- Tue, 2011-08-30 11:32
Scottish experimental rockers Mogwai have been breaking rules and blowing minds for over fifteen years, swinging from temperate to tempestuous and back again with an elegance of which others can only dream. It’s little surprise that their talents have been put to use in cinemas and art galleries, not to mention that their vast sonic landscapes have gained them a reputation as a majestic live spectacle.
Following the release of their recent seventh album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and a hectic summer of touring, we caught up with the band’s co-founder Stuart Braithwaite to chat about their live show, working with Clint Mansell, record collections and what’s next for the band.
”I Like Music because... it sounds nice!” Stuart Braithwaite
ILM: You guys have been so busy this year since the release of the new album, playing an insane amount of dates, and travelling around… How are you all coping?
Stuart: I think we’re pretty good actually! Last night was a lot of fun; it was probably one of the best festival gigs of this summer [Ypsigrock Festival, Sicily]. Last weekend we played… um, it was pretty mental… we played in Australia on the Friday and Japan on the Sunday, and no-one really managed to get any sleep on the Saturday, so it wasn’t the most fun trying to play when everyone was tired. I think they were similar time zones though, so it was a bit better. It’s been good being busy, but it’s definitely been quite tiring as well.
ILM: I can imagine! So you had more time to recharge before last night?
Stuart: Yeah, in fact, I slept for fourteen hours! I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that! It’s like when you’ve been pushing your luck a bit, and you’re body just says “no, I need to be stationary for a long time.”
ILM: What have been some of the stand-out dates from this year?
Stuart: Um, I’m trying to think… My mind goes blank when I get asked a question like that! Well, last night was really good. Right at the start we did a gig in Tokyo, where we played the whole album from start to end, which was really good. It kind of forced us to learn all the songs, which meant that we could play more than usual.
ILM: You were at the Roundhouse recently, how was that?
Stuart: Yeah that was good actually. That was interesting because it was part of the iTunes thing, and I guess there were quite a lot of people there that had never seen us before. So it felt halfway between a gig and a festival. It was definitely good. The best festival we did was Dour in Belgium. Laughably, we were on inbetween Ice Cube and Pulp! It went really well though; that was a good one.
ILM: You guys have been playing together since the mid-nineties. With all that experience of playing live, what’s your approach to a Mogwai live show now?
Stuart: The basics are the most important thing, like just making sure everything’s working! It’s quite nice if it’s dark. Playing in the afternoon doesn’t always work that well with us, because we don’t tend to move around or anything. If it’s dark at least you can have flashing lights to kind of detract from that fact! In terms of the set list we really just do what we enjoy playing. I’m sure you could ask people that have seen us a lot of times and they’d probably have a load of complaints; they’d rather we didn’t play certain songs, or played some more obscure songs more often. We just tend to play quite a lot of new songs. We hope you’re not sick of them yet! Just the ones we’ve been having fun playing, or that have been sounding really good.
ILM: How do you approach writing new material?
Stuart: All of us apart from Martin (who writes all the drums to be fair) write songs in our own houses. Depending on what member it is some of us will give the demos almost completely finished, while others – including me because I’m a lazy git – like to give them really rough. Then we all just get together and play them until they sound like a song. It’s probably the same as every other band to be honest, I’d imagine.
ILM: Has it evolved over the years?
Stuart: Things have changed because of technology. I mean, years ago you would have to do it on a 4-track, which would be pretty basic. Now we’ve all got computers things can get quite a lot more detailed. You can actually do the arrangements as well. The essential part of all coming together and writing songs hasn’t changed, but the intricacies have. We’re not like Aerosmith, we don’t get other people to do it for us now that we’re famous! We’re not even famous!
ILM: The Earth Division EP is due out the 12th of September. Could tell us a bit about that?
Stuart: We recorded that at the same time as the album. I think we always felt it fitted together, rather than along with the other songs. So we just put them together. They’re more string orientated and more subdued. They’re quite…sparse. It’s a nice little record I think, I’m really happy with it.
ILM: You wrote the track Music for a Forgotten Future (The Singing Mountain) for Douglas Gordon and Olaf Nicolais’ art installation. How did that work; how did you hook up, was there a brief?
Stuart: We’d already done something with Douglas for the Zidane film [Zidane; A 21st Century Portrait], and he just left us alone to do it, which was one of the reasons we were so keen to do it again. He’s got a lot of respect for what we do, and us also for him. The music was written by Barry, so I couldn’t really go into how he approached it. But, I guess Barry just thought about what would be a good piece of music to listen to whilst you were walking around the setting where he knew the installation would be. Initially we hadn’t seen the installation because it hadn’t been built yet, but we’d been to where it was going to be. We were told it was going to play on a loop the whole time and we knew it had to be quite long in case someone wanted to hang about there for a while and not get too bored!
ILM: Did you get to go there and experience it at all?
Stuart: No, by the time they finished it we had started the tour. Although we are playing some gigs in Germany in November, maybe we’ll play near it. But we’d started playing by the time they’d actually finished.
ILM: You also worked with Clint Mansell on the soundtrack to The Fountain. What was that like?
Stuart: I mean, we didn’t write any of the soundtrack, we just played on it. We were just sent the music to learn. I’m sure the music was written with us in mind, but it wasn’t our music. Clint came up to Glasgow and we spent a week in the studio, around about Christmas. We ate a lot of curry…it was good fun!
ILM: On a slightly different note, you played Late Night with Jimmy Fallon recently. What was it like playing on such a huge American TV show?
