Critically acclaimed’ is often another way of saying an artist has a small, perhaps, cult following – always worth listening to but ultimately unlikely to be heard on primetime radio and TV.
It’s apt then – and no coincidence that Craig B – formerly of melodic metallers Aereogramme – currently trades under the name A Mote of Dust.
“(The name, from a quote by cosmologist Carl Sagan) was chosen to remind me of my place in the grand scheme of things,” confides the singer and guitarist, who also fronted The Unwinding Hours, another late and lamented act from Glasgow’s Chemikal Underground record label. “It’s both amazing that we exist in this particular tiny section of such a vast universe and yet it is utterly meaningless at the same time.”
I wonder if this mindset also works its way into his lyric writing. “I spent a long time studying theology and questioning a lot of things I had been brought up to believe,” he admits, “so my outlook on life feeds into the songs I write. I love thinking about these topics but at the end of the day it makes me sound like a po-faced bore!”
It may be this fear that sees so few lyricists put their toes into the murky waters of political songwriting. “It’s tricky,” he agrees. “I think there is definitely a need to fire people up to positive social action somehow so we could do with as many protest singers as possible.
“Singing about politics can come across as preachy, and then I also wonder if I’ve just ended up singing to people who already agree with me.” That may be the case, as Beaton sings “I despair / At misplaced pride in the flags you wear” on ‘Slow Clap’ from the new album.
“However, I genuinely felt compelled to write something about what has been going on the last few years so if the choice was to write something or shy away from writing about politics then I’m glad I did it. I took a long time over the lyrics and I hope my frustration with Brexit comes across.”
Since The Unwinding Hours split, Beaton has been based in Sheffield, teaming up (remotely) with Graeme Smillie, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with the likes of Emma Pollock and Arab Strap and whose bass and keyboards flesh out the fledgling tunes created by the singer in his Yorkshire base.
“I’ve always preferred collaboration to solo work,” he says. “It has always been healthier for me to bounce ideas off someone else and to feed off their creativity as well. We’d meet up every so often to work on them together but also throw ideas back and forth online.”
A far cry from Aereogramme, who lived the rock lifestyle fully, touring extensively in Europe. “(That) was certainly my full time occupation for a long time but The Unwinding Hours was when I shifted my perspective. We still wrote and poured everything we could into the songs but just spent a day or two a week working on it over a longer time period. The same is true of A Mote Of Dust.”
“So I’d say the same attention to detail and effort has always been put into the songs, but The Unwinding Hours and A Mote of Dust were never about making a living so any time pressure or needing to pay the rent was never an issue.”
That part-time aspect also allowed Unwinding Hours bandmate Iain Cook to concentrate on his own side project.
“Chvrches were writing and recording demos for their first album when The Unwinding Hours were finishing off ‘Afterlives’,” Beaton recalls, “so I heard a lot of what they were working on. It was clearly something entirely different and even then it sounded incredible with a clear possibility of how big it could be.”
The singer has also recently lent vocals to Scottish metal band Visor on their ‘Opposing Sides’ EP, but it’s sad for fans that the paper trail from Chvrches back to Craig B’s output is obscure – despite eight albums and a TV advert soundtracking stunt biker Danny MacAskill for a jobs website, we find ourselves at a dead end with Beaton’s announcement that the latest A Mote of Dust album is likely to be his last.
“The first ‘proper’ release that I was involved in was in 1996,” he recalls. “That feels like a few lifetimes ago. I have a pretty intense job now so I can’t be certain I will have time to commit to this as much anymore to a standard I’d be happy with.
“I’ve had some amazing experiences over the years and so I’d like to end on an album I’m really proud of.”
That album, ‘A Mote of Dust’, is out now, see www.amoteofdust.com. The band play their album launch / farewell shows at Aberdeen Tunnels on Thursday April 11 and Glasgow’s Mono on Friday April 12.