INTERVIEW

We never thought we’d hear this man liken his band to erstwhile pop megastars Abba, but in response to an admittedly fairly pretentious question.

mogwai

“OH GOD, I HATE JEREMY CLARKSON”

We never thought we’d hear this man liken his band to erstwhile pop megastars Abba, but in response to an admittedly fairly pretentious question (‘The length and complexity of your music sometimes mirrors that found in classical music. Would it be fair to say that you’re closer to composers rather than rock musicians?’), bam! There it is – Stuart Braithwaite – Mogwai’s abrasively good guitarist – draws parallels between his music and that of Benny and Björn.

“That is a nice observation,” he says of the ‘composer’ reference, with a half-smile on his face, “but I definitely think that what we do is, very essentially, rock music. To be honest, I think that some of the structure – maybe not the lengths, but the structures of the songs – are not far away from what Abba do… yeah, recurring melodies, and middle eights and all that kinda stuff. I think our music’s quite pop. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Probably the songs people like, ha ha!”

We’re sitting with Stuart in the relative comfort of the press area at Flow Festival, an hour or so before the band are due on stage. He’s affable and relaxed, which – given Mogwai’s gruelling recent touring schedule – he has every right not to be; this show is somewhere in the region of their ninetieth this year. It’s been a slog travel-wise, but the band, by all accounts, have been on top form while gigging to promote ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’, released earlier this year.

So how does it feel when you’re really ‘on it’ on stage, I ask, when you can feel that fire and intensity run through you? “Pretty good,” he laughs. “Yeah, it’s definitely… that’s kinda what you hope to happen, and it doesn’t automatically happen. Sometimes you can’t really chase it, and you can’t escape the mechanics of what’s going on, but when you get lost in the music and stuff, it’s pretty amazing. Yeah, it’s good. You don’t want to get too lost, or you start forgetting what the next chord is!”

Mogwai have been here at Flow before, but the event has become slightly bigger since the last time they played, and this time they’re on a larger second stage. The timings this weekend have panned out fortuitously too, so they’re not up against the crowd-gobbling megastar headliner that is Kanye West. But even if they were, the volume of their performance might have a few heads turning back in their direction. It’s always loud out in the crowd, but how does Stuart like his monitor mix on stage? “It’s dis-gusting,” he smiles. “So loud. Dominic, who stands next to me, gets really mad about it. He’s got his in-ear monitors, and he says he can’t hear them properly because I’ve got so many wedges [stage monitor speakers]. But it’s ‘cos my amp’s really loud, so I need it all to be as loud! It’s good to feel your trousers flapping about. These are too tight to flap”, he says, nodding at his skinny britches, “but maybe the ankles, ha ha!”

‘Hardcore Will Never Die…’ has been widely critically praised, and is essentially Mogwai doing what they do best – moulding complex song structures and instrumentation into sonic landscapes of sometimes, breathtaking beauty. You might expect Stuart to prefer that creative process to the long hard slog of the road, but on the contrary – it’s the stage that really excites him.

“I’m not a big studio fan, to be honest. I find playing live quite liberating, and I find playing in a studio quite suffocating – I get a bit stressed out about it, for no apparent reason. It’s great when it all comes together, but it’s pretty boring as well, the studio.”

Just when you’re going over the same take a million times?

“No, we don’t do that. But I can be quite particular about certain things, so it can take a couple of days to do one bit. And you’ll just be sitting there… and studios are always in like industrial estates, so there’s not really much to do, except maybe have a sniff of glue, or something like that!”

Find an old bunch of butane in the corner and have a go at that?

“Yeah, or get an airgun and shoot someone’s cat.” Stuart has a malevolent glint in his eye and – don’t worry – his tongue firmly in his cheek. Such anti-social behaviour would clearly not be becoming for a man of Braithwaite’s credibility, which brings us on to the topic of the recent public disorder in London; the widespread riots, which took place only a few days before our interview.

Mogwai’s label, Rock Action, were directly affected by those riots – alongside many other independent labels, they lost a hell of a lot of CD stock when rioters burnt down a distribution warehouse in Enfield. Can we indirectly blame the Tory government for that?

“I’ve already specifically blamed the Tories for it.” Stuart responds, half-seriously. “ The Tories are responsible for the destruction of the new Remember Remember album, and our new EP [‘Earth Division’]! Yeah, the entire Rock Action back catalogue was in there.”

Clearly no great fans of the right honourable Conservatives, Mogwai named a track on their latest album ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. Cameron’s bad, Braithwaite reckons, but no match in terms of sheer malevolence to Thatcher, that widely despised near-tyrant who straddled British politics throughout the eighties. “Y’know, I don’t like David Cameron – I’m sure most people that I would know don’t like him, but I don’t think he’s even in the same league as Margaret Thatcher. She just really relished destroying people’s lives. Yeah. And had some really awful opinions, all that kinda stuff about if you go on a bus when you’re over twenty-six you’re a failure?! That’s like something a James Bond villain would say! It’s horrendous!”

Or Jeremy Clarkson.

“Oh, god. I really hate Jeremy Clarkson. Yeah, he’s just a total prick. They use our songs quite a lot in that show, and they don’t have to ask. It drives me nuts. But when people tell me that, I’m like, ‘You watch bloody Top Gear?’ And they’re, ‘yeah’. ‘Really?’ Some quite respectable people, some people I was quite shocked at.”

Back on a subject he’s clearly very passionate about, Braithwaite’s opinion is that the attitude of the various Conservative governments of recent decades has been fundamentally wrong. “If you go right back to Margaret Thatcher saying there’s no such thing as society – if you say there’s no such thing as society, then the people who are society have got no… well, what are they gonna take from that? They’re gonna start behaving like there is no society! And also, just right from the top – the phone hacking, the MP’s expenses, all this stuff is just a level of moral bankruptcy that surely filters down to every level of society. And if people… I’m not excusing people, it’s fucking retarded what those people were doing, but there’s parallels with ancient Rome, isn’t there, the mob.”

The flare-up of violence had been coming, Stuart reckons. “It also didn’t surprise me that it happened after the Tories came in, because I’m old enough to remember the eighties when people were smashing the place up. But the looting… that’s only the same as what the banks were doing on an epic, epic scale. And nobody went to jail for that.”

His political passion sated, the fire in his eyes dies away and we chat about new Glaswegian bands for a while (“there’s a few, probably loads started up since we’ve been on tour that I’ve never heard of,” he says, but the likes of Divorce, and The Ballad Of Mabel Wong are well worth checking out, apparently).

A short while later, Mogwai hit the stage and deliver what is, by our reckoning, head and shoulders the best set of the weekend. And it sounds nothing like Abba.

By Chris Watkeys

Originally published in issue 31 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2011.

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