Q Magazine

Arab Strap on Social Media, 'Frozen 3,' and Their New Album 'I'm totally fine with it don't give a f--k anymore'

'Finally, in the past couple years, we're making lots of noise.'

arab strap
Source: Kat Gollock

'I'm totally fine with it don't give a f--k anymore' is out on Friday.

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Despite the title of their upcoming album, Arab Strap does, in fact, give a f--k. I'm totally fine with it don't give a f--k anymore (which also features two thumbs-up emojis), multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton and singer Aidan Moffat's eighth studio album together, is sometimes depressing, sometimes life-affirming, sometimes funny, and often all three but always a deeply empathetic piece of work about the ways that we seek connection in today's digital era.

It's rare to see a band nearly 30 years into their career putting out their best material yet, but that's exactly what the Scottish duo has been doing since returning from a 16-year hiatus with 2021's excellent As Days Get Dark. Their latest album, named after a text from their live drummer that Moffat found amusing, continues to evolve and expand their trademark sound in multiple directions, placing their heaviest songs next to their danciest and their tenderest.

Perhaps appropriately for an album so concerned with the way our lives are mediated by screens, Moffat and Middleton caught up with Q over Zoom to discuss the way that social media has reshaped the world, the lingering effects the pandemic, Disney movies, and their new album I'm totally fine with it don't give a f--k anymore ahead of its impending release on Friday.

Article continues below advertisement
arab strap
Source: Rock Action Records

'It was a good idea at the time,' Aidan Moffat says of their new album's title.

First of all, I have to say that I'm totally fine with it don't give a f--k anymore is a great album title. Also one that, between the f-bomb and the emojis, is probably impossible to get printed in a lot of publications [including this one].

Aidan: A record shop over is here doing an ad, and they've already changed it, but they still can't get their head around the emojis. Which I find quite strange, because emojis are everywhere.

Malcolm: A lot of the reviews I've seen so far, they've all got the title different in some way.

Aidan: There was a poster for it we're going to put in train stations in Scotland, and you're not even allowed to have four asterisks in place of the swear word. So we're trying to replace it with a banana and a donut, because apparently that's how people express sex with emojis. Hopefully that'll work instead.

Malcolm: See the troubles we're having? It's tough.

Aidan: It was a good idea at the time! I'm happy with it. I'm sticking by it.

I also have to point out the first line on your last album, As Days Get Dark, was "I don't give a f--k about the past." So you're very consistent about not giving a f--k.

Aidan: [Laughs] Yeah! It's a nice echo of the last album.

As Days Get Dark was your grand return after 16 years, whereas this one is the next chapter of this era of the band. Did the process of making this record feel different than the last one?

Malcolm: It was more of a continuation. After the last one came out there were delays of touring because of COVID, but then we managed to tour that for a couple of years. And there was no immediate plan to make another album, it was just going to be, "Let's make some singles." So that's how it started. "Make a bunch of singles and see how it goes." But as it went on we got bored of that and started making some more album tracks. And they all came together over two years. I mean, it didn't take two years to record. It was ticking over without any pressure, just the usual kind of sending stuff to each other and trying to have fun and be creative.

Aidan: I don't think much has changed in the way we make it at all. We were going to do an EP. I think the original plan was four A-sides as an EP. And then we did that and those are probably the singles. Actually, no, "Strawberry Moon" didn't exist at that point. "Bliss" was one of those. But as Malcolm says, it got a bit restrictive, so we gave up on that idea and decided just to go with the album.

Article continues below advertisement
arab strap
Source: Arab Strap

'I think if we hadn't split up in 2006 we would've probably written a song about MySpace,' Malcolm Middleton says.

The last record was released when the pandemic was more of an immediate concern, although I know that one was pretty much finished before. So even though it's coming out when the pandemic is less in people's minds, this one is kind of your "pandemic album."

Aidan: I don't know so much about that. Some of the songs certainly talk about the hangover from the pandemic, but that's going to be with us for decades. My son is currently doing his exams at high school, and he started high school the year of the pandemic. That whole year at school seems quite lost, to be honest. They missed out on that whole important year of social interaction at that age. I think there's repercussions for a long, long time.

