Interview: Stuart Braithwaite deconstructs Mogwai
An examination of what makes them great, ahead of their 2011 UK tour
‘For our first few years this was our raison d’être’ says Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite of a technique that came to define the band’s early, and much revered, nerve-shredding sound. That jolt as the volume soared and dipped without warning proved both compelling and utterly thrilling and came to be something we expected from the Glasgow outfit. Of course they’ve since pushed themselves in a variety of different sonic directions, and 16 years and seven stunning studio albums on, have honed their craft with the resulting music being much more linear. We’ll never forget the teeth-clenching, rip your own hair out heavy, bipolar post-rock malevolence of ‘Like Herod’ though. Never.
20% Wit and cheeky banter
They’re about as far from your media-courting pop puppets as you could possibly get, but Mogwai have never been ones to shy away from a bit of public shit-stirring. ‘It’s just in the Glaswegian and Lanarkshire DNA to be truthful,’ says Braithwaite when we question him about the band’s tendency for banter and celeb-baiting mischief, before adding, ‘I think we could probably have done without saying half the daft stuff we’ve said over the years.’ Here we have to disagree. James Blunt, Robbie Williams, Pitchfork critics, Annie Lennox, Fred Durst, Axl Rose, Gorillaz and Test Icicles (who?) have all fallen foul of Mogwai’s sardonic slaying in the past, and what would 1999’s T in the Park have been without those legendary ‘blur: are shite’ T-shirts, printed up in reaction to the news they’d been billed at the same time on different stages? Long may they rage and pour scorn.
20% knee-tremblingly loud live gigs
Want to know what tinnitus feels like? A Mogwai show should do it. ‘I think we’ve always felt that music should be felt as well as heard,’ says Braithwaite of their notoriously noisy performances. And feel their music we do. Surrounded by rattling glasses and punters with ear plugs The List has witnessed too many of these magnificent displays to mention and can testify to just how powerful and stomach-churning they are. Emotion, rage and melancholy at their most thunderous. Close your eyes for ultimate impact.
‘I don’t think 2011 would have been the same without the help we had from Luke Sutherland, Paul Savage or Antony Crook,’ says Braithwaite when asked about the importance of collaboration to Mogwai’s make-up. Sutherland has played violin and contributed vocals and guitar to their most recent records and live performances, Savage is an ex-Delgado and legendary producer who worked on the band’s Ten Rapid (Collected Recordings 1996–1997), Mogwai Young Team and Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will and Crook is a talented Bolton-born photographer turned film-maker – see his captivating video for ‘San Pedro’ (below). But these are just the recent ones, over the years Mogwai have teamed up with a whole host of creatives including Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat (see below), Magoo, Clint Mansell, Roky Erickson (they have a knack for picking good’uns) with exquisite results, and during our interview Braithwaite tantalisingly lets slip about ‘plans to do a few soundtracks next year’. But that’s all he’ll tell us.
5% beards (members of the band and fans)
So, despite Braithwaite’s claim that he ‘can’t grow a proper one’, The List reckons Mogwai are a beardy kind of band. You know what we mean, right? There’s always facial fuzz-a-plenty on the boys at their shows, that and plaid shirts, and they make reflective music to stroke your hairy chin to. What do you mean you’ve never tried it? Pah.
5% singing (to be used sparingly)
‘It’s important when it’s there, though it’s patently never been a big part of our music,’ says Braithwaite about the vocals, or lack of, in their music, before adding, ‘if any of us could sing like Bowie or write like Cohen that would not be case.’ Bowie or Cohen couldn’t reduce grown-ups to tears with one pummelling riff though, could they? And when Mogwai do include voices on their records you know you need to listen carefully. Less is more, etc, etc.
Mogwai play the Barrowland, Glasgow, Thu 22 Dec, supported by Errors.