylyk, but Themes For Buildings and Spaces shows just how adept a composer he’s become.

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Babe – Kiss & Tell

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This review originally featured in The Skinny

While Babe’s 2014 debut, Volery Flighty, walked a varied path – pieced together over time, saturated with instruments and influences – their sophomore effort Kiss & Tell feels more focused than anything the band has done before, signalling a fresh, more measured approach that goes far to replicate the group’s captivating live incarnation. At times they’re part Beta Band, exploring off-kilter electronica and experimental noise with the vocal gymnastics and lyrical ambiguity of the Cocteau Twins.

Recorded and self-produced in more linear blocks, Kiss & Tell finally sees Babe as a fully-formed gang, following some line-up augmentations. With members split between Glasgow, Brussels and London, and with involvement in bands such as Bossy Love, Rozi Plain and François and the Atlas Mountains, the pan-European alliance’s collective musical pedigree is undeniable.

Opener Ayo is awash with slow-building synth, laid-back R&B grooves and understated beats, while Bit Part has room to breathe with handclap samples and wonky riffs. It saunters and builds with repeated near-climaxes, Gerard Black’s immaculate falsetto weaving throughout. Similarly, on Cupola Panorama, Black’s vocals are impeccable over a chorus of gentle synths and 80s guitar licks. There’s synergy between the elements and choirboy melodies floating on a sea of sounds.

Everything drops in to place for Ecce Poque, and the tempo lifts. Cutesy chirps dance over sweet beats and swirling reverb-laden riffs before the eloquent Eurodisco of Perpetuum Mobile. Wisteria is addictive electropop with heart, buoyant and electrifying, while Scooping Pints is a steel drum flirtation of scale-fluttering trills. Closing track Primo is the album’s well-placed crescendo of infectious energy, with beautiful blips, beats and handclaps.

Kiss & Tell is an effortlessly special album from an incredible, largely unclassifiable entity, with endless elements and influences combining to create something thrillingly unique.

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Babe on new album Kiss & Tell

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This interview originally featured in The Skinny

We meet up with Gerard Black at Glasgow’s Art School, to talk about the evolution of Babe and to find out more about latest LP, Kiss & Tell

On the surface Babe seem standard fare – four lads on vocals, synths, drums, guitar and bass. But the masses of collective musical experience, tastes and influence that filter through the quartet have seen the pieces fall properly into place on their forthcoming second album, with Babe having refocused and refined their sound. Kiss & Tell proves the four-piece are more united as a group than ever, with a clearer musical aesthetic.

While the unequivocally talented Gerard Black remains front and centre in both songwriting and performing terms, the original line-up has been altered and the live set-up bolstered with the addition of John Baillie Jnr, ex-Dananananaykroyd and now of Bossy Love, on drums. Completing the line-up are London-based Thomas Ogden on guitar and Frenchman Amaury Ranger of François & the Atlas Mountains on bass.

Difficult to categorise but easy to be energised by, the band’s sophomore effort is an addictive mix of electro-pop, synths, offbeat R’n’B and Eurodisco awash with the impeccable falsetto-tinged melodies of Black, a singer and songwriter with an effortless star quality that few possess. Where their 2014 debut Volery Flighty flitted between styles and genres like an overexcited puppy, Kiss & Tell retains the group’s eclecticism but in a more measured manner.

The first album was pieced together over a few years, combining countless instruments and guests, including CHVRCHES‘ Lauren Mayberry. “All the songs were different from one another, but these ones we demoed as a band in the same room with the same set-up [which] made it sound more cohesive,” Black begins. “[Kiss & Tell] was all written in the same six months and all recorded in the same three weeks, and then produced and mixed in about a month.”

Self-produced by Black and Baillie Jnr, the record goes some of the way to recreating Babe’s thrilling full-band incarnation, despite its lack of live drums. Baillie Jnr’s input is a massive part of the energy of the live performance, and his production abilities steered the sound of the new record. This and his percussive skills were largely the reasons he was invited to properly join the band.

“I had a new tune that was more R’n’B,” Black begins. “[I asked John to] do a remix and he sent it back and it was like, ‘This is how it should sound.’ [We] had a three-day session and did every single song and we were like, ‘This is amazing’. We listened back and it was a bit too hyped up, we’d lost our little soft outer edge, so we went back in and eased up the compressors and turned everything down.” Then the band’s drummer at the time couldn’t make a gig – Baillie Jnr stepped in, and stayed. “I always knew he was a good drummer. He’s a total beast!” exclaims Black.

