The end is nigh for L Pierre. The curveball, experimental charm of Aidan Moffat’s alter-ego will be no more – and as swan songs go, this record marks his richest, most surprising experiment yet.
As L Pierre, Moffat’s always played around with a palette of eerie, esoteric samples. And for this final offering, he’s cribbed the basis from Nathan Milstein’s version of a Mendelssohn concerto – the very first 33 1/3 rpm long-playing 12”, released in 1948.
Christened ‘1948-‘ in its honour, this vinyl-only release will be sent out into the world without a cover, and all digital files will be deleted when it goes.
It’s a thoughtful exercise in handing responsibility back to the listener, and a provocative exploration of our changing relationship with music, and the formats we find it in.
In his words? It’s a “self-destructive dialogue on the value of music and its new platforms…and the seeming immortality and inherent nostalgia of vinyl”.
From a record that sparked a movement springs a goodbye to something else. He met Clash in Glasgow’s Glad Café to talk it over.
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Tell us about the album. What did you want to do when you set out on it?
I was reading an article the roots of vinyl. And the Nathan Milstein thing came up as the first proper LP. I was curious, because I didn’t know the Mendelssohn piece that it was all based on. So I did what everyone does in this day and age: I went to YouTube and searched for it. The first thing that came up was the original LP. It struck me then, that it would be interesting to rip the whole thing off YouTube, and see what I could make out of it.
Initially, the project was just about exploring the cyclical nature of music, and how the original format of the music has survived so long. There’s a lot of talk now about how vinyl’s making a comeback. It is, and it isn’t. Because it’s so expensive, it’s making more money than digital sales. Records are ridiculously priced. I bought an LP recently, that Jarvis Cocker one that’s just come out. Got that, played the vinyl once. But I’ve listened to the download ten times or something.
It hit me that there was something to be said about the format itself, and ask: what’s the most important part of this? Is it really that music’s on an LP? It strikes me as a pretty frivolous thing in this day and age. The physical aspect of it. I made that album on a computer, and everything else I’ve made – we make those on computers. I love records, and I buy them, but it’s really a nostalgic thing to buy a record.
But it brings up questions. What is it about music that means people need to have a physical connection to it? Obviously, it’s a very intimate thing.
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I did what everyone does in this day and age: I went to YouTube and searched for it.
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You’ve spoken about it being a ‘commentary’. Was this a reaction against the resurgence of vinyl?
I’m very surprised the label went for it. It’s one of those – nobody’s getting rich from it, you know what I mean? Melodica are releasing an album which is immediately limited in its scope. I addressed that right away. They’ve been great, and really supportive. But you know, if I went to them and told them my idea for the album, they would have told me to fuck off.
So I got this one-off made, and it cost me 90 pound. I thought fuck it, I’ll get it done, and I posted it to Dave at Melodica. Because I wanted him to get what I wanted to do – it was important that he saw the idea as whole, and knew what I wanted. He really bought into it. It’s an experimental release, in terms of format.
You’ve decided to delete all of the digital files on the day of release. Why?
Again, it’s that thing about the relationship with music. People might cherish the album more because of its rarity. Or it could be completely ignored. Interestingly, it’s doing quite well – I think they’re doing a second pressing. But even though people are buying records, they may not necessarily be playing them. You don’t know how many people will actually buy it and listen to it.
You’ve said you want the record, because it doesn’t have a sleeve, to be well-worn, and unique to how it’s been treated. And in doing that, you change the listener’s experience. You’re putting a responsibility on them.
Everything that I’ve done with L Pierre involves a certain element of surface noise. I think there’s something quite noble about that. Something in that idea that it’s survived. It sounds like it’s came from somewhere, and that makes it a human experience. It sounds like it’s been battered about a bit. It’s lived a life.
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It was a bit of a challenge to people...
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There was a quote from John Peel, when someone had wrote him a letter about how records were rubbish, and CDs were better because they had a much cleaner sound and records were rubbish because they had surface noise. He said: “Life has surface noise, and that’s good enough for me.” That puts it beautifully. I wanted it to decay as time went on. That was part of the idea – I didn’t want it to survive.
Originally, I thought about doing it in a sandpaper sleeve, because every time you took it out, it would be destroyed a little bit more. The problem with that sleeve was that they would need to be handmade, and it would be me who needed to make them. And that was quite a job…one I wasn’t up for!
The Durutti Column actually did a sandpaper sleeve a couple of years ago, but the difference was theirs was on the outside, and the idea was it destroyed all the records that it came into contact with. It was a different purpose, but I didn’t want to get it confused. And I didn’t want it to be mistaken for the same idea. Then I thought, fuck it! Just bin the sleeve.
It was a bit of a challenge to people as well. Because as soon as you see a record that doesn’t have a sleeve, you try and protect it. I thought that would be the interesting thing: how people would be with it when they had it.
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How did you find working with classical music? Because this is the first time you’ve worked with it as L Pierre, right?
Well, I’ve worked with it before – but it’s always been more of the easy-listening side of things. The really cheap shite you get in charity shops, aye!
I’ve worked differently on all of the albums, all the time. This is the first one I’ve done entirely on my own. Every other record, I’ve worked with other people, or in a studio. And I didn’t want to do too much to it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do too much to it – there’s probably a lot more effort that went into it than it sounds.
