Malcolm Middleton interview: Making the music brighter

Malcolm Middleton speaks to Henry Lewis about his new album Summer Of '13 ahead of dates in Manchester and Liverpool.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 2nd Jun 2016

Image: Malcolm Middleton

Former Arab Strap multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton has been a musical presence in his own right since his amicable departure from the partnership that shot him into the hearts and minds of the Scottish indie faithful. Summer of '13 is his return to music as a solo artist and is his first in seven years - although he had released material under the pseudonym Human Don't Be Angry back in 2012.

Summer of '13 has been touted by the scot as a "natural progression" and with mastering duties overseen by Glaswegian producer Miaoux Miaoux, the album has followed in a more electronic direction. 

'Steps' (listen below), the first track to be released from the album, is a prime example of this with fuzzy synths and mechanical vocals providing the platform for Middleton's melancholy lyrics.  

With a tour that coincides with the album release it has been a busy period for the 42 year old, but he took the time to chat to Henry Lewis and gave us the low-down on what inspired his new sound. 

Hi mate, how's it going?

Aye I'm good, just getting ready for touring next week so aye I've been busy.

You've got a new album coming out so I'm guessing there's a lot to do to fit the new songs into a setlist?

Yeah there's quite a lot. The new album comes out next week so I've been rehearsing for the last month or so getting the band together and the equipment. It's quite a dense album so it's hard to do it exactly live so it's a bit more interesting, you can add bits and change things around.

You've said the album is a natural progression for you, how so?

It's really hard to make sense really. It's been seven years and the stuff I've done in between like solo records have been a bit more electronic and upbeat so it was natural to write the same kind of words and make the music brighter. I've been listening to a lot of pop music so it was good to get away from doing this kind of gloomy indie stuff. 

So it wasn't too alien getting back into the studio then no?

I've done two instrumental albums, Human Don't Be Angry it was called and one collaboration so I've not been doing nothing I just wanted a break from writing the same kind of songs I used to write so it's nice to have some time away.

You recorded in a haunted clock tower, what was that all about?

I was living there for about four years and moved out of there last summer. It was like an old barn type thing with a clock tower upstairs so it was good for getting creative. 

What made you move in then?

It was just a random chance. We moved into the area and were looking at a few places and that came up. I didn't know it was haunted when we moved in.

Did you witness any haunted happenings?

I personally didn't no, I don't really believe in stuff like that but the next door neighbours were talking and they'd say that they'd seen shadows moving about upstairs when I wasn't in it. Freaked me out a wee bit but not too bad.

And did it inspire any ghostly tunes?

It probably made me work a bit quicker but that's about it really!

What is the relevance of Summer of '13, is that when you started work on the record? 

Well there's a song on the album called that and it just kind of made sense to name it that because it sums up a lot of the stuff that was going on. 

You've had one show already this month before your forthcoming tour, how did it go?

A friend of mine called James Yorkston puts a night on in Kirkcaldy and he wanted it to be a kind of acoustic folk night and when he asked me to do it he made me promise not to turn up with a loud band and a drumkit. It was good to do to try out some of the stuff acoustically. 

(Malcolm goes quiet)

Sorry about that, I've just had a delivery guy come and pick up a load of albums. For the pre order I have to sign 400 vinyls and they're just getting picked up now to go back to the factory or I dunno, whoever sends them out.

A limited edition type thing yeah?

Yeah that's it but I normally sign everything I do. It's probably harder to find an unsigned cd of mine. 

Anyway, how was the acoustic gig, much new material on show?

Yeah, the acoustic one I did a mix, I did about three or four of the new ones. The album was all written on an acoustic guitar and then I added on top then took the guitar out at the end. (Listen to one of Malcolm's acoustic tracks below)

Do you have any anxiety before you go on tour with you being away for such a long time?

It's quite hard to say. I think I did an acoustic tour back in 2013 but I've not actually toured since 2009 so it's hard to say who's going to come out, who's going to still be interested so it's quite a weird one. I kind of wish I'd left the tour until a couple of months after the record had come out but this is just the way it's happened.

You had a crack team of Scottish musicians on board when you made the record, did that lead to a positive dynamic in the studio?

Yeah it was just friends who were visiting that kind of appeared on some of the songs doing a bit of bass guitar. It's always good, I always want to have other people on my records, I like to have other people somewhere. I don't like it just being me I kind of get bored.

And the influence and artwork of Lone Pigeon is there too, how did he help?

He sings on the record but yeah he's my next door neighbour and also an amazing artist so it just made sense. I asked him if he had any ideas for the cover so he took loads of pictures of the clock tower amongst other things.

Gordon is quite prolific, he sent through about 200 hundred different ideas for the cover and they were all quite different so I just picked the one that I liked the most and thought was right for the record. To me it looks a bit mid 90's as well which isn't really an area that's become fashionable again. 

How did Miaoux Miaoux influence the record's production? 

He's had two albums out and his second album came out the start of last year and when I was getting towards the end stage of mine I didn't know how to finish my record to make it sound like a good well produced pop album.

I like r'n'b and stuff and I don't know anything about EQ or mastering and I hate mixing. It had been six years at the time so I just thought fuck it see if someone else would be up for doing it. Julian was really up for it. All the music was there and the sequencing but he added certain bits and replaced my bad synth sound and made it a bit more , I don't want so say modern because i wanted it to sound 90's, but yeah he did a really good job of that.

I'm excited about the record and I'm excited about the tour, as you said I'm a bit anxious but it's been great to play the songs with a band. Cheers. 

Malcolm plays at Liverpool's Leaf On Bold St on Friday 3rd June & Manchester's Deaf Institute on Saturday 4th June  

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