Black had stints living in France and Belgium, moving to London at the start of 2015 and returning to Glasgow a year later. The band is now split between London, Brussels and Glasgow but despite this they feel polished and united. “Sometimes we get together and write together. We do that more than we rehearse,” says Black. “Everyone is quite on it in our band, everyone has kind of written their own parts too which I think helps so they remember it and turn up. They’re the sort of guys that can improvise too.”

Lyrics don’t seem to take centre stage for Black. “I often feel lyrics get in the way of a good melody,” he suggests. “I hate it when you hear someone whining about something or being emotional about something. Who the fuck wants to listen to me? I try to make it as weird as possible but I also try to keep it poppy as well.

“Sometimes when I do songs I do it in the [Cocteau Twins vocalist] Elizabeth Fraser style, I sort of go for it and make up words and stuff and then I’m like, ‘I really like the way those vowel sounds go with that melody’, so I try to shoehorn words into it,” Black continues. “I do spend enough time on them to be proud of them, but it never starts with the lyrics. If I really want to get an idea into a song it’s more about the music first and the feeling of the song, and the words come last in terms of the structure.”

Babe reflects Glasgow’s diversity and acceptance of space for all styles in the music community. “It’s always been the way in Glasgow,” suggests Black, positive about the collective feel of the city’s music scene. “I’ve always felt like I haven’t really been part of a scene or anything but then I feel like the scene is more about everyone chipping in and sharing resources and ideas, inviting other people onto bills and so on.”

Their DIY approach is largely out of financial necessity, and technological availability. “I would love to go and work with a big hotshot producer but who’s going to pay for that? Not me, I don’t have any money!” Black admits. “I can’t really complain because I am getting by… but I don’t know how anyone else would do it. I certainly don’t know how anyone from Shettleston or whatever would be able to start up a band and think they might be able to take it seriously.”

With album three already written, Black hints at further reinvention of Babe. It will be self-produced again and hopefully with more of a live feel including live drums rather than programmed beats. “I think if anything it’s going to get smoother, if the demos are anything to go by it’s going to sound more like Sade,” he grins. But for now they’re ready to let Kiss & Tell into the world, and it’s bound to win hearts.

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Shake It Off: The Little Kicks interview

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This interview originally featured in The Skinny.

We catch up with The Little Kicks’ frontman Steven Milne to chat about their brand new album Shake Off Your Troubles and their ambitions for the future

Since 2013’s Put Your Love In Front of Me, The Little Kicks have been letting go of the anxieties of their younger years. That continues with fourth LP Shake Off Your Troubles and its carefully crafted indie-pop songs of acceptance, swollen with strings, synths and a quietly garnered ambitious self-assurance.

The band is older, wiser and clearly aiming higher. Unsigned but reemerging with the confidence of a slickly managed group with the backing of a major label, The Little Kicks’ newfound belief is largely attributable to the quartet’s driving force – main songwriter and frontman, Steven Milne. His wealth of industry nous, gained largely as booker for Aberdeen venue The Lemon Tree, has been invaluable for the band, but there’s also a divvying up of day-to-day duties between all four members, who sensibly treat being in a group like a small business.

“There’s no reason why we can’t make our artwork nice, and get vinyl, and just act professionally and confidently. That hopefully reflects in the music too,” suggests Milne. “We obviously would love to win a SAY Award or get a tour support with a big band, and why not? A few years ago we would have been like, ‘that’s not going to happen for a band like us,’ but there’s no reason why you can’t try. You’re only going to get it if you push yourself for it.”

Feeling slightly removed in Aberdeen from Scotland’s musical heart in the central belt, the band has perhaps had to push themselves that bit harder, and it’s paid off. “I sometimes see us doing similar shows to bands with management and labels and a lot more help than we have, and I think we’re obviously doing something right if we’re still there on the same bill,” he reflects. “We’re quite pally with a lot of big bands in Scotland and kind of see them as contemporaries in a way, although they’re doing much better than us and don’t have jobs full-time… that kind of thing does encourage you to try harder.

