Mogwai's seventh studio album radiates diversity and sense of purpose - interview
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will - 2011 tour dates
Post-rock heroes Mogwai may now live on different continents, but it’s not stopped them producing an awesome seventh album, reports Nadine McBay
As record titles go, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will provokes a pause. Utterly fatuous and perversely profound, it is the name of Mogwai’s seventh studio album since forming in Glasgow 15 years ago. But there’s no sense of finality here; rather Scotland’s premier emotional shock troops have delivered an album radiating vitality and sense of purpose.
‘Seven records is more than some people own, let alone have recorded,’ says Stuart Braithwaite, the Mogwai principal, from his Lanarkshire home. ‘People haven’t made any attempt to stop us doing them yet. Until an angry bunch of villagers rise up against us, we’ll keep doing it.’
Twitching with vigour, Hardcore is Mogwai’s most diverse outpouring to date, careering from staccato math-rock on opener ‘White Noise’ through the stoner sizzle of download giveaway ‘Rano Pano’ to the characteristic piano figures of ‘Letters to the Metro’.
Whereas the odd brave soul suggested that Hardcore’s predecessors, 2006’s Mr Beast and 2008’s stately The Hawk is Howling looked too longingly at Mogwai’s own past, Hardcore is firmly in the present, and showcases a band willing to push themselves again.
‘We recorded quite a lot of songs for this record – about 20 – and were conscious of not using songs that were very typical of us,’ says Braithwaite. ‘The last time we had that many was with Rock Action [Mogwai’s third album, released in 2001, and their most commercially successful LP to date]. We did think it’d have to be quite different for people to buy a seventh album, a number which seems both extraordinary and hilarious to me.’
Hardcore was the product of a long distance creative process, with guitarist/keyboardist Barry Burns and guitarist John Cummings inputting and exchanging ideas from Berlin and New York respectively before the band got together at Hamilton’s Chem19 Studios, with Paul Savage producing. It was the first time they’d worked with the former Delgado-cum-Scottish superproducer since 1997’s Mogwai album Young Team.
The record comes in the wake of the end of longstanding relationships with Matador in the US and Play It Again Sam in Europe. Now signed to Sub Pop in North America, in the UK and Europe, Mogwai will release Hardcore on their own Rock Action label.
‘Putting the record out ourselves gave us a real focus that perhaps we’ve never had before,’ affirms Braithwaite, after describing this year’s Special Moves live album, and its accompanying film Burning as drawing a line under the band’s first era. ‘When we first started we were very young and very daft. For the most part since then there’s always been someone running after us, picking up the pieces. Here, we had that safety net taken away and were just determined to do everything as properly as we could. We definitely, definitely didn’t want to look daft. That’s always been quite a strong motivating factor.’
This five-date Scottish run will be a warm-up for an extensive trawl through Europe, the US and Canada that sees the quintet not returning home until May. On the latter dates, time-lapse photography by Antony Crook – whose shot of New York’s Hudson river graces Hardcore’s cover (see right) – will be projected.
For a band whose live shows often feel as pacey as coastal erosion, a startling feature of Hardcore is how fast some tracks are – the pulsing ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and hurtling fury of ‘San Pedro’ being prime examples.
‘The fastest is “George Square Thatcher Death Party”, which is about 152bpm, ned techno speed,’ Braithwaite says, divulging that 80s New Order producer Arthur Baker advised the band to replace that track’s vocodered vocals with genuine singing. ‘He said we could get on the radio with it. I had this horror show image of us finally having a hit single.’
And that title? It was overheard by James Hamilton from avant-electro men machines Errors when a shopkeeper denied drink to an underage youth. Like Errors, Mogwai’s Rock Action charges, Braithwaite’s outfit have long allied serious music with a wry sense of humour. It was evident as early as 1996, when a few minutes of foreboding swirl was included on a cassette given out to attendees of Glasgow’s Ten Day Weekend Festival. Its name? The gravity-defying ‘I Am Not Batman’.
On Hardcore, ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ and the beefy, Boards Of Canada-recalling ‘Too Raging To Cheers’ sit with the equally confounding ‘Letters to the Metro’. But rather than the latter’s plaintive piano being some sort of exasperated, wistful comment on the text-speak insults and ribald rants printed in the daily freesheet, it is, as Braithwaite puts it, ‘one of the top five worst song titles ever’.