Malcolm: My son was in P4 [second grade/year three] when the lockdown happened. And we've got all his school pictures from the official photographer. He's in P6 [fourth grade/year five] now. And if you look at the P4 one, he obviously wasn't at school. So it's a picture I took of him with long hair, because he hadn't had a haircut, and he's petting a virtual cat, which is like, augmented reality in the back of our living room. And that just sums up the f--king s--t going on, you know?

You've said this was one of the longest times that you've worked on an album. I was like, "As Days Get Dark just came out! That seems crazy!" Part of that is, time dilates as you get older in some ways, but also I do think the pandemic really screwed up everyone's sense of time in general. Those are sort of the world's lost years.

Aidan: "Bless" I think was ... A couple of the songs were kind of written just as we were finishing the last album, too, but they weren't finished in time or they weren't ready in time. So it's very much a continuation of what we were doing. You know, we're always working on things. But as Malcolm said, we didn't work on it solidly for two years, because we were doing other things. We were too busy playing gigs and doing tours to just focus on that on its own.

Malcolm: Yeah, we're not like Radiohead or Pink Floyd or whoever sits in the studio for two years at a time.

Article continues below advertisement

One of the first sounds and also the last sound you hear on the record is the dial-up tone. Which feels very appropriate for an album that's so much about the internet and social media and how that f--ks us up. It's funny, it's such an instantly recognizable sound, but also such a relic of a bygone era at this point.

Aidan: That was the first sound we heard when we would start using the internet in the '90s. And it was an exciting thing, that buildup. To hear the actual machinery creating this contact with the rest of the world is a very exciting thing, and I suppose there was an optimism in that. And then by the time you get to the album, the optimism is gone from that sound. [Laughs] Completely, I think. I mean, a lot of people might listen to that and not have a clue what that sound is, you know? In fact, I think when we did it, it was a YouTube video. I had to search on YouTube for a dial-up sound to find it in the studio. It's a bit vintage, certainly, but it's the sound of old hope.

When you first split up in 2006, social media was around, but it definitely wasn't at all entwined in the fabric of our daily lives in the way it is now. You've become a very online band. You had songs like "Bluebird" on the last record, and this one is very concerned with social media and what that does to us.

Malcolm: I think if we hadn't split up in 2006 we would've probably written a song about MySpace. I don't even think we had a MySpace, did we? Was that after?

Aidan: I'm not sure we had a MySpace. No. When we split up, I think Friends Reunited was the the big thing, I remember. Which I always found funny, because if I didn't keep in touch with you, what makes you think I was your friend? [Laughs] I never understood Friends Reunited. The core concept of that was a bit silly. Social media has reshaped our world, it's reshaped politics, culture, everything, since we split up. That one thing, specifically, I think, has totally reshaped the world. It wins elections. It dictates all manner of cultural movements. It creates the culture wars and makes light of arguments. It's terrifying. But it has its good points too! Pictures of cats and things like that. Funny cats. [Laughs]

Article continues below advertisement

On "Sociometer Blues" you have the part where you say "these thoughts and opinions are all my own," which is a funny reflection of everyone's Twitter bios. I also think "Allatonceness" sort of feels like a blown-up, much more poetic version of when people tell other people to go "touch grass" because they're too online.

Aidan: "Allatonceness" is more about just general online culture. "Sociometer Blues" is about my previous addiction to Twitter. I don't really do it as much anymore, I'm hardly on it. Certainly since it became X. And that's the thing, the "thoughts and opinions" line is like, we're all being manipulated as well. It's that culture wars thing where people are manipulated into taking a side and not actually thinking about the issue at hand. It just becomes, you're either in one team or the other. And I think, as I say, it's completely reshaped the way people respond to each other in politics. It's quite terrifying how easy and susceptible human beings are to influence, you know? [Laughs] So I've been trying to step away from that as best I can.

One of the things you've always sung about in Arab Strap is the fragile male ego. Which is still the case, but now, in these songs it seems like it's turned outwards at this contemporary hyper-online version of this dark and dangerous masculinity.

