Mogwai is a band of irresistible complexity. Sure, they’ve cemented a reputation as the archetypical purveyors of climactic post-rock. But what equally defines them is a fanbase which follows at every turn.
Even when veering into a lengthy spates of film work, many have celebrated their scores with the vigour traditional listeners lavish upon a studio LPs. In a sense, fans are used to the idea that this Glaswegian outfit is constantly on the verge of attempting the unexpected.
Returning to studio albums for the first time since 2014’s Rave Tapes, Every Country’s Sun is the kind of record that card-carrying diehards have been holding out for. It’s a rock album. And at that, another gleaming addition to the band’s canon.
There’s a few factors Stuart Braithwaite considers to have contributed to this latest long-player’s success. Not the least was reuniting with the David Fridmann. A figure unmatched when it comes to synthesising excitement to sound, Dave is a storied and legendarily left-field recordist. He’s masterminded breakthroughs for The Flaming Lips and conjured the magic of Tame Impala’s Lonerism. He also produced Mogwai’s second album Come Die Young, back in 2001.
Braithwaite also extolls the benefits of another unlikely condition. One of the group’s greatest creative motivators it seems is simply running out the clock. Given the band’s self-directed creativity, there’s nothing like the boot of good deadline to help them pull it all together.
There’s also been environmental advantages, like the recording sessions for ECS smack-bang in the middle of a snowstorm. It dissuaded the band from bringing in outside orchestration. Cloistered by environment as much as choice, it forced them to focus in on playing as a band.
Owning to this in no small part, there’s a vitality and definite live feel to the new LP. Mogwai is again firing off in salvos of monolith rock. They’re also heading back to Australia this March for a national tour.
Catch our full chat with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite below.
Music Feeds: If you could snap your fingers and fix one problem in the world, what would it be?
Stuart Braithwaite: Probably inequality. I think that’s probably the biggest problem. Too many people with far too much and too many people with not enough.
MF: Atomic went into the Top 20 in the UK. Were you surprised by the reception of something initially conceived as a documentary score finding its feet as a standalone LP?
SB: I was surprised. I think there were a few factors around that. One of the songs got picked up on the radio over here which I think helped out a lot.
I also think our fans are really loyal. The fans tend to go along with us whatever we do, which is cool. People were really along with us even though it was a bit more unusual than the one we’d done before.
MF: I’ve never found much purchase with the idea that a good film score is any less of an artistic statement than a studio LP. But opinions differ. What’s your view?
SB: I think it depends on the project. Every project has its own place. I think sometimes the music for traditional narratives, TV or film, sometimes the music is more subdued. You’ve already got the way that it’s unfolding with its own drama – you don’t want to overdo it.
I think with Atomic it had a really heavy subject matter, but it didn’t have characters to follow or anything like that. It wasn’t that much different from our own records except probably more repetition. We definitely were as dramatic as we normally are. It’s almost the same as one of our own records.
MF: How does something like Atomic sit beside Every Country’s Sun? Were you excited to get back to a punchy, hook-driven and structured sound?
SB: I think we were excited about having complete freedom! I mean doing soundtracks is amazing but you’re not as- you do have some restrictions compared to studio records. I think one of the things about having a variety of ways of making music is that it makes everything a change.
Especially with soundtracks, each time it’s a new group of people you’re working with. What you want to do and what you have to do is different. We were pleased to be making a record, but it wasn’t because we were sick of soundtracks. It was just the next thing we were doing and something we were excited about.
MF: Is there material on ECS that you had to put aside during the period you were doing all this soundtrack work?
SB: There’s not much of an overlap. I think there has been in the past with things like The Hawk is Howling record, a lot of those songs were a soundtrack from a film we got fired from! [Laughs] But I think the only song with this one is ‘Coolverine’ which is actually on the soundtrack to Before the Flood, it’s not on the soundtrack album but it’s in the film.
That’s the only one. I think it’s just because I really like that song and we even asked if we could use it on our album so we’re fine. But apart from that everything was written as part of recording or leading up to the record.
MF: For ECS you worked with David Fridmann, who younger Australian fans would know best through with his work with Tame Impala. Mogwai hadn’t recorded with Dave since Rock Action in 2001. What was the pull which had you coming back to work with him again?
SB: There were a couple of reasons. I think the first one was that we love working with Dave. We’d stayed in touch and we’re friends with him. We also wanted to go away because we’d been recording so much in Glasgow. We wanted it to feel like a very different sort of thing. As soon as we decided to go away Dave was the obvious choice.
Thankfully he was really excited about it. Over the years we’ve booked in producers and recorded but sometimes you don’t get that much enthusiasm out of them, but Dave was completely enthusiastic. I think that that goes a long way.
MF: What’s Dave’s greatest strength as a producer when working with Mogwai?
SB: He knows us well and gets a pretty relaxed atmosphere where we tend to play well. That and he’s just amazing with sounds, coming up with really interesting sounds. It’s a combination that works really well.
MF: I understand he has a lot of gear as well. Did playing with all that tech stuff lead you anywhere for any of these songs?
SB: Yeah! Absolutely! With myself there was some old Wah Wah peddles that were just absolutely insane. We used them on a bunch of the songs.
Even with the guitars, Dominic [Aitchison] was always ending up playing a bass that he really loved. [Laughs] He brought about five of them over. Again, with Dave, I think you’ve got a lot at your disposal and you’re a bit more happy to try things out that are maybe a little more left field. We were very happy to use things that were left field and I think that paid off really well.
MF: Who has the final say on a Mogwai record? Who puts their foot down and says “That’s it! Its done”?
SB: [Laughs] Well it’s basically like a collective. But I think that time usually plays a big part in it. [Excitedly] If you run outta time – if we’re going home the next day – it has to be done!
It kind of depends, we’re actually working on a record right now and we don’t have much of a limitation. So I’m kinda worried that it’s going to go and go and go. But I think it’s largely to do with time. It’s finished when it has to be finished.
MF: It feels like there’s less outside orchestration in the sense that on the musical side of things it’s just Mogwai playing together as a band. Were you priming it to be something you could play live?
SB: I think there was part of that. There was also a practical restriction. We recorded with Dave when there were really bad snowstorms. So even if we had decided we wanted a bunch of musicians, they people couldn’t actually have got there!
MF: You’ve played the new album all the way through once or twice at festivals last year. What kind of set can fans look forward to for the upcoming Australian dates?
SB: We’ve got a lot of songs from the new record, but old songs too. We’ve been on tour for quite a while, so we’ve got an idea what the rough form of the set will be like. It’s really good, it’s actually been a really nice tour, the new songs work really well with a lot of the old songs – I’m really looking forward to coming back to Australia actually. It’s been a while.
MF: You have the tour and it sounds like you’re toying around with a new album too. What’s coming next?
SB: We’ve been doing some more soundtrack work, we’ve got some more of that we’re working on. There’s some rough plans of making a new record at some point. We get asked to do quite fun things these days, I think we’re in a good spot.