In Conversation: Mogwai

Stuart Braithwaite and Barry Burns speak to Clash...

A lot can change in twenty years. Two decades on from the release of ‘Young Team’, the post-rock masterpiece that spawned a thousand imitations, Mogwai are back. Older, bigger, better, wiser – and unafraid to crank up their amps till they’ve battered your eardrums and rearranged your world view.

In recent years, they’ve turned their attentions to soundtracks – lending noise and atmosphere to ‘Atomic’, ‘Les Revenants’ and ‘Before The Flood’. But their ninth studio album, the majestic ‘Every Country’s Sun’, finds them writing for themselves for the first time since 2014’s ‘Rave Tapes’. Recorded at regular collaborator Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York, they holed up with whiskey and horror films, as the world outside turned upside down when Donald Trump was elected President.

This creeping dread infiltrates the record, but it’s not without its surprises – or deft, light touches. ‘Party In The Dark’, melodic and frayed with fuzz, sees Stuart Braithwaite’s voice float over surely be the most radio-friendly track in their history, whilst ‘Brain Sweeties’ employs organs to irresistible effect.

And at their homecoming show, in Glasgow’s immense “spaceship” stadium, the SSE Hydro, they’ve finally found somewhere vast enough to accommodate their glorious, speaker-shredding racket. The last stop of a world tour spanning months, it’s a fitting crescendo for a band committed to making a bloody big noise.

We meet them before to talk about the new record.

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You chose to debut this album in a live setting at Primavera. Why?

Stuart Braithwaite: Because they asked us.

Barry Burns: We’ve not got any ideas of our own. But yeah, pretty much.

S: Yeah, we actually had to be convinced to do it but it turned out fine.

B: And it’s good that we can actually play those songs live, because we wouldn’t have bothered learning them – just picked out the ones we thought we could play.

It’s the first album you’ve done in a while that isn’t a soundtrack. How does it feel to write for yourselves again?

S: It’s easier, because you don’t have to please anyone apart from yourselves.

B: And we’re easy pleased!

S: It was good fun. It felt quite nice, soundtracks are quite good too but it feels more like you’re under pressure doing that. But you’re always under pressure to make it as good as you can.

B: But there’s an extra level of pressure with making the soundtracks.

S: The pressure of getting sacked!

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How was the writing process? With Barry in Berlin, I know you use Dropbox as a way to share ideas.

B: It’s dead easy. We’ve done that for eight, nine years – and even before that, we’d write alone. Maybe we should write songs together? Imagine it was amazing, and we’d been missing out all this time. We have to get together at some point to rehearse, but not for too long.

You recorded in Dave Fridmann’s studio in remote, upstate New York. How did you find such an immersive recording process?

B: Brilliant. He’s a great guy, the studio’s amazing, you can’t do anything else but work and drink a lot – which is good fun. And watch horror films. The problem with the Glasgow studio is it’s just round the corner from a lot of our houses and you can just go around the corner, go home early…

I know that you were recording in America around the time of the election, how was that?

S: I don’t know if it made any difference to the record, but it was definitely weird. Because the area is quite rural, and there were a lot of Trump signs around. I mean, Dave’s a very liberal guy but he was quite upset about it. He didn’t think it was going to be this bad.

B: Had a day off in Toronto and drove down to Buffalo to see him. And he was going off his head about it. The result was funny for about five minutes. It was kind of like stepping into a nightmare.

S: The guy that plays a businessman on television is now the president!

How are you feeling about tonight, and taking this album back to Glasgow?

B: Excited. The nerves haven’t kicked in yet, but after last night, for the first time in London, it felt like a warm-up gig for another show. It’s like a big spaceship we’re playing, the Hydro!

Sacred Paws are on the bill, part of the roster at your record label, Rock Action. How does it feel to foster creative talent in Glasgow?

B: Great. I mean, Out Lines – they’re amazing. It just sprung out of nowhere, almost. I’d just heard the album, then it was released. It’s great that Sacred Paws are playing, because I remember when they won the (Scottish Alternative Album of the Year) award. I’m not an awards person, but they were amazing. I saw them playing the other night and it was great. Sounded brilliant.

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‘Party In The Dark’ is a bit of a departure for Mogwai! How did it come about?

S: We actually just played a bit faster. It’s not that different from our other songs, it’s just faster. It was just one of the demos, sounded like that and Dave’s just good at that kind of thing and we just went for it. He just kind of encouraged it.

What was influencing you when you made it?

S: Nothing, really. We’re not very conceptual. There’s no specificity. We just, yeah… We don’t tend to listen to a lot of other music when we’re recording, because it can be quite stressful, when you’ve not finished recording. There’s a thin line between shite and unfinished!

Do the songs change in the studio for you?

S: Yeah, they do change. Not too much, but they do. Dave had some ideas for things, when some things are working or they’re not.

B: They really change in the mix with Dave as well.

S: He’s a great engineer but his mixing… I mean, ‘Party In The Dark’ sounded completely different. And when it was done, we were like wow, how did that happen? He’s got good shite-polishing skills!

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'Every Country's Sun' is out now.

Words: Marianne Gallagher / @SoLongMarianne

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