Aidan: I suppose the fragile ego isn't mine anymore. I mean, I suppose I understand it. I understand how people can be sucked into these things. It's very easy to get caught up in this. People try to find a tribe. I mean, look at that Andrew Tate stuff. It's horrible. But I understand how people are susceptible to these influences and we need to careful of that. I mean, he's a despicable bastard and I hope he ends his life in prison, but I'm not sure there's any comeuppance, any proper comeuppance, to that. The fact that he's still allowed to post on things like X just shows you how things have deteriorated as well, because five years ago he wouldn't be allowed on the platform because what he does is clearly inflammatory and leads to real world violence. But now he's just allowed to do what he pleases. This isn't a very happy chat, is it? [Laughs]

You both have kids. Are your kids on social media? Do you worry about that at all?

Malcolm: Not yet, but it's getting to the age where they might be. I don't know. I'm trying not to worry about it, but it's kind of like, you just have to bring them up with common sense and hopefully that'll see them through. But still be able to guide them a bit, I think.

Aidan: That's the thing, it all begins at home. My son's 16. Well, almost 16. But a year ago, when all the Andrew Tate stuff was in the press, I asked him if he'd ever had any encounters with this stuff online. And his exact words were, "He's a f--king prick." So I was like, "Yes, my work here is done!" [Laughs]

You're doing a good job, clearly!

Aidan: It is a worry. And I know other kids who have been deeply affected by it. And bullied by it and stuff as well. So it is a worry, but you just need to try to keep on top it and teach them the right way to do things.

Article continues below advertisement

When you first decided to start releasing new music again as Arab Strap, you were very clear that you wanted it to be a distinct chapter for the band. You had songs like "Flutter" that you wrote for the last record but you didn't want to put on the album because you thought it sounded too much like "old Arab Strap." I'm curious: to you, what makes old Arab Strap old Arab Strap and new Arab Strap new Arab Strap?

Malcolm: "Flutter" was a musical thing, I think. It sounded like the kind of thing we would have done on our last album. Sorry, the last last album. The Last Romance. [Laughs] I think we just tell if we're pushing new ground or not. And I think with those, "Flutter" and "Aphelion," we just thought they were a bit too strappy. All the other stuff we do still sounds like us, but we weren't doing anything differently. I think the new record, stuff like "Sociometer Blues," "Strawberry Moon," "Allatonceness," all sound like us but they're moving forward in a place we've not really explored before.

Aidan: I suppose they just felt a bit too safe, like, "This is an Arab Strap record." It's immediately identifiable. But that said, that 7-inch with those two songs on it, I think is a really great wee record. I do love the songs. Especially "Aphelion," I think's really good. And I'm glad we released them as that little thing. It was just a bit too much staying in the same lane.

In January, you wrapped up the 25th anniversary Philophobia Undressed tour, which was an acoustic thing. How is it going from that to now having this record come out?

Aidan: Well, we were working on the album while we were doing the tour as well. It's strange but good. As I said at the time, that was kind of a way to say goodbye to a lot of the old songs. I think we're going to do a couple from Philophobia on the tour with the full band. Generally speaking, I think, we just want to move on and not focus too much on the older songs. I suppose it was kind of bittersweet knowing that it was an end to it in a sense. But also, I forgot how much I really enjoyed those songs. That said, we did an encore on the tour, which seemed to be the best part, when we played "The Turning of Our Bones" and "Fable of the Urban Fox." Because we felt that if people had sat through all of Philophobia in a stripped-back sense, they needed to maybe dance a wee bit. [Laughs] They deserved some sort of a reward at the end. It worked well. I enjoyed it a lot.

Malcolm: We had never done that before, played a whole album from start to finish. We always swore we never would, either. But then Aidan's a sucker for anniversaries and marking occasions.

Aidan: I am.

Malcolm: But it was nice, I enjoyed it, it was good. Being there for an hour, knowing exactly what you're going to do every night. It allows you a nice little loop or a lullaby type thing.

I don't know if you've noticed younger people at your shows. I do think you have managed to find a new audience of either people who were too young for Arab Strap the first time around or just missed it or whatever.

