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Malcolm Middleton - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 6 / 2009

Malcolm Middleton - Interview


Former Arab Strap guitarist Malcolm Middleton talks to John Clarkson about his just released fifth solo album, 'Waxing Gibbous', and why this will be the last record under his own name for the immediate future

Malcolm Middleton, who has just released his fifth solo album ‘Waxing Gibbous’, is the former guitarist with Arab Strap. Middleton began Arab Strap with singer and keyboardist, Aidan Moffatt, in their native town of Falkirk in central Scotland in 1996. They recorded six studio albums, ‘The Week That Never Was’ (1996),‘Philophobia(1998),‘Elephant Shoe’ (1999), ‘The Red Thread’ (2001), ‘Monday at the Hug and Pint’(2003) and ‘The Last Romance’ (2005) over the next decade before breaking up at the end of 2006. Even before Arab Strap disbanded, Moffatt and Middleton, Moffatt under the moniker of Lucky Pierre (now L. Pierre), and Middleton under his own name, had both started solo careers. As well as ‘Waxing Gibbous’, Middleton has also released ‘5.14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine’ (2002) ,‘Into the Woods’ (2005), ‘A Brighter Beat’ (2007) and ‘Sleight of Heart’(2008). While Arab Strap in their lyrics, the bulk of which were written by Moffatt, told in earthy language of alienation, drink-enflamed evenings, and disastrous sexual encounters, Middleton, who has often found himself branded as a miserabilist, has taken this a stage further, writing with wry, deprecating wit of his lack of self-confidence as a songwriter, other nights on alcohol, and his want and need to stay in on his own. ‘Waxing Gibbous’ is more upbeat and less morose than Middleton’s other solo records. While in many ways still angst-torn, it is more optimistic in tone, and finding Middleton experimenting with cheesy 70’s synthesisers and on one song ‘Kiss at the Station’ gleefully with a slap bass, has a sparkling pop and sometimes prog rock edge. Middleton has, however, announced that it will be the last record under his own name for the time being. In his second interview with Pennyblackmusic, and his first since his breakthrough solo record ‘A Brighter Beat’, Malcolm Middleton talked about ‘Waxing Gibbous’ and why he has decided to call time on his solo career for now. PB: Why did you decide to call your new album ‘Waxing Gibbous’? MM: I always find it extremely hard picking a title for a collection of songs that I have made. I had a list of names and ‘Waxing Gibbous’ stuck. It was originally going to be called ‘Waning Gibbous’. I thought that that was more true to form, as it seemed to imply that my career was disintegrating or something like that (Laughs). I decided though‘Waxing Gibbous’ was better. PB: What does the term ‘Waxing Gibbous’ actually mean? MM: The general term is a description for the moon which is coming up to full. For me it implies various different things. Obviously it is play on words of the phrase, “waxing lyrical”. “Gibbous” also suggests being full, putting on weight, becoming older. PB: ‘A Brighter Beat’ was produced by Tony Duggan. Yet for this album and also for the last album, ‘Sleight of Heart’, you went back to self-production as you had done on your first two solo albums. Why did you decide to do that? MM: ‘Sleight of Heart’ was just an acoustic album. There wasn’t anything produced about it. For ‘Waxing Gibbous’ I did think about going back and using Tony. I had already, however, done a lot of demos for it by that point and I decided that I didn’t want to dilute my own thoughts on it. It can be daunting to go and produce a full album by yourself, but I figured that I would rather do it myself. PB: ’A Brighter Beat’ did very well commercially and critically. When we last spoke to you in 2007 a month before it was released in January 2007, you weren’t sure how it would be received. Were you surprised at the reaction to it? MM: I think so. It is hard to think about these things. In my head it should have still done better. It came out and it got some good reviews and then it dwindled for a bit and then it kicked off and died again. It did okay though. I am really proud of that record. PB: By your own admission you are not always that confident and you are pretty self-doubting. Did that put increasing pressure on you to come up with something good on ‘Sleight of Heart’ and ‘Waxing Gibbous’? MM: Not with ‘Sleight of Heart’. It was an acoustic album. There was no pressure there at all. It is like the anti-thesis of ‘A Brighter Beat’. I decided I wanted to do something unproduced and was trying to have fun again without worrying about trying to have an impact. It was the same with ‘Waxing Gibbous’. Maybe at the start of it I felt that way, but as soon as I started doing the demos and working on it I just became more concerned about enjoying music. PB: Many critics see ‘Waxing Gibbous’ as a lighter and less depressed record than your other albums. It finishes on a note of wary optimism with ‘Made up You Mind’ and both lyrically and musically songs like ‘Red Travellin’ Socks’ are definitely more up, but songs such as ‘Zero’ and ‘The Ballad of ---- All’ still have a lot of angst. Would you agree with those critics that it is a lighter and less depressed album? MM: Yeah, it is definitely lighter than when I started out and on my first two solo records where I really scraped the bottom of human experience (Laughs). ‘Red Travellin’ Socks’ and ‘Kiss at the Station’ are really about nothing. There is angst in them, but they are kind of more light-hearted. There are darker things in the record, but I have learnt to cover them up pretty well. It is still quite worrying that I have put them on (Laughs), but in the context of happy beats and synths you don’t really notice them straightaway. PB: The latest single ‘Red Travellin’Socks’ has been released on red vinyl. ‘Waxing Gibbous’ also has a vinyl edition. In this age in which downloads have become increasingly predominant why have you decided to do that? Was that your decision or the record companies’ decision? MM: It was my decision because personally I only try to listen to vinyl these days. I try to avoid listening to MP3 files as much as I can because I don’t like the sound of them. Basically if I am going to make a record it is going to have to come out in the format that