Mogwai: 'We never in a million years imagined it becoming what it's become'
- Megan Forsyth
- 19 February 2021
Stuart Braithwaite discusses the band's new album As the Love Continues, the success of their own label, and how the government is sabotaging the music industry
'It feels like a long time ago. I just remember it being really exciting,' band leader Stuart Braithwaite says. 'I remember going and picking up the records from Glasgow Airport and trying to fit them all in my mum's car. I think for most bands, the first year or so when everything is brand new are some of the memories that they cherish the most.'
So much has happened in the quarter of a century since Mogwai's debut, and today the band releases its tenth studio album, As the Love Continues. Braithwaite and bandmates Dominic Aitchison, Martin Bulloch and Barry Burns reunited with long-time collaborator Dave Fridmann who has previously produced three of the band's studio albums, including 2017's Every Country's Sun. Mogwai recorded the new album at Vale Studios in the Worcestershire countryside last summer, with Fridmann producing the tracks remotely from America due to pandemic restrictions.
For a group of guys that have travelled all over the world on tour, the trip from Glasgow to Worcestershire to record the album was surprisingly thrilling after enduring months of lockdown. 'The whole thing was a little bit weird – and since we'd been cooped up all year, it felt like a holiday as well because we hadn't been anywhere,' Braithwaite laughs. 'We got together to rehearse so we saw each other, but we were still doing that in our own studio in Glasgow. Getting to drive to Worcestershire was very glamorous and exciting.'
Known for their consistently unconventional song titles, Mogwai continue the trend on As the Love Continues with tracks like 'To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth', 'Ceiling Granny' and 'It's What I Want To Do, Mum'. The predominantly instrumental album feels characteristically cinematic and ideal for late-night lockdown musings. It also boasts musical contributions from Nine Inch Nails' Atticus Ross (who the band previously collaborated with on the Before the Flood soundtrack) on 'Midnight Flit' and acclaimed saxophonist Colin Stetson (recognised for his work with Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Tom Waits) on 'Pat Stains'.
'I think maybe the Atticus one was a bit more complicated because it was an orchestra,' Braithwaite says of the collaborations. 'I wasn't around for this, but I think Atticus was in L.A., Tony [Doogan, producer] was in Glasgow and the orchestra were in Budapest or something, so it was truly an international internet recording session, but it turned out really, really great.'
The album's first single, the celestial 'Dry Fantasy', landed on BBC Radio 6's A-List in December. Released last month, the follow-up single 'Ritchie Sacramento' (a friend of the band mispronounced the name of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto) features rare vocals by Braithwaite. The first line of the song was taken from an anecdote that Bob Nastanovich (Pavement, Silver Jews) shared about his friend and bandmate David Berman, who proclaimed 'Rise Crystal Spear!' as he threw a shovel at a sports car.
'I was writing the lyrics and just kind of asked Bob if he minded me using the line,' Braithwaite recalls, noting that he has been majorly influenced by Berman's bands Silver Jews and Purple Mountains. 'I like that whenever we play the song, I'll think about Dave Berman because he was a brilliant guy. Really good guy and an amazing musician.' Berman took his own life in 2019 and Mogwai dedicated 'Ritchie Sacramento' to the many musician friends that they have lost over the years.
The band is, of course, also recognised for its work scoring various film and television soundtracks, most recently for the acclaimed Italian crime drama ZeroZeroZero, which recently premiered on Sky Atlantic in the UK. Although he appreciates the process of composing scores to complement footage, Braithwaite notes the different sense of freedom that crafting the band's own album offers.
'With film and TV you're working as part of a team so you're really doing what the director wants you to do, obviously within the remits of it still sounding like us,' he says. 'But you'll have a lot of direction, whereas with our own records we just always do what we want so they're pretty different. The mechanics of it are pretty similar – getting in a room and making music – but they definitely feel like different projects.'
Back in October when the UK government unveiled a tone-deaf marketing campaign encouraging artists to retrain in new fields, Mogwai simply tweeted: 'We have no plans to retrain'. But now with the UK having left the EU, making a living is becoming increasingly more challenging for touring musicians who have already suffered a financially devastating year due to the pandemic. So how did Braithwaite react to the news last month that the UK had rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians in the EU?
'I was furious – absolutely furious,' he says. 'Especially since they'd already lied about it and said that the EU had said it wasn't possible. Then when that person organised the petition, 250,000 people signed it and then it just came out that [the UK] said no. It beggars belief and it seems their reasoning is just so they can be shitty to European musicians. They're willing to sell out an entire industry just so they can be xenophobic.'
He also fears how this will limit opportunities for up-and-coming independent bands who ultimately can't afford the increased cost of touring. 'Add in the few extra thousand pounds or whatever it's going to be and it's just going to make it impossible,' he says. 'And I think it's going to really affect the musicians that come here. That we're not going to be able to see the next Christine and the Queens playing in King Tut's. We're probably going to have to wait until they're playing the Barrowlands. And will they get to that point? Because they'll have missed out on the building blocks of getting up there.'
Despite the past year being the most challenging time the music industry has likely ever faced, there have been some positives. Tim Burgess' Twitter Listening Parties have kept music fans occupied and remotely connected throughout a year of neverending lockdowns, including Braithwaite, who shared memories at dedicated listening parties for Mogwai albums Come On Die Young (1999) and Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (2011). He's now looking forward to diving into the band's brand new album at another event hosted by The Charlatans frontman next week on Thu 25 Feb.
'Those are really good things for Tim to do. I think it was a really nice way of giving people a sense of community when everyone's really isolated,' he says. 'I'm really looking forward to this one especially since it's the new record. It's not going to be nostalgic like the other ones – it'll be more like living in the now, so I'm really excited about it.'
Given that the band would typically already be on the road ahead of a new album release, Braithwaite admits that it feels strange being at home in Glasgow right now. Widely recognised for their ear-splitting gigs, Mogwai opted to perform As The Love Continues in full at a live streamed show which was recorded at Glasgow's Tramway and directed by the band's long-term collaborator Antony Crook. Virtually broadcast around the world last Saturday, the performance film is now available to watch online until Thu 25 Feb.
Braithwaite lights up when asked about Rock Action Records, which has found plenty of success in recent years with Sacred Paws' debut Strike A Match named the Scottish Album of the Year in 2017, and The Twilight Sad's 2019 effort It Won/t Be Like This All The Time landing in the UK Top 20.
'We started the label to bring out the first seven-inch so it was something we wanted right from the start, but we never in a million years imagined it becoming what it's become,' he says. 'So like a lot of things with the band, it's happened quite gradually but quite consistently. It's something that I'm really, really proud of, especially some of the records we've been lucky to put out in the last few years.'
Next month, Rock Action is releasing Arab Strap's highly-anticipated first album in 16 years ('They're one of my favourite bands and I'm really excited about people hearing that,' he says), while critical darlings The Twilight Sad and Kathryn Joseph are both currently working on new music as well.
Asked if Mogwai has any soundtracks or other projects of their own currently in the pipeline, Braithwaite admits: 'We don't actually, so if anyone's reading this that's making a movie or a TV show and wants us to do the music then give us a shout. We're free and available to work!'
As the Love Continues is out today (19 Feb) on Rock Action Records.