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Interview With Stuart Braithwaite Of Mogwai

12 April 2014

Has it really been almost two decades since Mogwai first made their tentative steps into the world via their debut single, “Tuner” (which, ironically, featured vocals)? Listening to the songs from the early stages of their career, it’s hard to imagine the leaps and bounds they would make, first forging the standard against which all post-rock bands are measured, and then saying fuck all to pigeonholing as they expanded their palette and reach with each post- Young Team recording. I had a chance to talk with de facto band leader Stuart Braithwaite before they headed overseas to start their North American tour in support of their newest record, Rave Tapes.

Rave Tapes is the second straight release to get the deluxe box treatment. Will this be the case going forward?

I don’t know. I guess it depends on the release. We didn’t do it with the soundtrack album. I suppose it all comes down to demand, if people like them we’ll probably keep doing them. I buy a lot of records and I like those kinds of things too. As long as you’re not ripping people off.

I suppose the postage costs quite a bit, due to the weight.

That is true. We sold them in stores as well, in the record shops over on this side of the world. It depends, for people who are really big collectors and like accumulating objects they’ll get excited about it, but for the people who just want the music they’ll get the normal version.

With the synth-heavy (or at least heavier) sound of Rave Tapes, does this mark a Kid A type of turning point for the band?

I don’t think so. I think with that band, they drastically changed the music side of things, but with us it’s just a slight more emphasis on a certain instrument. I don’t think it’s that radical to be honest. Barry used his modular synth on a lot of songs but I think the actual songs themselves aren’t so different from songs we’ve done in the past.

“Repelish” is a fairly polarizing track- people either like it or really dislike it. What was the idea behind the song, and how did you decide to place that song relative to the track sequencing?

I don’t think there was a lot of discussion as to where it would end up. We knew it definitely wasn’t going to be the start, and we knew it wasn’t going to be the end, so I guess we just put it in the middle, last song on the first side. We had the the music worked out already and we were searching out for stuff, and then Barry had heard this Christian recording and it just worked. It’s funny because some people really didn’t like it, but we’ve done that sort of thing before and people didn’t really give a shit! (laughs) You can’t keep everybody happy. We learned that a long time ago.

Reading some of the reviews of the record, there are critics complaining about the lack of progression in your sound, while others lament about the loss of LOUDsoftLOUD dynamic epics like “Mogwai Fear Satan” anymore. Do you read the reviews of your records?

Yeah I read them all. I’m interested in people’s take on what we’ve done. I guess records are a weird one because nine out of ten times the record goes to someone who wouldn’t normally listen to the music. It’s fine. Maybe ten years ago I’d get upset if someone talked shit about us, but now I think ‘Oh well.’ Not everyone can like everything. I have friends who have completely different tastes of music than me, and we’re not going to fall out with me liking one record and them liking another record.

I guess the reason it doesn’t bother me at all is that they really have a lot less influence than they used to. Because people can hear the record, most records now have streams up front and people can make their own opinions. The critics don’t have the same opinion-forming powers that they used to. If someone really hates your record then fine; people who like your band will check out the record anyway. It’s when the people who like your band hate record, then that’s a real problem (laughs). Thankfully we’ve managed to keep them on our side.

Of all bands who’ve played the All Tomorrow’s Parties events, you are probably the one most strongly associated with it. What are your thoughts on the end of the UK holiday camp and US-based events?

Oh, they’re not doing any in America?

Barry Hogan made that comment after the ill-fated event in New York City, at the Pier 46 site in 2012. I don’t know if he was completely serious but I haven’t seen anything on the calendar.

Yeah, that’s a shame. We played at the one upstate with Dinosaur and My Bloody Valentine and it was great, it was really good. I don’t know if there’s much of a tradition in America about people going away to holiday camps. Maybe that wouldn’t enter people’s psyches about marrying that experience with music, so maybe it didn’t catch on in the same way it did in England. It’s a shame, but they’ve done it for a long time and had some really good ones, had lots of great performances and people had a really good time. They’ve not stopped putting on events. They’re still doing things. But it’s always good to go out on a high note.

I went to all three of the ones up at Kutsher’s and I thought the fact that there was a self-contained community was a real plus.

It’s good for the bands to watch all the other bands and meet people during the weekend. There were a lot of good things about it.

Were there any bands that you really tried to get as curators but couldn’t?

The main one was Codeine and they eventually did reform about ten years after we’ve been asking them, we’d been after them for years. Loop as well. That was a cool thing as well, of the bands that we’d been trying to get for years, we actually succeeded. Loop was a really big one. It was good that we got them in the end.

