Musicscan: Just tell me a little bit about the new album? Did you approach it any differently than 5:14?
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, I think from the start of this new record I wanted to make sure that it didnt sound the same as the first one. I thought it had good charm but it wasnt a well put together record. I wanted to have this more produced and have more immediate songs. I didnt want as much hard work for the people who are listening to the record. I wanted this album to be more straight-forward and fun.
Musicscan: Did you approach the songwriting itself any differently, as far as the respective songs are concerned?
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, I mean with the first record it was all just acoustic guitar based and it was just me sitting around writing songs like that. This time I used the computer more. I wasnt really intending to do that, but I just spent a lot of time messing around on the computer writing music. So the songs evolved from a definite starting point, which is quite obvious on some songs on the album, which move away from the strict verse-chorus-verse structure.
Musicscan: Do you already have a specific idea in mind when you write an album? Do you know how it should sound in its entirety or is there some rather strong element of chance?
Malcolm Middleton: I dont know if its chance. It comes together later on. When I first thought about making a second record, I looked at the songs I had written and I was happy to put them on an album, but I always wanted a more traditional band record with no computers and drum machines. But then the stuff I was doing for fun in my spare-time became more serious. I think it worked well because you can tell that there is a certain freedom to it that is outside of the pressure of having to write a song. It was just for fun and to entertain myself. That is, of course, also reflected in the way the album sounds, but I didnt have an over all plan. As the songs grew it became obvious what was happening, so they sort of grew together.
Musicscan: Would you say you write your songs primarily for yourself or do you have a certain audience in mind when you write?
Malcolm Middleton: I think I write primarily for myself. The first record was definitely made without any intention. I didnt think anyone would ever hear these songs. But on the second album, even though I was so contained in my own environment, it was aware that some people would probably hear these songs one day. The way I dealt with that is to stay back and not be as open. I augmented the dark lyrics and got out the more depressive side of my personality by putting a happy chin behind it. It was almost like I was wearing a mask that I was hiding behind.
Musicscan: Do you think that your immediate surroundings influence your music?
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, definitely. I dont know if it is an immediate effect, but it certainly has an effect. I live in a small town in the middle of Scotland and I suppose the weather also has some effect, whether I like it or not. It brings on the sort of Scottish melancholy and that kind of mood. Coming from a small town affects your attitude as well. Nobody seems to like if other people are doing well and things like that. That made it hard for me sometimes to appreciate my success.
Musicscan: So you think it would have sounded differently if you lived in a city like New York or Los Angeles, for instance?
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, definitely.
Musicscan: Can you still remember what it was like when you wrote your first song and what it feels like when you finish a song now?
Malcolm Middleton: Oh my God, I must have been fifteen and a really terrible punk. But that is hard to say. I got a lot of satisfaction from finishing this album and I am really happy with it. I am proud of it. But when I write a song on the guitar, I dont get that much from it. It is more like a panic that it doesnt turn into a piece of crap.
Musicscan: When do you know that a song is finished? Do you also rely on other people to give you some kind of feedback on it before it is released?
Malcolm Middleton: There are people I trust with recording and things like that, but this record has just been myself making all the decisions and when to finish. I had already done 70% of the album before I got anyone else in to play. Some songs needed some extra piano or some strings or another guitar player besides me. I have a lot of confidence in myself knowing when it is finished.
Musicscan: Why music? What makes music special for you and why do you think the world needs another pop band?
Malcolm Middleton: I dont think of the world as needing another Malcolm Middleton record (laughs). It is just what I do and I enjoy doing it and I would still do it if nobody listened to it, or if nobody bothered to write about it or buy the record. It is just an individual way of expressing myself. Perhaps other people can get some comfort from that as well.
Musicscan: Well, sometimes it seems like you are not really enjoying it that much, particularly the context of popular music and the business side of things, but also live performance.
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, to me that is just something I do right now. I do have moments where I turn around and say that is fucking great and that I am so lucky that be doing this and I really appreciate it. I really enjoy writing and I really enjoy recording, but it is true that I am not a huge fan of performing in front of people. But it comes with the job. I mean I do enjoy some aspects, but sometimes I also hate it.
Musicscan: Is there something you could imagine doing besides music?
Malcolm Middleton: No, I dont think there is anything I could do passionately right now. There will be a point in my life where I have to do something else to get by, but nothing I would feel the same way about.
Musicscan: Do you keep up with what is being written about yourself? Do you read features or reviews about yourself? Does that influence how you perceive your music to some extent?
Malcolm Middleton: Yes, I do. I am not sure if that influences my perception, because I think I am too stubborn to let what someone else says influence me. I mean if someone writes a great review I will be happy about it, if it is written in a way that I agree with. But I can still read a review that rates it 10 out of 10 and still be unhappy with it, because I fell the reviewer missed the point. It is strange, but if someone says anything good about my record, it doesnt make it any better. The same holds true if someone says that it is bad, it doesnt actually make my record bad.
Musicscan: I think what I was trying to get at was that if someone writes something negative about your record, do you take that into consideration when writing a new song?
Malcolm Middleton: I would love to say no, but I would imagine that it probably does. I personally cant think of an example. Nobody has ever said that I couldnt sing and that I, then, went out and got singing lessons. I dont have that much experience about that, I mean not so many people write about my music. There is nothing that has affected me yet, even though it might at some point.
Musicscan: Do you think it is possible for a band to exist outside of the realm of the media if it wants to move beyond the local or regional level?
Malcolm Middleton: No, of course not. Not in todays claim of market. I am sure there must be some examples. Usually a band does certain things differently, which gets them noticed as being unique and original, but it wont last for long, because they will either be swallowed up by their lack of effort to compromise or by the record company or the media.
Musicscan: Do you like doing interviews or are they just something that comes with the job, too?
Malcolm Middleton: I honestly dont enjoy them so much, but I understand the fact that they have to be done in order to promote a record. I have a lot of respect for my record label and I know that it is good for them and for myself when more people hear about the record. But I cant imagine people buying a magazine because it has a Malcolm Middleton interview in it. It is just something that comes with being in a band. I mean I am glad that people are interested enough to make the effort that they want to talk about it.
Musicscan: You have been playing in bands for a pretty long time now. How do you keep it fresh and exciting for yourself?
Malcolm Middleton: Probably by doing solo records. The first album was basically a reaction to being in Arab Strap for about eight years and doing the same thing and having the same role in the band. It turned into a routine, so my first solo record was a break from that.
Musicscan: You didnt write any lyrics before your first solo record, so how did that feel at first? Did you feel insecure about it?
Malcolm Middleton: Kind of. I mean I sang three songs on the first Arab Strap album, but then it turned out that Aidans lyrics became more important and it became the thing that Arab Strap was about Aidans lyrics and my music. I have always written lyrics on my own, though.
Musicscan: What is your relationship with Chemikal Underground like? Would you say it is a genuine friendship or rather a business relationship?
Malcolm Middleton: It is both. We met them because we were in Arab Strap, but then we became friends with them over the years. Its an easy business even though it can be quite hard sometimes when arguments happen and you realize you have been friends with them first. It is quite difficult, over all they are great people, though, and I am glad that they release my record.