‘There’s a track on the last album called ‘Local Authority’,’ says Braithwaite with a titter. ‘I remember Barry [Burns] saying “That’s just too shit”. The cat’s out of the bag now, we know a lot of the titles are ridiculous and we basically don’t give a fuck about them. Still, maybe not many people outside of Britain are going to get ‘Letters to the Metro’. Maybe people will think it’s vaguely poetic, a kind of ode to underground transport. I wish we’d never let on, and that people thought there was a profound meaning behind them.’
He needn’t be so rueful: when hardcore is as compelling as it is here, that supposedly tongue-in-cheek title is simply true.
Tolbooth, Stirling, Wed 26 Jan; Town Hall, Paisley, 27 Jan; Perth Theatre, 28 Jan; Music Hall, Aberdeen, 29 Jan; Grand Ole Opry, Glasgow, 30 Jan; Picture House, Edinburgh, Mon 21 Feb. www.mogwai.co.uk Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is out on Rock Action Records, Mon 14 Feb.
Anatomy of an album
A full-time producer since The Delgados split in 2005, Savage last worked with Mogwai on their landmark 1997 debut Young Team. His work with The Phantom Band and The Twilight Sad partly spawned the reunion, plus, recording at his Chem19 studio isn’t like being trapped in a fallout shelter. ‘We always enjoy working at Chem19 – it has windows,’ says Braithwaite. ‘It’s also quite near my house.’
Limited edition versions of Hardcore … feature ‘The Singing Mountain’, a 26-min track written under the direction of artist Gordon for he and Olaf Nicolai’s ‘Monument For A Forgotten Future’. It follows a 2006 collaboration with him on his Zinedine Zidane documentary.
Not music thievery, but the long distance creative process necessitated by guitarist John Cummings being in New York and multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns now living in Berlin. ‘I think it was to the benefit of the record as it forced us all to focus on our own parts,’ says Braithwaite.
What better way to tribute the man than to name your bludgeoning eight and a half minutes closing track after him? We’ve been thinking all night long and it’s not easy. (Groan).
In contrast to The Hawk Is Howling’s lurid eagle cover, Hardcore … features a hazy dawn over the Hudson river. Antony Crook’s shot has the dignified elegance evident in the Bolton-born photographer’s fashion and portraiture.
Musician, novelist and, in the words of Braithwaite, general ‘talented bastard’, Luke Sutherland has been a long-time contributor to Mogwai since the break up of his lithe 90s outfit Long Fin Killie.
Mogwai 2011 Tour Dates
For updates see: http://www.mogwai.co.uk
26 Jan: Tolbooth, Stirling (www.ticketsoup.com / 01786 274000)
27 Jan: Paisley Town Hall (www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/onlinebooking /0141 887 1010)
28 Jan: Perth Theatre, Perth (www.horsecross.co.uk / 01738 621 031)
29 Jan: The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (www.boxofficeaberdeen.com)
30 Jan: Grand Ole Opry, Glasgow (www.seetickets.com / 0871 220 0260)
2 Feb: Tokyo, Japan (More details to follow)
13 Feb: Mandela Hall, Belfast (www.ticketmaster.ie / 0844 847 2455)
14 Feb: The Live Lounge, Galway (www.ticketmaster.ie / 0818 719 300)
15 Feb: Olympia Theatre, Dublin (www.ticketmaster.ie / 0818 719 300)
17 Feb: Bournemouth O2 Academy (www.ticketweb.co.uk /0844 477 2000)
18 Feb: Cardiff University (www.seetickets.com / 02920 230130)
19 Feb: Bristol O2 Academy (www.seetickets.com / 0870 4444400)
20 Feb: Leeds O2 Academy (www.ticketweb.co.uk / 0844 477 2000)
21 Feb: Edinburgh Picture House (www.seetickets.com / 0871 220 0260)
23 Feb: The Regal, Oxford (www.kililive.com / www.tctmusic.co.uk )
24 Feb: Birmingham Institute (www.seetickets.com /0870 264 3333, www.ticketweb.co.uk /0844 477 1000, www.hmvtickets.com / 0843 221 0100)
25 Feb: Brixton O2 Academy London (www.seetickets.com / 0870 264 3333, www.stargreen.com / 0207 734 8932, www.ticketweb.co.uk / 0844 477 1000)
26 Feb: Manchester Academy (www.seetickets.com / 0870 264 3333, www.ticketline.co.uk / 0844 888 9991)
27 Feb: The Sage Gateshead (www.thesagegateshead.org /0191 443 4661)
Tickets for the February dates are £20 in advance for everywhere except London which are £22.50.