“You do see bands kind of leapfrog us in a way because we’ve been around for such a long time that you do think, ‘how come some bands are getting such and such and you’re not?’ But then we just quietly do what we do with the time and the budget and the resources that we have.”

Mastered at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios in London, Shake Off Your Troubles was met with a different approach than previous records, with the band holing up in a lochside lodge in the Highlands to record it. Working 24/7 to get just the right aural aesthetic, Milne sometimes spent hours on solitary synth parts until they were exactly as he’d envisaged. After initial trepidation, the setup on the banks of Loch Ness afforded them the space and time to gain the confidence to experiment with new sounds and technical approaches.

“You’re quite exposed being in a band together, singing about things that are quite personal to you,” Milne admits. “There needs to be the ability to just try stuff without feeling judged, or that someone’s going to laugh at you for making a mistake. We definitely achieved that in the lodge, everyone was very relaxed and just trying things.”

Adding to the experimentation was the inclusion of the Cairn String Quartet on several tracks.“We’ve never had strings on a record before,” says Milne. “We would never have done that a few years ago; we would have just thought, ‘we can’t do that, we don’t know how to do that,’ but now there’s a bit more of a feeling of ‘let’s try’.”

Shake Off Your Troubles is far less crestfallen than previous work, with Milne admitting Put Your Love… was written at a vulnerable time. “I felt a little bit uncertain in the period of that last record but prior to the finishing stages of this one I was in a really good place,” he offers. “You get a little bit older and you realise you’re actually very fortunate, especially with all the stuff going on in the world at the moment, people have got a lot less than me. For me to be singing about being heartbroken didn’t really feel right. It was more about being a bit more grateful for what you’ve got and, I don’t know, just relax a little bit.”

He continues: “We had a bit of a turbulent time at the end of the last album. The band lost a close friend, which is reflected in one of the tracks pretty obviously; that’s our way of paying tribute. But other than that song we wanted to make something that was a pretty straight upbeat album.”

Doing things their own way has so far worked, with strong support from a variety of national radio, and anticipation around the new record’s release. While The Little Kicks wouldn’t rule out getting help if it was “the right deal”, they’re happy having full creative control, and they’re doing just fine.

“The music is the most important thing for us,” states Milne. “It’s not really our desire to become famous and all that bullshit, we just love playing live, we love playing gigs, and as long as it’s music that we believe in and enjoy playing we’ll continue to do that. Hopefully there’s people that come to see it and support it, and they have for the last three records or so, so that keeps us going.”

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Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

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This review originally featured in The Skinny.

Jesca Hoop returns with her fourth solo album, following last year’s incredible Sub Pop-released Love Letter for Fire with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam. Signing to the label to release her latest material, Hoop’s new offering is as unique as it is universally empowering, ploughing the depths of fragility, defiance and everything in between.

Title track Memories Are Now is a strong, seize-the-day call to arms for the bereft. Uncluttered bass notes and a delicate beat strike under Hoop’s unbelievably versatile vocal, like Dolly Parton singing something Beyoncé might have penned after a particularly painful break-up.

The Lost Sky is similarly stark yet bleakly tender. Gentle strumming and simple string picks run through circular, repetitive verse, signaling a hurt without end. By the third track, Hoop’s voice takes another turn – flitting from smoky low notes to the top of her register in the same breath, as she explores the state of modern life and technology’s frantic influence over it.

Hoop’s lyrical phrasing and ability to bend her instrument to any style, from the country tick of Simon Says to the brilliant folk-pop of Unsaid, are astounding. The tribal thump and rallying cry of Cut Connection injects an angry energy to the record’s mid-point before the pure hymnal elegance of Songs of Old paints a vivid, string-plucked picture of the past, proving Hoop’s voice to be part opera, part gospel and capable of just about anything.

Pegasi is acoustic, country-lilted, breathy beauty. The production is honest and stripped back, letting her vocal gift and stunning songwriting shine. Album closer The Coming conjures a dusty desert outpost with lonely, distant guitar licks as the singer comes to terms with the loss of faith and an acceptance of the shedding of it.

Memories Are Now is a gorgeously delivered elegy to heartbreak and loss; powerful, perfectly executed songs to bring comfort and strength to the weary, broken and scorned.

 

 

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