Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai on musical roots and the awful Margaret Thatcher
Formed in 1995, Mogwai quickly made a name for itself with adventurous guitar work and a sound that loosened and opened up the imagination. Over the course of the next sixteen years, the Scottish band very much plotted its own course through exploring every sonic whim without losing a strong sense of musical identity. Though often associated with post-rock, Mogwai (due at the Bluebird Theater on Monday, May 2) has always been more of a rock band than that, even though most of its songs are instrumental.
From its debut, Mogwai Young Team, through to its latest release, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, Mogwai has consistently written material that taps a direct emotional core in the listener while conjuring images and conscious states, both sublime and terrifying, with an intense clarity. We recently spoke with one of the band's guitarists and founders, Stuart Braithwaite about his musical roots and the pitfalls of one Margaret Thatcher's policies in Scotland.
Westword: How did you end up working with Roky Erickson on the Batcat EP, and what was it like working with him?
Stuart Braithwaite: I didn't know he was still making music, and then I saw a thing in the Mojo magazine that he'd been playing some shows. I got in touch with him through it. I sent him some music, and told him we were big fans, and that we'd like to do something with his band, and he said, "Yes." It was a great experience. I went to Austin and did the recordings with him.
What is it about the various Batman comics that you find so fascinating? Are there other comics you've found especially interesting over the years?
The nobility of the character, I think. And the duplicitous life. The fact that he does all this stuff and doesn't want to tell anyone about it. Other comics, I think there's a bunch of stuff I've connected with over the years -- Swamp Thing, and I love the Alan Moore stuff, including V For Vendetta and Watchmen.
Your music has always seemed so cinematic partly because since it's mostly instrumental, it forces your imagination to work. Did Darren Aronofsky give you any kind of direction for the music he wanted for The Fountain?
I mean, we didn't write the music. We were playing the music that had already been written. We met the artist, Clint Mansell, and he had a very precise idea for what he wanted.
Have Danny Boyle or David Lynch approached you about doing some music, because it seems your music would suit the feel of one of their films as well?
No...We got asked to do one film, and they fired us. It was an American film called Parade Will Travel [?], and I think it was the director's first movie. Which is a shame because some of the music was really good. But if we get asked by a competent artist, we'll do it.
Do you use different gauges of strings along with alternate tunings to achieve some of the sounds that you do?
Yes. Not me so much. I use some different tunings, but they're not very radical. But John Cummings, the other guitar player, uses a lot, and yes, he uses different gauges of strings.
As a budding guitarist, what sorts of things did you play or try to play as you developed the kind of style and techniques you employ now?
I don't really know. The bands that I was really excited by were things like Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground and quite simple stuff like The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Not only that, I always saw things in a musical sense rather than a guitar sense. Which, maybe, isn't the best way to think about it, but that's how I think about music.
You were pretty young when you met some of your future bandmates. How did you get into all that interesting music that is often cited as an influence on Mogwai back then?
I think my big sister always had interesting taste in music. I think she introduced me to a lot of music that had the biggest effect on me. [She introduced me to] The Velvet Underground, Bauhaus, Ultra Vivid Scene, The Cure and Mudhoney. Just interesting '60s music, '80s music and underground bands of that time.
You've toured with The Cure and cite them as an influence. What do you love about The Cure, and do you have a favorite album or two?
I think they're an amazing band, and I think there's something ageless about their music. I think my favorite three records would be Pornography, Faith and Disintegration. I like some of the pop stuff, too, but those albums work the best as pieces on their own. I think that there's something in way they build their melodies that I think we've taken on board because they do it so well perfectly.
Those three albums you named are very different from one another, and one is more synthy than the others. You use a bit of synth in your own music, was that inspired by what The Cure did?
No, I don't think so. To be honest, Barry Burns, the keyboard guy in Mogwai who does all those synths, he likes The Cure, but I don't think he's as big a fan as either me or John. I think the sound of that era -- the end of the analog era, the kind of late '70s, early '80s -- that's totally when keyboards sounded the best, and I think that might have influenced the keyboard sound we adopted. I don't know if it's through The Cure but that's definitely the best keyboard sounds you get.
Your song titles are clearly somewhat nonsensical. Do you have a list of titles you keep based on funny or interesting or unusual experiences, or thoughts you have or from bits of conversation that you match to a bit of music after it's written?
No, not really, to be honest. It sounds fun, but we never do that.
So the titling the songs is kind of a serendipitous process, would you say?
Yeah, it's a bit of an afterthought, to be honest. The random element amuses us quite a bit.
You have a song called "George Square Thatcher Death Party." Why do you think Margaret Thatcher is the most hated person in Scotland?
Margaret Thatcher made a concerted effort to destroy Scotland. She did everything she could to remove any industry from Scotland, because no one in Scotland voted for her. Scotland is, collectively, part of the United Kingdom, but it is a separate nation. Part of her ideals...she said that there was no such thing as society.
In Scotland, society is a very important thing. Scotland's a very socialist country. People really care about each other. And I think she really emphasized the everything against what the Scottish people believe in. So the people really fucking hate her [laughs].
I remember when I was a kid, we used to get free milk, and she did away with that. Anyone who would take milk away from children is really perverse. And, also, she was a supporter of Pinochet. Awful, awful woman.
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