Speaking of Codeine, Chris Brokaw told me to tell you that you’re a wee bald twat.

(laughs) That’s very true! Tell Chris that he’s a lovely man with impeccable manners.

Les Revenants is a brilliant show, and your music fit the mood perfectly. How were you approached to work on the project and had you seen any episodes prior to creating the music?

Fabrice, the director liked our music on the Zidane film and liked it, so he asked us and told us the story and we liked it. We were just coming on tour, the last American tour in 2012, we did quite a lot of the music for the series and had some records and some things he’d given us. We were all happy with how it turned out and how well it was received. We’re gonna start working on the second season soon.

Who is your favorite character?

I’m gonna forget the names, but the young sister-

Camille?

Yeah, Camille. She was really good.

Aside from “Hungry Face,” and possibly “Fridge Magic” when Simon popped out of the morgue, did you have any specific songs that were trying to key in with specific scenes?

They really placed the music for us. We’d given them all the music, and they came back and asked us to lengthen a few things, but when i saw the finished show on TV was the first time I’d seen the music along side the story. So it was a good way to see it but i thought they did a really good job, and it was their doing more than ours.

Mogwai’s music is mostly instrumental, but occasionally you’ll have guest vocals or Barry will sing, though you’ve sung in the past as well but only on studio recordings? I don’t think I’ve seen you sing live.

I’ve been doing it more on this tour. I’ve probably sang most nights, and if I haven’t gotten weary of it I’ll still be doing it by the time we get to America.

How do you choose what songs ultimately get vocals and lyrics?

With some of them, ones like “CODY” and “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” were always normal songs, written for guitar and vocals. Other ones like “Travel Is Dangerous” and even “Blues Hour” on the new record, the whole song was finished and then it was “right, we need something else” and with those two it worked out well. We’ve tried it before and it hasn’t worked so we just abandoned everything, but yeah, that’s the truth there.

Was Mogwai asked to play the Matador 21 event?

We were. But we weren’t on tour at the time so it was going to be too difficult to get over there. It’s a real shame because that was going to be amazing, it would have been a lot of fun.

Tell me a bit about the upcoming reissue of Come On Die Young.

There’s going to be 17 extra tracks, most of which haven’t been released before. It’s quite exciting, actually. We’ve been quite surprised during the process of finding recordings from around that time. We’d actually started making the record in Glasgow before we went to New York and recorded with Dave Fridmann, so there’s a bunch of songs that ended up on the album, but there’s one totally new song, one song that we only did for one Peel session, and a lot different versions. I think as reissues go, this will be a good one.

What are some of your favorite songs to play live?

Some of the older ones like “Mogwai Fear Satan” or “Auto Rock”, and I enjoy the new ones as well. Really, because there are so many songs, it tends to be the ones that we play are the ones we’re happy to be playing. One of the best things about having a new record is that you’re not having to play every single song you know every night.

You’ve got a pretty big repertoire of songs now. When you are in rehearsals, I’m sure you have the core set but are there some that you play around with to see if you remember all the parts, and to get all the sounds right?

Yeah- we’ve added a lot of songs for this tour but are probably going to trim it down to about twenty or so.

How do you come up with set list? is it a democratic process?

No, I usually do it to be honest. Sometimes people say “Can we not do that?” Usually {I didn’t catch what he said}. Maybe for some of the festivals we’ll collaborate and make sure we don’t forget a good song or something, but it’s usually my job.

Sorry, I didn’t catch why people wouldn’t want to do a specific song?

Injuries.

Injuries?

Yeah, someone’s sore, too sore to play a certain song because they’ve hurt themselves.

Is touring with Mogwai a pretty physical activity?

Yeah, actually Martin our drummer is resting since he hurt himself playing football, and we’ve got another guy, Jonny Scott playing drums at the moment. But Martin should be back soon.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Mogwai?

I don’t know. People used to think we were serious but that’s been blown out of the water. I really don’t know. Maybe you should tell me because I don’t really know.

Personally, I think people feel like the band re-hashes ideas and I don’t think that’s true. I felt it was a big jump to go from The Hawk Is Howling to Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will. There were some really heavy David Pajo influence, but Aerial M rather than Slint, and there were the motorik rhythms that I’d not heard before.

I think that’s true as well. Usually when people say that as well, they haven’t really heard the new stuff, or they just don’t give a shit.

I think if it’s more of a casual fan, there’s so much music out there and it’s hard to get a strong identity with specific recordings. People just put stuff on shuffle and don’t listen to it intently.

That’s true. I agree. Thank you for saying that, that’s nice.

 

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