Tickets are also available via http://mogwaitickets.sandbag.uk.com
6 Mar: Mousonturm, Frankfurt, Germany (www.eventim.de/mogwai )
7 Mar: Backstage, Munich, Germany (www.eventim.de/mogwai )
8 Mar: WuK, Vienna, Austria (www.oeticket.com)
9 Mar: Estragon, Bologna, Italy (www.ticketone.it )
10 Mar: Alcatraz, Milan, Italy (www.ticketone.it )
11 Mar: Rote Fabrik, Zurich, Switzerland (www.rotefabrik.ch )
13 Mar: Den Atelier, Luxembourg (www.atelier.lu )
14 Mar: Stollwerck, Cologne, Germany (www.eventim.de/mogwai )
15 Mar: Paradiso, Amsterdam, Holland (www.paradiso.nl / www.ticketservice.nl )
17 Mar: Trianon, Paris, France (http://www.alias-production.fr/prochainement-en-concert-mogwai-67.html )
18 Mar: Aeronef, Lille, France (http://www.fnacspectacles.com/ )
19 Mar: La Laiterie, Strasbourg, France (http://billetterie.artefact.org/ecomm/action/view/productId/461 )
20 Mar: Transbordeur, Lyon, France (http://www.fnacspectacles.com/ )
21 Mar: Theatre Lino Ventura, Nice, France (http://www.fnacspectacles.com/ )
22 Mar: Le Bikini, Toulouse, France (http://www.lebikini.com/billetterie/#billetterie )
24 Mar: Rockschool Barbey, Bordeaux, France (http://www.fnacspectacles.com/ )
25 Mar: BBC, Caen, France (http://www.fnacspectacles.com/ )
26 Mar: AB, Brussels, Belgium (www.livenation.be / www.abconcerts.be )
28 Mar: Gruenspan, Hamburg, Germany (www.eventim.de/mogwai )
29 Mar: Postbahnhof, Berlin, Germany (www.eventim.de/mogwai )
30 Mar: Vega Copenhagen, Denmark (http://www.billetlugen.dk/home/ )
31 Mar: Voxhall, Aarhus, Denmark (http://voxhall.dk/ )
1 Apr: Tradgarn, Gothenburg, Sweden
2 Apr: Rockefeller, Oslo, Norway (www.billettservice.no )
3 Apr: Debaser Medis, Stockholm, Sweden
5 Apr: Tavastia, Helsinki, Finland (www.tiketti.fi )
19 Apr: 9.30 Club, Washington DC
20 Apr: Starlight Ballroom, Philadelphia
21 Apr: Webster Hall, New York
22 Apr: Webstar Hall, New York
23 Apr: Paradise Rock Club, Boston
25 Apr: Olympia Theater, Montreal
26 Apr: Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
27 Apr: Mr. Smalls Theatre, Pittsburgh
28 Apr: St. Andrews Hall, Detroit
29 Apr: Metro, Chicago
30 Apr: Slowdown, Omaha
2 May: Bluebird Theater, Denver
3 May: In The Venue, Salt Lake City
5 May: Wonder Ballroom, Portland
6 May: Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver
7 May: Showbox at the Market, Seattle
9 May: Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
10 May: Mayan Theater, Los Angeles
11 May: Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach
13 May: Sunshine Theatre, Albuquerque
15 May: Granada Theatre, Dallas
16 May: Stubbs Waller Creek, Austin
17 May: Warehouse Live, Houston
19 May: Workplay Theater, Birmingham
20 May: Center Stage, Atlanta