James Graham and Aidan Moffat are well known to many as members of two of Scotland’s most beloved acts, The Twilight Sad and Arab Strap. But a search for connection through the darkest days of our not-too-distant history brought them together as Gentle Sinners; a musical project founded on friendship and a freedom to have fun. We caught up with the two to find out more about this collaboration and their debut record, These Actions Cannot Be Undone.
The album has been out for over three months now. What has the initial reaction been like?
James Graham: When it was released I didn’t know what people would think, to be honest, as it’s quite different to anything I’ve ever done. The people that have got in touch though are saying all the sort of things that I hoped they would say. They have got what the lyrics were about and it has resonated with a lot of people.
Aidan Moffat: It’s been great. James has got quite a rabid fanbase who love his voice. The focus of the record is his voice and I tried to work it round that as well. It’s good to hear him doing something a bit mellower – well, mostly mellower.
James: [laughing] You’ve been trying to take the emo out of me.
Aidan: That’s it!
The record is very different musically to much of what you have both been involved with before. What influences did you draw from in its creation, or was it more organic than that?
James: For me it was pretty organic. I react to what is sent to me, and every time Aidan sent something to me I enjoyed it as a fan, and then had the opportunity to write to it. I felt very privileged to be able to do that and it made me push myself in different directions and try new things.
It’s a record I look back on and I can see what it has done for me in many ways. It’s only going to benefit me from now on. It’s given me a bit more confidence, which there wasn’t a lot of. It’s been a really fulfilling thing for me, really important.
Aidan: There were no influences musically at all. I would just be experimenting with wee samples and I would find something I liked and send it. It was just completely free – it didn’t matter what the song sounded like or what kind of music it was. If we thought it sounded good, we’d try something with it. And James’ voice ties it all together.
Was making the record free from the pressures you feel with Arab Strap and The Twilight Sad?
Aidan: There was certainly no pressure because we didn’t know when it was coming out, or if it was coming out. It was very much something we did for fun. During the pandemic James moved up north, so it was also a way to keep in touch, and it worked. And after a year we had enough songs for an album.
You are both fathers now, and James’ son even makes a cameo appearance on the record. Do your children’s views and expectations of you influence you in any way creatively?
James: My son has no idea what the fuck I do. He thinks I am his servant. He’s coming to see me play on Saturday so I think he’s going to get a bit of a shock, because at this moment he just thinks I’m the guy that picks things up for him.
Aidan: Mine came to see me at the weekend at the Edinburgh festival. My son has seen me before, but it was my daughter’s first time. I had taken her to see Ed Sheeran at Hampden a few weeks ago and apparently when she arrived at Leith Theatre she said to her mum, ‘I thought it was going to be as big as the Ed Sheeran gig.’ But I think she was impressed. She seemed quite taken aback by it.
James: I don’t know if my perspectives changed after becoming a father. I’ve just got more worries. I already had loads of worries, as you can tell from the five Twilight Sad albums. Now I’ve got the worries of two other lifeforms on my shoulders, so it’s not going to get any happier, as I’m thinking ‘What have I done…what have I brought you into?’
Aidan: We’ve brought them into a really positive, happy world. The planet’s dying, there’s war in Europe, people will be in dire poverty soon…but it’s fine.
James: I think we’ve just found the influence for the new Gentle Sinners record.
Is there a plan for you to do more together, or will you be taking it as it comes?
James: If Aidan is up for it – and this is not me asking – I would write with him for anything. It’s something that has been really important for me and I had no other outlet during the pandemic. I would have been lost without this record, to be honest.
Aidan: When we have time we’ll do something else, I’m sure. Maybe get back to the folky stuff.
James: I’m up for that.
These Actions Cannot Be Undone was released on 13th May via Rock Action Records and will be released as a red vinyl LP (plus indies-exclusive version with a bonus 7″) on 16th September (also via Rock Action)
By: Craig Howieson