Mogwai (Stuart Braithwaite) “Mogwai unplugged would be fucking horrendous. Just the thought of Martin hitting bongos.”

The guys in Mogwai thought we had a phone interview. I stood outside of Portland's Roseland Theater on a glorious late summer day, dialing the number the tour manager had given me. Someone answered, and I told them I was there to interview Mogwai.

“This is Stuart; I am in Mogwai,” the voice answered.

Something clicked. “You must think this is a phoner. I'm standing right outside,” I said.

“Oh, you're a real person. I'll be right out.”

When Stuart Braithwaite came out to meet me, I could tell by his smile and the genial introduction that he would be easy to talk with. As the band simultaneously kicked off Portland's annual MusicfestNW and its own tour with the Fuck Buttons to support The Hawk is Howling, Braithwaite and I discussed the group's place in the music world more than a decade after the release of the classic Mogwai Young Team, soccer, and a pesky little rumor that the band is having too much fun with sites like your own dear Tiny Mix Tapes.



Welcome to Portland. It's good to see you.


In this MusicfestNW guide, they seem to narrow down each band to a one- or two-word description. They called Mogwai “uncomfortable shoegazing.” How do you feel about that?

I'm uncomfortable with that. That's ridiculous. Uncomfortable shoegazing?

What do you think that means?

Do they not want people to come and see us? [Laughs] I don't know. I don't really think we're much of a shoegaze kind of band, but I suppose compared to the shoegazing bands, our music is a bit less friendly. So, I can kind of see where they're coming from, but I disagree with them.

I wonder what's the difference between regular shoegaze and uncomfortable shoegaze.

I don't know. Maybe some minor chords. [Laughs] Like The Cranes. Do you remember that band The Cranes? They were a good band.

Hopefully the audience will be comfortable tonight.

I'd like to think so. I like to think of our music as quite cozy.

You have a new album coming out called The Hawk is Howling. Is this a new direction for your band or is it pretty much straight on?

It's just a Mogwai record.

And there is an eagle on the cover?

Aidan Moffat, the singer who is also a friend of ours, designed the artwork. I think he just typed ‘hawk' into eBay and it was the first thing that came up. He bought it for $5 from China.

A lot of your songs are instrumental and they have some very interesting titles. For example, there is one called “I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead,” on the new one. How do you title a song that doesn't have any lyrics?

It's just totally random, really. It's just something someone says. Right from when the band started, either in [drummer] Martin's bedroom or a room in my parents' house, News Paths to Helicon was a book that was lying around and “Like Herod” was something someone misheard when they actually meant to say “light-headed.” It's just nonsensical things.

Do you feel the music forms to the title afterwards?

I think so. I think it's the same concept with band names as well. Like when someone mentions The Beatles, you think about the band and not a creature, the beetle.

[Pauses to answer phone]

Have you been doing a lot of these interviews?

Today is the first day [of the tour]. I had to do some in Japan last week. Dominic and John had do some in Brussels.

It's hard being popular.

It's harder being unpopular, I guess. [Laughs]

I know all about that. So you were saying about The Beatles…

Yeah, you just forget. Even New Order was a joke name. People just forget. Mogwai is a terrible band name, but I guess after awhile people think of the band rather than the thing. Also, the songs titles. Some of the new ones are pretty ridiculous and people are going, “Why are they suddenly having ridiculous song titles?” One of our songs is called “Hunted by a Freak.” It's the most ridiculous song title I've ever heard. But after awhile, people come up to me that like that song and they're like, “I really love ‘Hunted by a Freak.'” They don't think that fucking song title is like a fake slasher movie title. They forget about that sort of thing.

Have you thought about not titling your songs?

I would like to, but it would get annoying, not knowing what song is what.

It would make a setlist pretty hard to read.

It would make the setlist hard. Sometimes, when we're writing songs, we'll just call them after the chords. We have one song called “Sad D-C,” which is a sad song, and the two chords of the song were D and C. We also have a song called “D to E” that I thought was really lazy. Usually I will think of something vaguely entertaining on some level.

"I find that, really, in America, nothing is sacred apart from what the dudes playing baseball are wearing."


Obviously when crafting the music you guys are a lot more serious about the end product. Are the songs written beforehand or do they come out of a group jam?

