I’ve on and off written about music for over 8 years now and learned, that the actual work life of a musician is easy to forget about. I play instruments, I know a fair bit about music theory but I never actually pursued the possibility of recording and performing music for myself. In that sense, I always maintained a certain amount of respect for every artist.
I am especially reminded about the humbleness, I originally felt when approaching musicians when I listen to the new record by A Mote Of Dust. Craig Beaton, legendary figure of the Scottish indie music scene and his musical partner Graeme Smillie announced II as the final musical statement of A Mote Of Dust. And since this was the last songwriting resort for Beaton, it is quite possibly a goodbye from the man.
It didn’t took me by surprise when I heard about the news of Beaton wanting to quit music, since in our last chat back in 2016 he already hinted that he got quite close to quitting music alltogether before. But around this release, I felt like I owed it to him, to give him as much space to speak his mind. Thus, this (possibly) last interview became quite an extensive one.
The absence of a writing spark
Still, the questions lingers: Will Beaton stop making music or will he just stop releasing it?
‘I usually have loads of new songs ready to be worked up when I release an album but right now, I have none. It has been going that way for a while. I mean, never say never, but releasing something ‘officially’ with a physical product and the amount of work that goes into that isn’t doable anymore. So, I’m not sure what will happen in the future but there is no writing spark in me now like there used to be. I don’t mean that to sound melodramatic though. It actually feels ok right now.
This wasn’t written as a final album but it became apparent as soon as we had finished. I had discussed packing it all in with Graeme on and off for a while but listening back to the new album in its entirety made me realise it was the right time to stop. I have been aiming for an end for a long time though and you may be able to spot that theme in some of The Unwinding Hours songs. I didn’t feel forced and I don’t feel sad. It just felt like a natural decision. It has become too much to do properly and to a standard I think is important, so it’s best to step back.
Making music is absolutely self-indulgent but I feel it’s particularly unhealthy to focus on myself all the time. I don’t want to always be inward looking because this can result in a twisted sense of reality when really, our lives are always shared with others. That’s why I chose A Mote of Dust, to remind me of my place in the universe. And this is why I find social media unhealthy sometimes because it promotes self indulgence. A one way outpouring is not a conversation and a conversation is much better down the pub.’
‘Wow, you really showed them now, didn’t you?’
There is a lot of anger on this second A Mote of Dust album. Are you fatalistic about the state our world is in? In an existentialist meaning: that peace is in danger?
I would agree with the album being angry but I really feel like everyone should be angry right now. There are so many things to be concerned about so if you aren’t angry about something, I’d guess you aren’t paying attention. I hope I haven’t been expressing bitterness though. That sounds particularly bleak and I wouldn’t want to be promoting that.
‘We may have to go back and create new ground rule’
I’m not fatalistic but the political climate across the world has become increasingly volatile in recent years and I think we are in danger of turning in a very bad direction. My thinking has obviously been influenced by what has happened in the UK. I can never really lose hope though because I firmly believe that overall, people strive to be decent. The problem as I see it, and take this with a huge pinch of salt because I’m just a musician, is that people can be more easily manipulated by the media in the digital age and I think it’s worth questioning what’s going on with this right now. It’s not easy though. You just have to scream “fake news” and suddenly a legitimate news report is not trusted anymore. I think we may have to go back and create new ground rules, somehow.
Also, communities working together and collective action helps to create change but how do we do this when we don’t trust each other or fear ‘outsiders’? I think that fear and lack of cohesion in general is helpful to those who want to remain in control. We are always being told to focus downwards or at others around us rather than those at the top. This makes me particularly angry because it’s coupled with frustration at not knowing how to bring about change. I don’t think hope has been lost yet though.
To what extent does that, the shit that seems to be going on everywhere around us, fueled your decision to stop making music alltogether?
The political climate hasn’t influenced my decision to stop but I find it very interesting how little has been mentioned of what it means for bands touring in the UK and the rest of Europe if Brexit happens. I personally benefitted from travelling to so many incredible countries and experiencing their cultures on our tours and there is no way Aereogramme would have survived as long as we did without the support of the German and Dutch music scenes in particular. If that is in anyway disrupted for other touring bands by badly planned political decisions, it will be a disgrace and a huge loss for cultural exchange.
