Interview with Mogwai guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite | By Renaldo Matadeen
Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, are an experience fans best describe as ethereal. Their lush instrumentals—with rare lyrics here and there—paint vivid pictures of nature and serenity before they amp things up, barreling into a haze of chaos, depicting the duality of the world we live in. While most of their tracks unfold in this manner, there’s still a high degree of experimentation and innovation that they’ve brought to the game since the ‘90s, shattering any notions they’d ever become formulaic.
Now, the band have evolved into something even more cinematic, as seen when they provided the musical backdrop entitled Atomic to last year’s “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise,” a documentary on nuclear history by Mark Cousins. On Sept. 1, the band brought their ninth full-length, Every Country’s Sun, to the fore, released through their own U.K. label, Rock Action Records, and New York’s Temporary Residence Limited.
Guitarist and sometimes-vocalist Stuart Braithwaite takes the time to go on the record and chat about what the album means to Mogwai in this politically-charged global climate.
There’s a lot to take in, as expected, on Every Country’s Sun. It’s so diverse, and while it feels like Mogwai are going in a slightly new direction, it still feels so familiar. Will you describe the record a bit?
Well, these are different songs in terms of what came before for us as a band, but as you mentioned, they still feel like the same. Some have a new, fresh ring to them, while others are what fans would say are typical Mogwai. Overall, if I had to best describe it, these songs had to have their own atmosphere. We wanted them to be as moody as possible and evoke a wide range of emotions, which is why I guess you could say we have an eclectic mix on offer. Scoring films has been very useful to our musical growth as well and how we shape our sound moving on in the future.
What would you say to those who might not have liked the new roads taken in terms of musical direction?
You see, it’s natural to progress as the years go on. Because as they go by, it’s harder to repeat yourself. You get older, wiser, and, in a nutshell, more mature. You experience more things in life, so writing and how an album feels will be different. Most of all, we grow as musicians, so the way we play has to develop and it has to evolve. You don’t ever want that feeling of being stagnant creeping in—not as an artist or a creative for that matter.
With that mindset, how was the actual recording process for the band?
Well, we recorded in a short space of time—a couple weeks—but that gave us a more defined and concise record. It was quite good, to be honest, especially after it took us so long to write the lyrics. So, to get it recorded quickly and smoothly really felt great. Everything clicked for us.
It must have felt good recording with producer Dave Fridmann again, right?
[Laughs] Of course. He was at the wheel for Come On Die Young in 1999 and then for Rock Action in 2001, so to be reunited 16 years later was something special. It’s as if nothing changed. He brought new ideas to the table, so did we, and we then finessed the energies of old. It was a good time, and I think he helped us get what we wanted out of Every Country’s Sun.
You were recording with Fridmann at Tarbox Road Studios in New York while the U.S. presidential election results came out in 2016. What was that experience like for you, being from Scotland and all?
Well, it was quite stressful to a lot of people we associate with, especially in America. A lot of people were surprised, and, in this disbelief, you could sense fear and even anger. It caught everyone off guard I think. It was heavy with tension after that. Thick. People were also very scared for themselves and their families. We recognized it easily, because a lot of the people we associate with as friends in the U.S. don’t subscribe to Donald Trump’s philosophies, so they were on the other side of the fence from him.
Did that influence anything on the record?
Well, you see, the message behind Every Country’s Sun was already in motion for us. It comes from a story where, when you’re in a different place in a different part of the world, you’re experiencing sunlight when someone else isn’t. I mean, we have one sun, but at different points of the day, every country has it as their own. So, that’s where Every Country’s Sun comes from, and it’s a big reason the title track is probably my favorite on the record.
It’s a universal outlook and a positive message that we all have something bright to look forward to, and this message should transcend that point in the day when we look up to bright skies. We just want people to enjoy the music and take something good away from it, especially something that’s positive as they move on with life. Many people ask us what bands and music influenced this, but it’s not just music. It’s life and experiences that influenced these songs and made them so enjoyable to make. Hence, we want people to share this enjoyment when they listen.
You definitely seem to enjoy it. You can tell on “Party in the Dark”; it’s a pretty interesting dream-pop song that doesn’t fit your catalog, but your energy glows on it. How was singing on this track, especially since Mogwai don’t use vocals often?
Oh, we enjoy this record so much. And yes, it was a blast getting on the mic and recording for this track. It’s definitely different, but again, we wanted to do something different, and we love how the song came out. Maybe I’ll get more time on the mic next time. [Laughs]
You played Every Country’s Sun in its entirety at the last Primavera Sound in Barcelona, right? How was that?
Oh, yes! We performed the entire album. It was great. We were nervous before, because we didn’t know how fans would receive a bunch of songs they hadn’t heard before all packed together, but this festival was filled with our kind of people, so our confidence grew, and it turned out to be a blast. It was also a good thing, because it showed us that these songs work really well live, and they were well-received. It was a tremendous experience for us.
What’s next for Mogwai?
We’re doing another film soundtrack, which I can’t talk much about right now. [Laughs]
Photo by Brian Sweeney