Aidan: I don't think people really care about how old people are that make music anymore. They have access to everything. I'll try and send cool albums to my son. He's into hip-hop. I don't know if you remember the band KMD that MF DOOM was in when he was young. And at the time when that was out in the late '80s it was a pretty underground record. I waited weeks for that to come in to my local record shop on vinyl. [Laughs] And I thought I was being really cool, saying, "Oh, you might like this old record, not many people have heard it." And he knew all about it already! His mate had recommended it two weeks earlier.

It's great, people just have access to everything. And I don't think it really makes much difference. That whole, who you are, legacy, whatever. Even the Philophobia gigs, there were a few of the Philophobia gigs where the audience had some younger people. Because I expected it would just be all sad middle aged men. [Laughs] Coming to get drunk and get away from their families. No, there was a lot of that too, because it would be the first time they've had a chance to hear us play those songs. It's good to know that you can still appeal to everyone. I hope.

Article continues below advertisement

Everyone always talks about how you initially bonded over your love of Slint and Smog, but what have you been listening to lately?

Aidan: I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff these days. Although I did listen to Yard Act. I listened to their record, that was good. I tend to listen to new records by rock bands once or twice these days and not go back to them. Because it's not something that I listen to a lot at home, I tend to listen to quieter stuff at home. I've been getting quite obsessed by Christina Vantzou recently. She's got like five albums on Kranky that I think are beautiful. Things like that. I don't listen to a lot of rock music in the house. Although I heard... who did I hear today? Lambrini Girls, a British band, I heard them on the radio today. I might go look up more of their stuff. They sound very angry and very good fun.

Malcolm: They played with us in Manchester last summer. They were downstairs.

Aidan: Oh, was it? Oh, right! S--t. I wish I'd watched them. [Laughs]

Malcolm: I listen to a lot of Black Sabbath. And there's a French three-piece called Slift that sound amazing. They're kind of ... it's like post-rock metal, but French, and they're really good.

Aidan: Oui oui. I'm also taking my son to his first proper gig. He's been to see Arab Strap a couple times.

Malcolm: What's a proper gig, then? [Laughs]

Aidan: A proper gig is one that doesn't have your dad on the stage. I'm taking him to see Killer Mike in Glasgow in September. So I'm looking forward to that.

It's not a metal record, but I do think you can hear in the new music that you listen to metal. Especially the first song.

Aidan: Most of the music of our youth was probably pretty heavy. American rock, and then Malcolm's a big metal fan, and the post-rock stuff. That was our formative years, I suppose. So it's nice to finally get there. Because we never really did that. All the old Arab Strap records are mostly quite gentle. There's not a lot of big noisy stuff. So I think finally, in the past couple years, we're making lots of noise.

I feel like it's supposed to be, when you're young you make the loud records and then you get old and you settle down and calm down and make your quiet acoustic stuff. But you're doing the opposite.

Malcolm: After the last album, did we not say the next one was going to be a quiet piano thing?

Aidan: We always say that. I mean, I was thinking that, too, I was like, "I'm really in the mood for a quiet record next and something gentle." And then we start rehearsing and we're at rehearsals, I'm like, "No, this is f--king wonderful." I love making lots of noise. I don't know. Maybe one day we'll try a quiet record. But we've always made plans for things like that and then it never happens.

So... don't believe anything you say.

Aidan: It's just not as much fun! [Laughs] I think it's about confidence as well. Some of the music we make now is much bolder and more upfront than the old Arab Strap stuff. And personally I don't think I felt confident to perform that sort of stuff back then. But I'm very comfortable with it now.

Article continues below advertisement

I know you used to be very strict about having everything be autobiographical and now you've moved away from that.

Aidan: I mean, autobiographical at this point in life wouldn't be that interesting. It's mostly work. And I don't mean the good work like writing songs, it's the boring work. Sitting at computers answering emails all day and picking up my daughter from school. Things like that. So there's not really a great deal to write about in an autobiographical sense anymore. No, no. Although, I mean, obviously I am writing about myself to a degree, but I'm more concerned with bigger issues, I suppose, than I used to be.

