NewsMusic NewsArab Strap and Twilight Sad supergroup Gentle Sinners on their debut album
Check out punchy new single ‘Face To Fire (After Nyman)’ as Aidan Moffat and James Graham talk to NME about leaving their comfort zones far behind, processing the darkness of lockdown, and which of the two is the ‘Jedi master’
Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap and James Graham of The Twilight Sad have announced a new album together under the name Gentle Sinners, plus a punchy new single ‘Face To Fire (After Nyman)’. Check it out below along with our interview with the duo.
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The pair’s new album, ‘These Actions Cannot Be Undone’, will be released on May 13 via Rock Action, with a vinyl release to follow in September. It will also contain the single ‘Killing This Time’, which appeared in November and was credited to Graham and “someone else” (now revealed as Moffat).
The pair first discussed collaborating in February 2021 when they went for a walk around Glasgow during the third coronavirus lockdown, during which Graham expressed his desire to leave his creative comfort zone.
“I love being in The Twilight Sad, I’ll write with Andy [MacFarlane, Twilight Sad guitarist] for the rest of my life, but I wanted to see what else I could do, and push it as far as I possibly could,” Graham told NME. “Then Aidan said: ‘Aye, I’ve got some stuff!’”
Moffatt had recently finished work on Arab Strap’s most recent acclaimed album ‘As Days Get Dark’. “After a big album with a lot of words in it, I get sick of my own voice,” Moffat told NME, “so I tend to retreat a little bit and do instrumental stuff. It was pure serendipity that James was looking to do something that way.”
He began sending music to Graham for him to add vocals, with a focus on pushing boundaries. “We had an unspoken rule, that if we hadn’t done something before we should definitely try it, which is why James is trying all manner of vocal gymnastics,” said Moffat.
New single ‘Face To Fire (After Nyman)’ is based around a thumping dance beat. “It’s reflecting that we both tend to listen to pop music more than people would think,” Moffat revealed. “We have all these ideas that we probably couldn’t do with the other music we make.”
The track, like the rest of the album, constantly shifts in tone – taking in a wild opening riff that recalls AC/DC‘s ‘Thunderstruck’, and a middle section inspired by the minimalist composer Michael Nyman. “When I sent it over to James I thought he’d never go for it!” Moffat admitted. “Then by complete surprise he sent me back the perfect song. It’s always been my dream in life to do an AC/DC-Michael Nyman crossover song about mental health issues. It’s win win all round!”
Graham, who wrote the lyrics for every song except the Moffat-penned ‘Shores Of Anhedonia’, drew on the anxiety, anger and fear he felt during the pandemic to explore themes like medication, mental health, and the abuse of power. “Through the last two years I’ve come to terms with who I am,” he said. “I don’t really talk about politics too much but it was hard to get away from it. I think I’ve shown my grievances with the world a little bit more than usual.”
Speaking about the record’s multiple shifts in direction, he continued: “I think if the record makes you feel uneasy, that’s job done! I was feeling uncertainty to do with my job, my family, my life, everything was uncertain and anxious. For the music to replicate that, that’s a good sign.”
Added Moffat: “I’ve always liked music that can surprise you, and hopefully that’s part of it. Every few bars there’s a wee surprise. That’s not something I could have done 10 years ago because it would require a studio, but I made most of the album lying in bed with a laptop, playing about with things. It’s meant to sound frantic, and it’s meant to take you by surprise from song to song and even within the same song.
“Maybe I’m scared I’m getting too old, so I need to keep surprising myself!”
One of the record’s biggest surprises is the appearance of Graham’s young son Arthur, on the dark track ‘Let Them Rot’. “I was recording one day and he ran in from nursery and started singing along with me,” laughed Graham. “I sent the track to Aidan jokingly and he texted me, saying ‘If you think that’s not going on the record…’”
The excitement of working with Moffat, to whom Graham has long turned to for advice and refers to as “like my Jedi master,” meant that it was easier to write on difficult themes. “Aidan is the reason I first started writing lyrics; listening to Arab Strap when I was younger was the spark,” he said. “I was blown away by the music he was sending me every time, hearing the kind of songs that I would never have though It’d have a chance to write to. I was excited more than anything, just to chuck as much as I could at it and see what stuck!”
He continued: “It wasn’t like I had to reach that far to work out what to write about. With everything in the news and my personal circumstances. It’s hard writing about that kind of stuff, but I was also excited to push myself. This sounds corny, but I discovered something about myself that I didn’t know I had within me, and that’s been massive. It has shown me that I can work with other people, and there’s a different side to me. Although it’s still fucking miserable!”
Moffat, meanwhile, had thought his instrumental compositions were relatively upbeat. “I would have an idea of a melody in my mind and think I knew what to expect, and then every time James came back with something that hadn’t occurred to me. He hears melody and writes songs in a completely different way.”
The tension between Moffat’s punchy, danceable instrumentals and Graham’s confessional lyrics is central to the record’s sound, said the former. “What I’ve always loved about Motown records was that you can dance to them, they’re really joyous, but the lyrics are always about heartbreak. Maybe that’s the kind of thing that’s going on here, they’re kinda fighting each other, but in an enjoyable way. It’s not a joyless record to listen to!”
Because they weren’t initially concerned with playing the album live, the duo were free to explore more ambitious compositions with numerous backing vocals. Now, however, they’re considering how a debut live outing for the group might work.
“We might do a stripped back thing with one extra musician, just to do the songs and make a wee appearance here and there,” said Moffat. “Or maybe we’ll do it like Kanye at Glastonbury with a massive light show!”
Gentle Sinners are considering a longer-term future for the band after 2022, which sees both Arab Strap and The Twilight Sad undergoing extensive tour dates. ”
Moffat added: “We’ve been talking about keeping going, maybe with a single or an EP next year and some gigs. I think a drummer and a bass player would probably give it some life. But then there’s not much point making plans a year in advance these days!”
‘These Actions Cannot Be Undone’, will be released on May 13 via Rock Action. Check out the full tracklist below.
1. ‘Waiting For Nothing’
2. ‘Killing This Time’
3. ‘Let Them Rot’ ft. AKG
4. ‘The Cries’
5. ‘Date & Sign’
6. ‘Rent Free’
7. ‘Shores Of Anhedonia’
8. ‘Face To Fire (After Nyman)’
9. ‘Don’t Say Goodnight’
The Twilight Sad will be supporting The Cure on all of their upcoming UK and European shows for 2022, while Arab Strap will be touring the UK and Europe throughout the year.
Visit here to buy tickets to see The Cure, and here for Arab Strap.