Mogwai’s Central Belters: Stuart Braithwaite’s Ten Favourite Mogwai Songs
Dave Pollock chats to Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite about his favourite tracks from the past 20 years
As Mogwai release their perfectly-named 20th anniversary boxset Central Belters, Stuart Braithwaite selects his ten favourite tracks from the collection and tells us what they mean to the band …
‘Summer’, from Mogwai Young Team, 1996
It was the first song we really did as a band, and the first instrumental we recorded. It was a bit of music I’d written, a bit of music Dominic (Aitchison) had written, and we bashed it all together. The fact it turned out so well is the reason we went down the road we did. Every band starting out tries to go down every road at once, but this was the first time we knew what Mogwai sounded like.
‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, from Mogwai Young Team, 1997
It was one of the first songs that came together as a result of just playing together all the time, which we did at my parents’ house or Martin’s (Bulloch) parents’ house. We just played and played and played, and this felt like we’d taken a step up when we played it live. I love the way it keeps building, and it’s longer than anything we’d done. Yeah, it’s pretty much the only song that people moan about if we don’t play it live, which is a huge compliment after 18 years. If it was a human it could drink in a pub. It never gets boring to play, but it’s frustrating if we’re playing it somewhere and it’s not loud enough or people aren’t paying attention. I sometimes catch sight of someone reading their texts just before the really loud bit and think, ‘you’ll regret that in a minute, mate.’
‘Christmas Steps’, from Come On Die Young, 1999
It was the first thing we recorded after Young Team, when we were keen to get started on something else. It felt like another big progression, and it was the first song that (regular collaborator) Luke Sutherland played with us. In a weird way it felt like we’d got away with Young Team, it’s a really good record but at the time it felt rushed and stressful. So there wasn’t as much pressure as you’d think on this one.
‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’, from Rock Action, 2001
We recorded Rock Action with Dave Fridmann again after Come On Die Young, but this time we had a really big budget and we could do what we wanted. With that song we really tried everything, we managed to squeeze so many ideas and so many people on it; lots of singers, lots of instruments, lots of programming. But it’s a good tune and a good melody, that’s the fundamental of how what we do works.
‘Hunted By a Freak’, from Happy Songs For Happy People, 2003
I said in an interview recently that’s my favourite album of ours. It was a weird time, the guy who signed us to PIAS – John Niven, now a famed author – quit, and so did our manager. We had to take stock and it was a bit overwhelming, but we reacted by putting everything into that record. We did it really quickly in Glasgow, rather than flying over the world, and we were really happy with it. Barry (Burns) was a big part of what we did by then, he wrote that song. It’s quite different for us, it’s got a conventional pop structure.
‘Travel is Dangerous’, from Mr Beast, 2006
We don’t have many songs with vocals on them, especially not with Barry singing. It’s a great song, I’m so glad he tried it out because I can’t imagine it without his singing on it. We don’t sing much more than we used to, we just push the ones with singing more in the hope they get played on the radio.
‘Half Time’, from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2006
This was not long after we got our own studio, Castle of Doom in Glasgow, where we did Mr Beast, the soundtrack to The Fountain with Clint Mansell, and then this. This song’s at the heart of the Zidane film, which is one of the best things we’ve been involved in – it’s just Barry playing piano with tons of guitar over the top. Douglas (Gordon) and Phillippe (Parreno) had already shot the film and tried it with the Surgeon remix of ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ over it; Douglas dragged us into some art gallery in Glasgow and said, ‘what do you think?’ We were engrossed, it was a lot of fun. To be honest I thought it made people take us more seriously in Scotland, before we were just ‘local noiseniks’. In mainland Europe they’d always taken us seriously. Although fair enough, they probably didn’t have to listen to all the shite we said.
‘Batcat’, from The Hawk is Howling, 2008
We haven’t done too many really heavy songs over the years, and this is maybe the best one. It has a really demented structure and it’s fun to play, it shouldn’t really work but it does. What’s a batcat? I don’t know, it’s just classic nonsense. That’s how we name our songs, we just write down any nonsense we hear. Like, ‘Mr Beast’ was on a sign held up at an airport and it amused us at the time. Plus people assign their own really profound ideas to our titles, which I really like.
‘How to Be a Werewolf’, from Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, 2011
This was another really significant album. Aside from on Sub Pop in America, we put it out through our own label. When someone else puts your record out you just hand it in, but when you do it getting it finished is when the hard work starts. If it had died on its arse we would have had a real problem, but it did well. Starting our own label was one of the best things we’ve done, it’s so much easier to just take control of things and make them happen.
‘Remurdered’, from Rave Tapes, 2014
I think it’s maybe the best song on that record, another record that did really well on our own label. It was our most successful record so far and I’m not sure why, but I think most of the songs could have been played on the radio and it maybe got a bit more attention because (Mogwai’s soundtrack for the television series) Les Revenants was really popular. Although I like to think it was just our genius marketing campaign that did it.
Mogwai’s 20th anniversary boxset Central Belters is out now on Rock Action.