Stuart: That was good fun actually. I really like the comedy show 30 Rock. It’s set in that building. It’s set at a fictional Saturday Night Live type show. It was really surreal because it felt like we were walking around the set of a comedy show that I like. Yeah, it was nice… It was really different for us; we’ve never done anything like that. We did one song on a French TV Show, but it was a long, long time ago, and obviously Europe and America are miles apart in every sense. But yeah it was good; everyone was really nice to us. It’s kind of funny because I’m sure we are a lot louder than most bands, so I think the people in the audience didn’t quite know what to expect.
ILM: On the clip the people stood behind you were rocking out...
Stuart: Yeah, if you look carefully they kind of start like that and then they start to look a bit bemused!
ILM: Things have changed a massive amount since the release of your first album, what with the digital revolution. How, if at all, have those changes affected you and the way you’ve released your music?
Stuart: It’s hard to say because all of these things have been quite gradual. It’s incredible if you think about how different the music industry is now than when it started. I don’t know, I don’t think it’s affected us adversely. People don’t sell as many records, but I think that’s probably counteracted by the fact that it’s more expensive to go and see gigs now. I don’t think there’s any harm in that. It’s good to be able to get to talk directly to people that like your band. In the past falling out of favour with the music press could really isolate a band. I don’t know if we have fallen out of favour with the music press, but if we did it wouldn’t be an issue; people would still be able to know when we have a record coming out, that kind of thing. It’s almost all positive change. The only worrying thing – and its not even generally to do with us because I think we’re doing okay – is that a lot of young people don’t think that they should pay for music. That’s going to cause a lot of problems. People can’t make music unless they can afford to do it, and if no-one's paying for music then there’s a big hole in the system. That’s an issue, but that’s probably a bigger conversation.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Stuart: I listen to quite a lot of hip hop to be honest. Old and new, I suppose. I listen to quite a lot of Public Enemy. I like a lot of stuff on the Triangle label, like Clams Casino. And old blues records as well, that’s another thing I listen to quite a lot of.
ILM: Do you have a big record collection at home?
Stuart: Yeah, I’ve got a ridiculous record collection!
ILM: Vinyl or CDs…?
Stuart: Well, I’ve got a lot of CDs, but it's vinyl that I’ve actually bothered with collecting. I accumulate CDs rather than collect them.
ILM: What was the last record you bought?
Stuart: The last record I bought wasn’t for me. When I was in Tokyo I bought a Godzilla soundtrack album for my girlfriend, just because it had a really amazing cover!
ILM: Do you tend to go to record shops wherever you end up staying/visiting? Where are some of the best that you’ve been to?
Stuart: The best record shop that I’ve been to was in Pittsburgh. I don’t think it was in the town of Pittsburgh, I think we were playing in a little weird suburb. But it had so many records in it… it had an entire room just full of girl group 45s. It was just amazing, it was so good. I spent a fortune there!
ILM: Speaking of collections, what’s your collection of guitars and pedals like?
Stuart: Errr, I don’t actually know how many I have! Quite a lot. My favourite guitars are Fender Coronados, which kind of look like a Gibson 335. They only made them for a few years. I’ve got a couple of those. A lot of my guitars I don’t take on tour because I’m worried that someone will lose them! But yeah, they’re my favourite guitars. John is more of a guitar connoisseur than me. He’s got some really good guitars. And Dominic actually, he’s got a lot of basses. He’s got more basses than most people.
ILM: How many has he got?
Stuart: How many basses is a lot? I don’t know exactly, but I suspect Dominic has ten basses.
ILM: Right, that’s ten more than I’ve got, so…
Stuart: Yeah, it’s probably quite a few more than most bass players have got! They’re all really good though. He doesn’t have lots for the sake of it, but that’s quite a few.
ILM: Do you still have your first guitar?
Stuart: I don’t have the very first one I ever owned, but the one I play all the time is the first good guitar that I ever got, when I was fifteen or something. A blue Telecaster, which is the one I play most of the time. I think I gave away that first one, just to a relative that wanted to learn the guitar or something.
ILM: Have you seen any live shows or bands recently that have captured your attention?
Stuart: I’ve seen a lot of good bands during the festival season. We played with Mount Kimbie last night, they were really good. Low were amazing at OFF Festival in Poland. At Fuji Rocks I saw Envy, whose records we put out, but I don’t get to see too often cos they’re in Japan. They were great.
ILM: How about the most memorable live shows that you’ve seen?
ILM: Not necessarily just one!
Stuart: Well, the best live show I ever saw was by The Cramps. It was at a festival in Madrid. It was amazing. The Cramps were always really good, but there was something about this one that was just absolutely brilliant.
ILM: Having got to the stage that you have, what would be your advice to aspiring musicians about making music and being involved with the music industry?
Stuart: I think probably the best advice is just to do what you want to do, and obviously do it as well as you can. Most of the bands and musicians that I know that have made mistakes have been told to do those things by someone else. Usually if you stick to what you think is a good idea then things will pan out okay.
ILM: What can we expect from Mogwai over the next months?
Stuart: We’ve got a plan to do another soundtrack early next year. Then I think our tour will start to wind down a little bit. Maybe we’ll do a little bit more next spring, maybe a little bit next summer. Then I think we’ll probably need a big break! Then we’ll have a think about what we’re doing next. We definitely don’t have any plans for a new album or anything. It takes us quite a long time to write, and we don’t really write when we’re on tour, so I think we’ll need to take a break first and just have a think about what we’re going to do.
ILM: Can you tell us any more about the soundtrack, or is that under lock and key at the moment?
Stuart: I don’t want to say too much about it because the people making the film would probably rather make the announcement. But yeah, it’s something we’re looking forward to…!