A quarter of a century on from their debut single, Mogwai are still rolling, laying waste to eardrums and naysayers. It’s easy to still picture the band as the brash kids who stood out like a sore thumb when they first emerged, but in truth they’re a world away from those lazy days and riotous nights.
You almost take for granted that a Mogwai record is going to be excellent; that sort of effortless appeal is only cultivated through hard work. They’ll likely be regarded as one of the finest Scottish bands of all time. At the same time, most people would walk by them without a flicker of recognition. Which is probably how the band likes it.
SNACK caught up with Stuart Braithwaite from the band to talk video calls, bogeys, how freezing the Tramway is, and of course, the band’s new album.
As The Love Continues is your tenth studio album. How do you feel, on the brink of releasing another record?
I’m excited about it, but it feels a bit weird. We’d normally be on tour and we’d likely do this interview in person, so everything has changed. I’m excited for people to hear the music.
It’s your tenth album, and you’ve been on a consistent run. Is the music something you think about and try to plan, or is it best not to plan too much?
We definitely think about it. We are quite conscientious about the fact we’ve been making music for a long time, and to expect people to want to hear more is a big ask. We keep that in mind, but there’s more than one songwriter, and that helps. With the three of us writing music, we push each other as well.
You’ve called it a ‘warm record’. Was that a conscious effort, or did this happen naturally?
We tend not to overthink things when we’re making music, other than trying to make the music as good as we can.
You recorded the album with Dave Fridmann via Zoom – any funny or bizarre working from home/video chat moments?
Not with Dave, but years ago we were doing music for The Fountain [director Darren Aronofsky’s epic romantic drama of 2006], and the director was on Skype watching us play. We could see him, and at times he was picking his nose, pure diving for bogeys, oblivious to us being able to see him.
Diving For Bogeys, is that a B-side of yours I’ve not heard yet?
Aye, that’s one we could have had!
In more normal circumstances, would you record like that again? Or will it be back to traditional methods?
It worked out pretty well, so I wouldn’t rule it out, but we’ll probably return to traditional methods. It’s better to be in the same room as someone when you are doing something creatively, but it worked out fine. We’ve got such a good relationship with Dave, but we’ll probably do it in person in the future.
You once again sing vocals on the album. Is the writing process different for the vocal songs compared to the instrumentals?
With the one we did here, it was a bit different. Normally, you would be adding more and more music, but the vocals were the last thing. It’s a bit different in that respect, as everyone had to finish the song with an imaginary bit of singing at the end.
What are your thoughts on singing, and would you do a solo album?
It’s okay in small doses. I wouldn’t count out a solo record [laughs] especially if we can never go out on tour again, but I’d probably do it differently. I’d maybe write the lyrics first, and do it the other way around.
It’s not something I overly enjoy, but then again, it’s quite good to put yourself in an uncomfortable position when you’re making things.
You’ve already discussed some of the new titles, so I’ll try to avoid ones I’ve read about, but can you tell us the story behind ‘Ceiling Granny’?
That is from Exorcist 3, where an old woman clambers along the ceiling of her room. We were watching it – it’s one of our favourite films – and someone went to the toilet. When they came back, they said ‘Oh no, have I missed the ceiling granny?’ So we took it from that.
Someone thought that was what Pat Smear, from The Germs and Foo Fighters, was called.
You released the ZeroZeroZero soundtrack last year – it’s finally coming to UK TV. Do you watch the shows and films you soundtrack after they’ve been released?
It’s a weird one in that I’m going to watch this one, because they hadn’t finished it, and we didn’t get the thing with subtitles. To be honest, I was in the dark with a lot of the stuff that was happening!
This one will be like seeing it for the first time, and I watched The Returned when that was on. Things that we watched over and over again, that I completely understood, I don’t feel the need to watch them again.
You’ve recorded a live show at The Tramway – how was that experience?
It was good. It felt like doing a radio session, but with a lot more cameras. A lot of people were asking if it would be weird to do a gig with no people but, with a band, you kind of do gigs with no people every once in a while anyway, for radio and TV.
I haven’t seen much of the set yet so I am excited to see how it turned out. The director, Antony Crook, is a talented guy and I’ve got a lot of faith in him.
Even when gigs have been busy, shows in the Tramway have felt cold. How was it in that respect?
It was cold, that was one thing. Thankfully gigs are not that cold, but we did play once outdoors in Vienna in February, which was horrendous. At most gigs you’re not cold when playing, and I really hate being cold. It got a bit warmer as the day wore on because of the lights, but yeah, that was a big difference, because sometimes gigs are very hot.
You said the recording process was more positive because of the current circumstances. How have you been personally during the lockdown?
I’ve been okay. It would be nice to go to my mum’s house and meet some pals in the pub or for dinner. As a musician, I work from home a lot of the time anyway, so it’s not been too bad. It’s dragging on though, and that’s a worry.
There’s people who are in a much worse position than me. I’ve got pals whose jobs stopped completely, and that’s coming up for a year since they could do their normal job. Some of them have picked up other stuff, but not everyone has been able to do that. It’s a really tough time for people involved in live music.
How long would it take to get things up and running for yourselves for a tour or shows?
I think we could turn it around quite quickly. We’d have to practice first, but honestly, if someone said to me ‘there’s a gig on Saturday and you have to play’, we would manage to play it. There’s such an energy to get back to it.
However, it’s not looking good for things happening in the summer, so I’ll guess around autumn time. That’s dependent on the vaccine rolling out smoothly, and then, hopefully there’ll be live music in autumn, which is something to look forward to.
Are you having a good Brexit?
Oh yeah, loving it, ha!
So, you were on Radio Scotland this morning, and they got your name wrong, calling you Stuart Galbraith.
That could be my cool new radio name.
Mind you, it might mean some other guy gets abuse for it rather than you?
I’ve weirdly got a lot of abuse on Twitter already from people who thought I was a Tory because I was on Radio Scotland, which is pretty interesting!
It looks as though Roger Daltrey has rolled back on his previous bluster about bands facing difficulties in playing in Europe.
I think when you’re in a band that plays to tens of thousands of people, you’re in a different situation to bands starting out. If you’re a band playing to 50 or 100 people, you’re basically covering your flights. If you then have to cover visa and carnet costs on top of it, it makes it impossible.
Not for the first time, Roger is talking shite.
Anyways, it’s 2021, there’s a new Mogwai album coming out, and things will move forward, won’t they?
I hope so. One of the things about this past year is that music, books, films and TV are what help you make it through tough times. I’m hoping people think about that a bit more in the way they consume music. There will definitely be a future.
Main photo credit: Antony Crook