I still vividly remember the impact that Aereogramme left on me. Both on record and especially with a mind blowing set on the Hurricane Festival back in 2007, shortly before they split up. It is especially interesting to me, how that uncompromising band developed into different directions and how it let Beaton to the point at which he is now. But where did he actually come from? Well, as it turns out, our beloved IDLES nearly would have needed to find a new name, if that first band of Craig B exploded the way they were meant to…
The very first gig I played was at school and we were called ‘the Idles’ where I played drums. The songs I remember we covered were The Stone Roses – ‘Sally Cinnamon’, Ride – ‘Chelsea Girl’, Northside – ‘Shall we take a trip’ and New Model Army – ‘Inheritance’ (that was my slightly odd choice). I remember absolutely loving the experience so I’m sure it had a big influence on what I wanted to do later. Make no mistake though, we were absolutely terrible.
The God Machine was one of the first bands where I thought, ‘that’s the music I wanted to make’. It was heavy but it wasn’t metal. It just sounded so huge and really intense. It reflected exactly how I felt and I knew I wanted to make music as emotionally moving as that. Another band was The Boo Radleys. They are probably one of the most misunderstood bands due to their biggest hit being a really cringy pop song but their first few albums were completely different and closer to My Bloody Valentine than anything else. The thing that struck me was that they had this huge expansive sound but the vocals were light and not a typical rock vocal at all. That gave me the confidence that you could put a non-macho rock voice alongside something epic to create something much more interesting.
Beaton, who formed The Unwinding Hours with CHVRCHES‘ Iain Cook in 2008, kept his aspirations and always found his creative outlets. But there is also a lesson to be learned about musicianship from him. As rewarding as it can be: It is rough territory.
There are things that I feel are expected of a band at our level now that do not appeal to me one bit and I think that may have something to do with the way the music industry has developed. If we were big enough, I’m sure someone would be employed to run the social media side of things but right now, there’s only really me and I’m not tuned to this at all. I understand social media is useful and loads of people make good use of it but I just don’t see it this way. It feels like an expectation to constantly go on about myself or that I should desperately try to get people to /listen/buy/watch/subscribe/download/ something. Ultimately, this just feels so….. crap. It feels like such a staged reality we are supposed to actively create now and it’s not really a true reflection of what is happening.
Fine, musicians have to sell themselves or talk about themselves for people to know about your band but I never got into music to be stuck in front of a computer chasing likes and shares and subscribers. If that’s how it’s to be, then I shouldn’t be a part of it because no-one likes a grumpy old man stinking up the place.
Spotify may be useful to spread awareness but that’s not enough. For example, Aereogramme got used on an advert after we split up so that song became our most played on Spotify over a specific period. It got over 3,000 plays and I got £0.14p for that. Also, I hear people say that they will go see a live show or buy some merch to make up for not buying an album. That may work for Katy Perry or Muse (who will charge over £30 for a tshirt) but the fee from the show and merch actually pays for the tour costs of most bands so it doesn’t make up for the loss of album sales.
‘I couldn’t have got by without writing these albums’
In your career, did you ever get to a point at which making music got dangerous for your mental health?
I’ve always struggled with mental health issues for various reasons but certain years in Aereogramme didn’t help. We were so broke after “Sleep and Release” and I wasn’t sure what else to do, so that period felt like a particular low point. Since then, it has felt like a slow road back to a semi-stable life. I’ve had some pretty miserable jobs over the years but music has also allowed me an outlet and has given me breathing space.
The music was never the problem, just my inability to do something I enjoyed that also helped me earn a living. A lot of people go through this though so it’s a common issue. I at least have something now and I am very grateful for and it pays the bills. I finished my Masters in Social Research Methods which focused on qualitative and quantitative research and analysis. I have since found work in this area. To be honest, it came as a massive relief.
‘Let it be known at 65: I will be numb but still alive’
One can sense that said relief in every word Beaton writes. And also the peace he made with not selling millions of records. II is an album fueled by that peace.
With the writing spark gone, it may not be a big loss to lose Craig Beaton’s voice now. But it would have been an immense loss, if he wouldn’t have walked the path he did. There are few artists out there who can look back on such an influential and uncompromising back catalogue. There’ll always be a special place for his music in my life. That’s for sure. And who knows…there might come a time and space for him again.
‘I only ever wrote when I needed to express something. However, the ‘perfect’ melody always remained out of reach and I never managed to write it. I hear it in many other artist’s songs and I often wonder how they do it or if they know they have managed to achieve it. I will need to find a creative outlet now but I’ll have to try a few things to see what that is. In the end, I’ll try to stay sane, make sure my dog is happy, try not to get fat and stay out of trouble.’
A Mote Of Dust‘s second and final record II will be released on March 1 via Stargazer Records, followed by a short farewell tour.