Throughout the album, I’ve taken five to ten second clips and played them back at different speeds. So there’s one slowed down by 50%, one slowed down by 70% and stuff. I would just play them all at once, and cut out a section that I really liked. On the fourth track, you can tell it’s more sample-based and loop-based. I created more of a tune out of that one.
On the first track, there was a tiny, tiny section of the song that I slowed down to the nth degree, and treated another section the same, again playing them on top of each other until I liked it. But I didn’t want it to appear like there was too much effort to it.
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Sampling’s become so commonplace that people never really know what’s original and what isn’t anymore.
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I read a review – they didn’t seem to think that I’d done too much to it at all. Which is good! I like that. But if you didn’t know the Mendelsohn, then you wouldn’t recognise it from that record. Because the concerto is about 40 minutes long, and I think I’ve maybe used like 15 seconds of it? The review was giving more credit to Mendelsohn.
Even that was fascinating. Because that speaks of the nature of sampling too, when I’m obviously ripping it from YouTube – it’s about creative control, and how samples change as well.
Sampling’s become so commonplace that people never really know what’s original and what isn’t anymore. And maybe folk aren’t hearing what I’ve done to the songs.
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Do you think you would work with that kind of classical palette again? In other projects?
I don’t know. And as you know, the L Pierre thing is over now.
…but you’ve said that before.
That’s true. You know, it was over the last time. The last album was definitely the last L Pierre record, but I hadn’t really said that to anyone. I just felt like it was over. I was really fond of the last album, but I thought it the last one.
And then I had another good idea. It just became the perfect way to end it, to bring it back round. And to actually have something to say as well. There had to be a reason to do it, and that was it.
Obviously, there’s an element of it that’s about the format. It had to be clear. It said on the label that I’d ripped the samples from YouTube. That was important. It’s important that people made that connection with streaming as well.
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The idea of the record was of a tombstone date, but there’s no date of death...
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Was it a conscious choice that the record you sample was the first 12”?
That that was the start of something, and this was the end of something for you? Not so much, it was just about the format. The idea of the record was of a tombstone date, but there’s no date of death – because it seems like vinyl will continue. But I’m not even sure it should.
Do you feel optimistic about the vinyl boom, or do you just think it’s a nostalgia thing?
It’s funny, because the market for vinyl is mostly reissues. I was in Monorail recently, and I had the Twin Peaks soundtrack in my hand, and thought, ‘I might buy this’. But I’ve got the CD in the house, and I bought it when it came out. I think it’s 45 pound for a double LP or something. And it’s fucking ridiculous. It is overpriced, and it’s mostly reissues, and it’s a strange market.
But it’s great that record shops can survive - because there is still a market for new bands selling records. I mean, Adele was probably the biggest-selling vinyl LP last year. It’s good, but I don’t really think that it’s that important, ultimately. Music’s become more of a digital thing with streaming.
That’s what happened to make gigs so healthy. As you know, everybody goes to gigs now. It’s been said before, that a gig promoted an album but now, it’s really an album that helps sell tickets for gigs. And streaming has changed all that. It’s that physical connection thing. If people aren’t getting that with a record, then the only other way to do it is to see the band. And that raises questions about the value of music, and how people react to it.
I mean, what are the important elements of music? The format is always in flux anyway. Ten years from now, there will be some other format. Or maybe there won’t. Streaming looks like it’s here to stay.
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Is there an infinite groove at the end of the record?
Aye. Somebody was saying that they were listening to it for ten minutes, before they realised that they could turn it off - which was perfect. A really important part of it! Obviously, that’s something you could only do with a record. And I wanted to do something that was exclusive to the format. It’s an analogy – it stops when the listener decides. They’re in control. This has always felt like an important place for you to experiment.
Do you have plans for another side project?
I don’t know. I mean, the next thing I’m doing is a record with R M Hubbert. And I think that’s going to be next February, or March.
My workload now seems to get bigger, but as I’m getting older, I’m getting slower. We were talking about it recently, and realised that it’s taken three years. Most of that’s down to me, because he gave me the guitar parts ages ago. And it’s taking me fucking ages to write words now. I try and set myself targets, but I never reach them. So now I just sit and wait.
I don’t believe in rushing these things. I don’t believe in getting up first thing in the morning and starting to write something. I need to wait until there’s some reason, or inspiration to do it.
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It stops when the listener decides. They’re in control.
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After that, I don’t know. I might do something with Bill (Wells, jazz musician and frequent collaborator).
There’s Arab Strap as well. We’ve talked about it. Originally, we were like – we’ll never make another record, because you don’t want to be sad old men singing about shit that doesn’t matter anymore.
Do you feel the weight of being such an important band for so many people?
No. People don’t really think about themselves like that. Well, I mean, they do – but people who think like that are arseholes! When we started rehearsing last year, we had to listen to the old records and I hadn’t listened to some of them in about ten years. And it’s funny, once you’ve had that distance – I could hear why it worked, and why it was different. For better or worse.
I don’t always think it was successful. Some of it, I was listening like “what the fuck was happening there?!” But when you come back to it, you appreciate why so many people liked it. I understand now. It’s not my day job anymore.
We’re doing festivals this year. And we’ve talked about doing something else. But Malc’s as bad as me – by the time we get around to doing a record, we’ll probably be in our fifties.
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'1948-' will be released on April 28th through Melodic (pre-order LINK).
Words: Marianne Gallagher
For tickets to the latest Aidan Moffat shows click HERE.