I would want to listen to them. PB: Do you listen to CDs? MM: I listen to CDs in the car, but if I am going to actually sit down to enjoy a record I listen to it on vinyl as often as I can. PB: You have described ’Red Travellin’ Socks’ as your ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. What did you mean by that? MM: It is obviously not as good as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It is a long song though with different bits and a build-up and backing vocals, and it is energetic and enthusiastic and it is fun. PB: Most of the songs on ‘Waxing Gibbous’ finish in a very different place from where they start. Every song really develops and progresses. Was that something which you did consciously on this album or was that just the way things turned out? MM: I think it was just the way things turned out. I was kind of worried about that. There are three or four songs that have the same structure of starting off, then having a big, big down in the middle, and then just building up again. I am not sure if anyone else has noticed that, but I was very aware of that. PB: There are also few songs on ‘Waxing Gibbous’ which are less than five minutes. They are nearly all long songs. Was that something again which just happened? MM: It is probably me just being really bad at editing myself (Laughs). PB: A lot of the songs on the album are about moving in with your girlfriend. Do you tend to just write about what is going on in your life at the time? MM: Yeah, I write about whatever is happening. I keep notebooks as I go throughout the year. I then use those to write songs and see what fits with the chords. PB: You have put up on your website covers of songs by Girls Aloud and Ladyhawke. On ‘Sleight of Heart’ you did a cover of Madonna’s ‘Stay’. What is the appeal to you of girl acts ? MM: I grew up as a ten year old listening to Madonna and Pat Benatar. I guess that I just like good looking women singing songs (Laughs). With stuff like Girls Aloud as well it is good to go behind the pop sheen and find out the song at the heart of it. PB: You have said on your press release that you didn’t enjoy making this album as much as the other four solo albums. Why was that? MM: There were moments of fun when I first started doing the demos at home last August. There were times when I quite surprised myself and came up with something unexpected like ‘Box and a Knife’ and ‘Zero’, but then I think I just spent too much time on my own and it was only in the last two weeks when I was in the studio in December, and other people came in and did backing vocals and some drums, that I started enjoying myself again. I think it was just because I didn’t have a producer and I was by myself. I felt quite isolated and it was hard work rather than fun. PB: You have said that this is going to be the last Malcolm Middleton solo album for some time. Why have you decided to stop for now? Are you just worried that you might end up getting pigeonholed in the same way that Arab Strap were as sex-obsessed, drunken hedonists towards the end? MM: No, I think that has already happened. I am seen as a miserabilist songwriter. It is more to do with not enjoying making this record so much. When I finished I didn’t have the same sense of elation that I normally have. I am really proud of the record and I think that it is a good album, but I think I have maybe just done too many albums too close together. PB: You have done three albums in under three years, haven’t you? MM: Yeah. I also don’t like the way I see myself and the way I am perceived. I don’t want to feel that I have to maybe do another album or record maybe next year. I want to do something different. I am going to dive in and make more music, but not this kind of songwriter stuff. I want to come back to it in a few years maybe feeling more energised and that I have something to say. It is similar to the Arab Strap thing where I want to step out of these shoes and do something different. PB: Have you decided which direction you are going to go in yet? You have hinted that you might do something entirely instrumental or form another group. MM: I have been recording at home, but it doesn’t have a direction as such. I just feel that unless I realise something under a different name it will fall into the same kind of pigeon hole as my solo stuff. It is probably not going to be that different, just something new (Laughs). PB : Do you miss too being in a group? MM: Yeah, definitely. We did have a good kind of team mentality in Arab Strap even though we fought a lot. I also don’t enjoy being a front man, which is probably why one of the next things I will do will be in a band with other people rather than just having me shoved down at the front. Being solo as well you have to teach a bunch of your friends and other musicians to play your songs. That is not fun. It is just like mimicking a record. PB: Last question. What about your immediate future? How long will you go out and tour the new album for? MM: I want to go out and play these songs. I will be doing that until at least until the end of the year. PB: Thank you.

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Malcolm Middleton - Interview

Malcolm Middleton - Interview

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Interview (2007)
Malcolm Middleton - Interview
Former Arab Strab guitarist Malcolm Middleton is just about to release his third solo album, 'A Brighter Beat'. He speaks to John Clarkson about the break-up of Arab Strap at the end of last year and about the new solo record.

live reviews

Union Chapel, London, 2/4/2008
Malcolm Middleton - Union Chapel, London, 2/4/2008
In London's spectacular Union Chapel venue, Chris O' Toole sees Scottish singer-songwriter Malcolm Middleton perform a witty and polished, but surprisingly subdued concert
Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 6/12/2007
Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 13/1/2007
Dingwalls, London, 20/2/2007


Malcolm Middleton (2010)
Malcolm Middleton - Malcolm Middleton
Anna Gudaniec photographs Scottish singer-songwriter and former Arab Strap guitarist Malcolm Middleton at an acoustic solo at the Borderline in London


Sleight of Heart (2008)
Fine largely acoustic fourth solo album from former Arab Strap guitarist and Scots melancholist, Malcolm Middleton

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