INTERVIEW: Mogwai | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Not many can hold a candle to Mogwai’s achievements over the past two decades, but even by their standards 2017 was of a rare vintage. They’ve never wanted for acclaim, but as they enter their 23rd year the Glaswegians’ stock has never been higher, with September’s ninth studio outing Every County’s Sun not only cementing their status as a post-rock institution but also scaling heights hitherto unmapped. As well as a hitting a career-high number six in the UK album charts, the record spawned one of their largest world tours to date, culminating in a huge pre-Christmas homecoming at the SSE Hydro.

“It was a really special night,” reflects guitarist and de facto leader Stuart Braithwaite on their turn as arena headliners. “Once we got past the massive worry of whether it would be respectably busy the whole thing was totally surreal. It was certainly a lot more people than we’ve ever played to – a really nice way to end the year.”
Given all which followed, it’s easy to forget that the band began 2017 in a very different gear, performing their brooding soundtrack to Atomic – Mark Cousins’ excellent nuclear age documentary – in its entirety. Set to projected backdrop, the run included a momentous performance in Hiroshima, although as Braithwaite admits the affair proved far from plain sailing. “It was draining,” he admits. “Playing the record in Hiroshima was really, really incredible – the most intense experience I’ve ever had playing music. But it’s very rigid…you’ve got to play the exact same every night or you go out of time with the film! Maybe we’ve done the same by accident, but we always try to play a different set every night, so getting déjà-vu is something we’re not used to. It’s been nice getting back to doing what we want.”

For all the toil, the episode certainly hasn’t proved a deterrent. Indeed, the band are poised to add to their growing portfolio this autumn with another score, this time for Jonathan and Josh Baker’s Kin: a sci-fi thriller starring Jack Reynor, James Franco and Zoe Kravitz, among others. Firstly, however, they’re gearing up for the second leg of the Every Country’s Sun world tour, which gets underway with their much anticipated show at Northumbria Institute on Thursday 1st February. “We’re really looking forward to getting back out there. To be honest it’s pretty normal to get sick of playing new songs, but this time we’re all still really into it – we’re actually enjoying playing these songs more and more.”

For fans and critics alike this news is unlikely to come as a surprise. Incorporating both their film work and the years spent honing their craft, the record ranks among the most accomplished and cohesive in their canon; a near perfect equilibrium between cinematic electronics and the pulverising volume for which they first gained notoriety. You’d think that premiering the LP in full at their high profile Primavera slot was a signal of conviction, but even now Braithwaite confesses to doubts: “It’s funny, you can never really tell how songs are going to connect before you play them for people. In a weird way they don’t really exist until other people hear them.”

In the past we’ve written songs which have had so many samples or weird sounds that we couldn’t actually perform them

As it turns out, live performance is of little consideration during the creative process – even in cases such as the record’s climatic title track or the ferocious Old Poisons, the latest in a line of volcanic set closers. “We don’t usually think about where we play songs. Barry [Burns, multi-instrumentalist] does a little bit, but he’s a lot more technological than me, so he’s got a lot more to deal with. What we do sometimes consider is whether we can play them! In the past we’ve written songs which have had so many samples or weird sounds that we couldn’t actually perform them: songs like Moses? I Amn’t from Happy Songs For Happy People or the one with the Welsh singing on Rock Action [Dial: Revenge]… stuff like that.”

Significantly, the Northumbria date will also see a return to the stool for founding member Martin Bulloch. The drummer missed much of 2017 through ill health, with Cat Myers of indie duo Honeyblood filling in during his absence. “Martin’s feeling better. We’re going to get together and rehearse before these gigs and hopefully practice some different songs – unless he falls over and breaks his leg in the next couple of weeks!”
As our conversation draws to a close, Braithwaite offers a few words on Out Lines, who will be acting as tour support. A collaborative project headed by Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham and Scottish Album of the Year-winning singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph, the group recently unveiled their critically acclaimed debut Conflats – released through Mogwai’s own Rock Action Records (incidentally, this year’s winners Sacred Paws are also on the label’s roster, with their LP Strike A Match beating Mogwai themselves in the process).

“Obviously both James and Kathryn make incredible music anyway, but I saw their first gig in Glasgow just before Christmas and it was so, so good. Out Lines was put together by a venue in the city’s East End called Platform. The pair of them interacted with the community and wrote a lot of music based around the real-life experiences of the people they spoke to; it’s a really personal record. Even without being a self-promoting label head I really feel like people will enjoy it – they should definitely come down early!”

Mogwai play Northumbria Institute on Thursday 1st February. Every Country’s Sun is out now.


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