He kept sending me these miserable lyrics and I just kept trying to make a disco record,” says Aidan Moffat, framing his latest work with customary precision.
The Arab Strap frontman is meeting me in a Zoom call with his newest collaborator, The Twilight Sad frontman and songwriter James Graham, metaphorically poking his ribs about the push and pull of their new side hustle Gentle Sinners.
Their name is lifted from a line in Romeo and Juliet, the mash-up of Graham’s nightmarish covid-era lyrical candour and Moffat’s hooky electro-punk pop sounding as star-crossed as Scottish supergroups can get.

The result is the LP These Actions Cannot Be Undone, a side-project which fans of The Twilight Sad might recognise more readily than Arab Strap. Both men’s vocals are among the most distinctive in Scottish music, however the songs here are deeply personal to Graham, with Moffat leading on just one track.
“I’d been writing a lot of Twilight Sad stuff and I knew exactly where I was going with that so there wasn’t really any other route for some of the other things I wanted to write about – dealing with the past two years and mental health. I really wanted to focus on that,” says Graham, who spoke to Moffat about collaborating during a lockdown walk the pair were taking through Glasgow’s Queen’s Park.
“I wanted to do something outwith the band, partly to test myself, to see what else was in there,” says Graham.  

“Aidan’s the reason I ever started writing lyrics and got into what I do. When I told him I wanted to do something new and asked him if he knew anyone who would want to work with a clown like me, he said: ‘Aye, me!’. I really didn’t expect that.
“So he sent me some music and that got the ball rolling. But I was afraid when I sent him anything. He’s one of my favourite songwriters and even though we are friends I found that difficult.”
Moffat says: “James was really open to the ideas, and not precious about what he does,” before teasing his mate for sending him “literally hundreds of ideas I had to sift through”.  
“But he’s happy to listen to other people, unlike me.”
The naked distress witnessed in Graham’s lyrics will doubtless chime with many whose experience of living through the pandemic saw them visited by an unexpected period of harsh self-appraisal. 
Graham says: “My mental health was at its worst. I hadn’t experienced it as bad as that before – to the point where I had to go and ask for help. In some ways the music Aidan was sending me helped bring that out. 
“After writing some of this I felt I knew it couldn’t just be me who was feeling this stuff, it couldn’t be. I like to document stages in my life through writing music. This was a tough period for everybody, and I don’t know if we are ever going to be totally through the other end of it, but I feel I’ve documented it and I can look back on that. 
“It’s time to look forward from that. One of the main lyrics that came out was, ‘take everything you care about / you’ve got to learn to live without’. It’s about everything we thought fulfilled our lives being taken away from us, and having to face what actually mattered.”

For Graham, it was his now four-year-old son Arthur (he’s since had a second boy, now six months old). 
“It was right in front of my face the whole time, at home, in lockdown, wondering how I was going to make it all okay for him.” 
He even has a cameo on the record, after Graham sent Moffat a joke recording of his son singing. “He messaged me back to say: ‘If you think that’s not going on the record, you’ve got another thing coming.’ ”
Moffat adds: “There’s a level of trust there for James to sing that honestly. But I didn’t pay that much attention to the words. I judged what we used not really by what he was singing but more how he was singing it. I approached this much more musically. I didn’t have to worry about what the words were conveying.
“It’s like that old Ultravox song, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, and a lot of what Motown did really well. You can dance to it but by God you can weep to it as well.”

Gentle Sinners’ LP These Actions Cannot Be Undone is released on red vinyl on September 16.