Music interview: Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert on their new collaboration, Here Lies the Body

Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert
Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert
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Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert can’t pinpoint precisely when they first met but, as the respective frontmen of Arab Strap and El Hombre Trajeado (which more or less translates as “suited and booted”), their paths would most likely have crossed in some venue or hostelry frequented by members of Glasgow’s DIY music community sometime around the mid-1990s.

Hubbert, or Hubby to friends and acquaintances, reckons he put on Arab Strap’s first ever Glasgow gig in his capacity as band booker at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut.

“I tried to forget that first gig pretty much right away,” says Moffat.

“I remember enjoying it,” says Hubby.

“Well, I enjoyed it,” Moffat relents, “but not for the right reasons…”

There’s such an easy rapport between the pair that it’s hard to believe it’s taken them this long to make an album together. Beyond moving in the same circles for the best part of two decades, they have both forged acclaimed solo careers following the split of their bands, both have won the Scottish Album of the Year Award (Moffat taking the inaugural prize in 2012 for Everything’s Getting Older, his atmospheric collaboration with Bill Wells, and Hubbert the following year for Thirteen Lost & Found), both have then briefly reformed their bands and both have been involved in film projects – in fact, Hubbert willingly deputized for Moffat in Lost In France, a documentary revisiting a notorious 1997 Chemikal Underground Records road trip to a festival in northern France, while Moffat was off on his own cinematic road trip around Scotland for Where You’re Meant To Be, his wry documentary on dying/preserving folk traditions.

Moffat remembers that original trip to Mauron in Brittany with foggy fondness. “Every day was a violent hangover. When we played the Arab Strap gig both of my eyebrows were encrusted with blood cos I’d vomited that morning into the toilet and bumped my head so I had these big bushy bloody eyebrows. Good times.”

Easier times for indie musicians too. As Moffat remarks, now you have to plan several years ahead, and do ten times the work for a tenth of the return. Fortunately, he and Hubby are prolific sorts who completed their new collaborative album, released under the cryptic moniker Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert, around their various other musical commitments, including Arab Strap’s recent reunion and Hubbert’s 2016 album Telling The Trees on which he deliberately chose to work remotely with a succession of female singers he didn’t know. Apparently, Björk politely rebuffed his invitation to participate, he ran out of time to complete a song with Charlotte Church, and Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts ignored him completely.

“I’ll stick to working with people I know from now on,” he says. “It’s very easy to assume that everyone’s got the same references and the same sense of humour as you. They don’t, is the short answer there.” In comparison, he is happy to say that working with Moffat was “remarkably stress-free”.

Here Lies The Body is a seamless mix of their contrasting styles – Hubbert’s soothing but sophisticated finger-picked flamenco guitar and Moffat’s raw, insightful lyrics and vocals – yet the pair were almost never in the same room at the same time during its composition and recording. Hubbert would send completed guitar parts to Moffat who would pick out what best served his narrative.

The album was inspired by an article Moffat read about marriage breakdown where it was, unusually, the mother who had flown the nest – coincidentally, also the theme of the recent BBC drama, Come Home. Moffat makes a note to check it out.

“It’s about the feelings that both parties have in these situations,” he says. “The accepted story is that men love to roam and are somehow programmed naturally to seek out partners beyond marriages, but there’s no real reason why women shouldn’t feel the same, so I started thinking about the other side of the argument. Women’s sexuality is still not considered in the same way and it’s especially true of mothers and that whole idea of family. The idea of marriage as a romantic, monogamous thing, that’s only three or four hundred years old anyway. No one married for love 300 years ago, it was all about social status and enlarging families.”

Now this musical marriage is heading out on tour, with a little vocal and strings assistance from album guest Siobhan Wilson, whose own collection, There Are No Saints, is one of the most exquisitely wrought releases of the past year.

“It’s important that people understand that an album should be more than 12 songs you did in the studio. I think it’s the greatest publicly available art form for the masses that you can imagine,” says Moffat. Having said all that, he has just finished recording an album he reckons will probably never see the light of day. “It’s called The Maids of Morpheus and it’s about these erotic dreams that I had. I’ve always had this thing where I need to be honest with myself, so I try not to censor stuff, but I’m listening to it thinking ‘does anybody really want to hear what goes on in a middle-aged man’s mind?’”

“The stuff you write about when you’re awake is disturbing enough to be honest,” says Hubbert. “I’m not sure I want to delve into that psyche.”

“It’s quite sad that now that you’re 45 and you’ve got a family the only way you can make a record like this is do it about your dreams,” says Moffat. “Ironically, most of them end in complete failure and me getting knocked back anyway – even in my dreams I’m unsuccessful! [To Hubby] But I’ll let you hear it, cos somebody needs to tell me never to release it. I have considered getting my son to put it out when I’m dead. Planning ahead. I’ll create a little folder on my hard drive: ‘to be opened upon my passing’.”

Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert play St Luke’s, Glasgow, 17 May; Tolbooth, Stirling, 29 June; Wick Library, 30 June and Hootenanny, Inverness,

1 July. Here Lies the Body is released by Rock Action on 11 May