There's the line "They've got our attention and they really really hate Disney." On the last album you talked about crying at Frozen and Frozen 2. You're really revealing yourself as a Disney adult now.

Aidan: Yes! That's it, yeah. Don't come for my Disney, man. I will defend them to the end. I can't wait for Frozen 3, man! [Laughs]

Are they making Frozen 3? They must be making Frozen 3.

Aidan: It's in the works, yes. And Moana 2 comes out this year as well, so I'm looking forward to that. And they've got that Olivia Rodrigo documentary that I watched the other day, which is brilliant, too. I'm very fond of Disney, yes.

The last song is interesting. You get into conspiracy theories, but it's not judgmental. It's very empathetic to these people who get wrapped in up these crazy conspiracies.

Aidan: I'm glad you said that. Yeah, it's not meant to be judgmental at all. There's a magazine called The Light, and it's all about conspiracy theories and where their funding comes from. And most of their funding's rooted in far-right extremists. And a lot of these things are a way to lure people into much more dangerous ways of thinking. Again, it's terrifying how people are manipulated that way. But as we were saying earlier, I understand it. Everybody's just looking for connections online. And you think you've found the right person, and it can be really, really destructive. I'm not judgmental of those sort of people at all. I understand them. And I just hope that they can come to a point where they can see that they're being manipulated. But it's very difficult.

Article continues below advertisement

The music video for "Strawberry Moon" was very fun. I'm sure it must have been fun to make.

Aidan: It was! Especially Malcolm's makeup. [Laughs]

Malcolm: Yeah, that was another master class in meditation. Just sitting still for four hours while you couldn't talk or move. So I enjoyed that part, it was good. It was nice.

Aidan: I remember when we were waiting on you arriving I heard them talking. We were in different places, I was shooting some stuff and you were getting your makeup done. And someone said, the producer I think, she said to me that Malcolm's gonna be late. And I was like, "Why?" "Oh, they're having trouble with the teeth." And I just remember someone going, "It's always the teeth." [Laughs] OK!

But it was good fun. I did really enjoy it. We should probably do more of that sort of thing. We've never been that keen on making videos with us in them. It's just not something either of us have really been that into. But I think we should do it now, because I think that was really successful and I really enjoyed it. And the guy who directed it, David [Arthur], I've known him for a few years. He's a big horror film fan and he's a big Arab Strap fan. He came up with the idea and I liked it right away. I thought it, yeah, it worked perfectly.

I'm a big horror movie fan too, and I love An American Werewolf in London.

Aidan: My favorite film!

Malcolm: An American Werewolf in Paris, too, that's a good one.

Aidan: Do you know what, I lasted 10 minutes with it and turned that one off. [Laughs] I have family down in England and I'm trying to convince the family to stop the next time we go down because somewhere near the top of Wales is the road you see at the very start, in the moor. And we passed that on the way down, so I'm going to try to stop there next time.

Malcolm: I take it the pub's not real?

Aidan: The pub is real! Yes. It doesn't look anything like it anymore. It looks like a modern wee pub. But the pub is there. I think that may be somewhere in the north, I can't remember. But I definitely want to go and visit.

Article continues below advertisement
arab strap
Source: Marilena Vlachopoulou

'It's always the teeth.'

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.

You formed in 1995 and then originally split up in 2006. I know when you first reunited in 2016 it wasn't necessarily with the idea of starting this whole new chapter for the band. But it's been almost 10 years since then, too.

Malcolm: Yeah, it's pretty traumatic. Big things happen every 10 years. Like, what the f--k's gonna happen next? [Laughs] I think we'll celebrate something.

Aidan: It's our 30th anniversary in 2026. The anniversary of our first release. Maybe we'll do some sort of birthday party.

I hear you're very big on anniversaries.

Malcolm: The funny thing is — it's worrying as well — the first 10 years we did six albums. In the second 10 years we've done ... two. Nearly. We're not as prolific as we used to be. But maybe that puts higher standards? I don't know.

Aidan: Aye. Things do seem go to slower. But that's old age for you. [Laughs]

Malcolm: We're still alive! [gives a thumbs up]


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More