Scottish post-rock band Mogwai has stretched out its sonic ambitions.
SCOTTISH post-rock band Mogwai has never been one to follow the rules. Formed in 1995 in Glasgow, the quintet has consistently defied the odds and stayed significant in a career built on largely textured instrumental rock that’s underpinned by layers of brooding guitars.
Early albums from the 1990s like Young Team, Come On Die Young and the collection recordings Ten Rapid laid the foundation for the band’s iconoclastic bent and deeply atmospheric music. That led to Mogwai attracting an international fanbase and taking on major festivals around the world.
The group has routinely been name-checked as one of the world’s best live bands. The lack of convention has never deterred Mogwai’s march to the bright lights.
Interestingly, there was a career resurgence with the Les Revenants album last year. Written for a French TV series, this soundtrack brought a subtle shift to Mogwai’s sonic landscape.
Reflecting an achingly beautiful calm and referencing folk blues visions, Mogwai’s Les Revenants sounded a world apart from its signature post-rock dynamics.
Over a phone interview from Glasgow, recently, the band’s guitarist and vocalist Stuart Braithwaite, 37, was eager to chat about its latest album Rave Tapes.
This new album, featuring 10 songs, has a distinctive nod towards electronics. Is the album title indicative of Mogwai’s current and future musical direction?
Taking a moment to think, Braithwaite seems almost bemused by that question.
“Well, you certainly can interpret it as that but no, there’s not a lot behind it,” he answered.
Given the band did name its last album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will in 2011, Mogwai has been rather cheeky with its recent album titles. There was no hardcore found on Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and the sound on the newly-minted Rave Tapes is far from what its title suggests.
However, some of the tracks from Rave Tapes do indicate a move away from the band’s guitar-driven template. A track like Remurdered, for instance, is largely built around synth lines and a throbbing electronic bass, as opposed to the rock-centred sonic explosions from the past.
Braithwaite attributes this more to the film scores/soundtracks that Mogwai worked on through the years. Apart from Les Revenants, Mogwai’s soundtrack resume also includes The Fountain (2006) and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2007).
“We’ve been working around film scores for a large part of last year with Les Revenants and we also worked on the Zidane soundtrack live (the band performed the Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait soundtrack for the first time in its entirety in Britain last year). So if our sound has turned somewhat darker and more electronic, it’s because of that,” said Braithwaite.
Mogwai, made up of Braithwaite, guitarist and vocalist John Cummings, guitarist and keyboardist Barry Burns, bassist Dominic Aitchison and drummer Martin Bulloch, have been crafting music together since the early 1990s. Mogwai’s constant evolution, arguably, has afforded it a body of work that holds its own. The band has stayed on the right side of cool.
Interestingly, Rave Tapes, unlike most of Mogwai’s albums, does not feature tunes with fantastical titles, although a case can be made for The Lord Is Out Of Control.
As curious as these Mogwai song titles often are, Braithwaite says there’s hardly deeper meaning to them.
“We name them after they are done and the titles are usually picked from phrases we like. But they are entirely random things,” he said.
“But after naming them, the names usually start to set. At the end of it, listeners can take whatever they want from (our) music.”
Rave Tapes is the band’s eighth record, not counting the many film scores, EPs and remix albums.
These days, the post rock scene features names such as Sigur Ros (Iceland), Explosions in the Sky (United States), Mono (Japan) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Canada). But this post rock phenomenon is largely attributed to Mogwai’s mid 1990s charge, which carried on the early atmospheric rock work by pioneering American outfit Slint.
So do the Mogwai members look back with admiration or disdain at this? “The term (post rock) is not my favourite because it’s too generalised and largely coined to make it easier for people to organise their record collection. But no, we do not regret being in the company of those bands as they are great bands,” said Braithwaite.
“I think the fans would always be grateful for the movement, so no, it would be quite bad to regret that.”
Braithwaite went on to say that the band hopes to be able to return to Malaysia late this year for a show. It played a well-received concert in Kuala Lumpur in 2009.
> Mogwai plays the Hostess Club Weekender at Fort Canning Park in Singapore on Feb 22. For more details, visit www.eventclique.com. Mogwai’s Rave Tapes is released by Sony Music.