Interview: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat 2015-1

This interview originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 12, 2015, under the heading PRIZE-WINNING DUO BACK TO TAKE THEIR IMPORTANT PLACE.

There is something of the night about the new album from Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat. It’s in the nocturnal torch-songs and after-hours pop. It’s in the shadowy titles of its songs (This Dark Desire, The Unseen Man). It defines its time-zone and landscape (the moon-lit city). And it’s in the record’s very inception: the music, on more than one occasion, came to jazz alchemist Wells in a dream.

“I dreamt about seeing this choir on the television, and that became Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am” recalls Wells, about a joyous urban gospel anthem on the new LP. “They were singing the melody that you hear on the record, and singing all of the words in the chorus. So I sent Aidan a demo and said, ‘That seems a good tune, if you fancy doing something with it?’”

Moffat worked his cunning linguistic wonder, as Moffat does. That demo became an album highlight – a saxophone-fuelled, Satan-toting, sing-a-long ode to the city-as-saviour, starring the Glad Cafe Community Choir. It’s one of countless surprises on the second LP from the Falkirk-born, Glasgow-based artists, which maps the city and its secrets, which explores temptation and what lies beyond, which (sometimes) finds its way back home. It’s called The Most Important Place In The World.

Moffat and Wells’ debut, Everything’s Getting Older, won 2012’s inaugural Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award. When did they decide to record a follow-up? “I can really remember, but it wouldn’t have been long after the SAY Award,” says Moffat on a rainy night in a Glasgow cafe. “We did a mini-tour after that, and which was the end of the lifespan of the first record, so I think it started pretty much after that. I don’t think Bill thought we were going to do another album though. You were quite surprised, weren’t you, Bill? ”

Wells nods and stirs his coffee. “Aidan had once said this thing about never working with the same person twice,” he explains. “So I thought that was that.”

“Aye, I think Bill was a wee bit confused,” adds Moffat. “But now he realises that I change my mind at least once every day.”

The first new track they worked on opens the album. Entitled On The Motorway, it embarks on an album-long voyage that crosses boundaries and eyes up alternative routes. Its title and quest for new horizons echoes Car Song, Moffat’s 2012 collaboration with RM Hubbert. “I’d never really thought about that,” says Moffat. “Of course, Car Song’s not really about cars – that’s about being miserable,” he says with a laugh. “And On The Motorway is more about shagging – or desire, rather, let’s be posh – and things getting in the way of desire.”

That theme recurs throughout the album, as do notions of love, guilt, (lack of) excitement, and the universal truth that we never really change – not at heart, anyway (“we didn’t evolve, we just grew in all the wrong directions”). There are wandering eyes, minds and hands; obstinate dishes, high chairs and chores; and there’s the occasional monster lurking – notably on industrial jazz-skronk entreaty, Lock Up Your Lambs, which re-casts Moffat as a wolfish Tom Waits.

“Lock Up Your Lambs was originally a loop from the [Bill Wells] Octet,” Wells recalls. “I gave Aidan a whole lot of melodies to work from – we usually start with the music and then he’ll write lyrics around it – but I think I gave you about ten loops too?”

Moffat nods. “Lock Up Your Lambs was one of those loops, and it inspired this idea about when you go out for a pint, or go to a party, and everyone’s waiting for something to happen. It’s hardly an original thought – that you’re invoking a demon when you drink or take drugs – but I wanted to do this literal incantation about waiting to get pissed.”

Lock Up Your Lambs also features free-sax that’s wild and yet contained, underscoring the song’s latent potential for total mayhem. “Yeah, that saxophone’s one of my highlights on the record,” says Moffat. “John Burgess [sax] understood exactly what we wanted right away.”

Wells smiles. “I must admit, when Aidan first said he wanted a saxophone, I thought, ‘Oh God’ – because I’m always trying to keep the jazz off our records,” he says with a laugh. The saxophone also has excellent 1980s power ballad connotations of course. “Yes, and again, that’s not something I would necessarily want,” he jokes. “But you know, it works.”

Wells and Moffat are no strangers to pop balladry. They reconfigured the smouldering dejection of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer into a sultry avant-jazz lament, and they created the greatest 80s avant-pop medley of all-time with The Powers and the Glory of Love, a brilliant homage to the best “Power” ballads (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Huey Lewis and the News, Jennifer Rush).

The new album’s most euphoric pop moment comes in the guise of The Eleven Year Glitch, an electro anthem that variously conjures The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time.

“I’m not even sure where that song came from,” muses Moffat. “Did that start with a drum beat?”

“I think so, yeah” nods Wells. “Actually, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, Aidan, but at the time we were doing that song, I was actually in Japan. I went to Japan without telling anybody. And I didn’t have keyboards or anything with me – all I had was my computer. So I had to use this piano on the computer for that song – that’s why the chords are so simple,” he chuckles. “That’s why there were these four bars that only had one note. I was sat in Japan, congratulating myself that I managed to get that far with such limited means.”

And Moffat was none the wiser? “No but I’m glad I know now though,” he says with a hint of faux-menace. “Slacker. Still, to be fair, you made up for it with the strings, I’ll give you that. Bill actually wrote two entirely different string parts for the Eleven Year Glitch. I see now though that was probably through a sense of guilt,” he quips.

The strings on the Eleven Year Glitch, courtesy of the Cairn Quartet, are glorious, and they’re equally uplifting on We’re Still Here, the album’s exquisite, heartening, swansong – a kitchen-sink salute to the labour of love and defying the odds.

“The album’s about lots of things” offers Moffat. “Mainly temptation, and secrets, and life – and aye, it’s about love being hard work. Or it is for me certainly. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’re very happy but I don’t trust them,” says the sage raconteur with a laugh. “I don’t trust people who say they’re happily attached and they have been for 10 years. That’s nonsense. If it’s true, you’re not living life.

“And it’s a record about the city,” he continues. “But it’s abstract, not geographical. It’s about the city as an idea, as a temptress, and even as a God in one of the songs. It’s something to be worshipped.”

It sounds like the most important place in the world.

*

The Most Important Place In The World is out via Chemikal Underground on March 16.

Related articles: Album Review, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat – The Most Important Place In The World – The List

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