There are four of us, apart from the drummer Martin, writing music, so generally the person who writes the song will come up with a demo of it and bring it in and play it. It can change quite a lot. I would say 80% is already there, and then it morphs depending on how we all play together.

Unlike traditional pop music that has the verse-chorus-verse structure, these songs are more open-ended. They change over time on stage?

Yeah, it can. It used to a lot more. During the first two years of the band, it was a lot looser. In a heartbeat, sometimes it could be absolutely amazing and sometimes crap. I think we're a little more organized now, which is quite a good thing. [Laughs]

Talking about bands that have been around for awhile, Mogwai broke out in the mid-'90s and things were a lot different then in terms of the internet breaking bands. It seems today that a band can be popular overnight, sell out shows, and within a month or two be nobodies. But you guys have soldiered on and are still viable 10 years later. What do you chalk that up to?

I would like to think it's because we've been too complacent. I don't think our music has changed an awful lot. I think it's grown, but we still make the same style of music that we did. There's nothing worse than getting a band's record and suddenly they are trying to be something else. We put a lot of effort in, I guess. And people just like our music, which is weird because we never thought people would like it particularly. It was more for ourselves.

Do you find joy in playing it still?

Oh yeah.


We'd be fucking terrible if we didn't. [Laughs]

Doing it for the paycheck.

There's not that big of paycheck. [Laughs]

Recently we've seen a reissue of Young Team. Was that a decision on your part or was it a record company thing?

The record company suggested it, but we were into it, too.

What is it about that album that makes it worth coming back to 10 years later? Besides the bonus tracks and all of that. Why is it worth a another look at this point?

The basic reason was the mastering. It was the general consensus that, at the point of the record getting mastered, someone had made an arse out of it. That it should get done again. I'm pretty cloth-eared, so to me I couldn't care too much about that kind of thing, but I thought if people are going to buy it again, we should do something, put some extra stuff on it. Also, I think the vinyl had been out of print for a long time too.

Are you a vinyl or a digital listener yourself?

I collect records, but I do have an iPod.

Back to the album: do you look at your records as cohesive pieces of work or just a bunch of songs put together?

I think, ideally, it should be a pretty cohesive thing. I find myself listening to albums more and more properly. I think when iPods came out at first everyone was like making playlists and mixing things up rather than listening to records from start to finish.

What really shits me is when I'm looking through my friends' iPods, and there is just one song from an album. When I put an album on mine, if there is a shitty song, I have to put the whole thing on. Anyway, comparing Young Team to The Hawk is Howling, what is the journey? What is the cohesive message you are trying to put out between the two records?

We're a lot older now. We were just kids when we made Mogwai Young Team. Also, the lineup has changed. Barry [Burns] has joined the band. Barry writes a lot of music now. It's a big-effort band now. I think we actually could not have played our music back then. We would have become the fucking fake Steve Vais or something. But you connect how you play and what you use to make the sounds. I think a lot of that has changed. Computers have changed a lot of that.

Have you altered your records techniques in regards to the technology?

Oh yeah. All of the first album was all on tape. But now we use ProTools and stuff.

[Indicating digital recorder] This thing is pretty frigging sweet, too.

Does it record as an MP3 or something?

Yeah, you can download it right onto the computer. It's ridiculous. So, do you see the recording process as smoother and quicker due to technology?

Well, there are just more possibilities. Obviously, you get something from the Steve Albini style of just setting up and playing, which is awesome. But you can do other things this way too, like manipulate things.

Can that manipulation be duplicated in a live setting?

We have quite a lot of sounds. Barry, who has a lot of the synthesized stuff, has a fucking weird box thing that can make any sound that we've ever made.

Is that an uncomfortable thing?

No, it's good fun. I'm quite traditional. I'd be happy just trying our best and see what happens. It's good to have the sounds.

So we can't expect an unplugged Mogwai?

I think it could be the worst experience of all time. Mogwai unplugged would be fucking horrendous. Just the thought of Martin hitting bongos. I suppose it could be pretty funny, but no, it would be terrible.

Are you sticking around for the festival here?

No, we're playing another show tomorrow. We're going to Seattle. Sounds like there are some good bands playing.

Back to your music. I really liked the film The Fountain. I don't know how you felt about the film itself…

I loved it.

"Mogwai is a terrible band name, but I guess after awhile people think of the band rather than the thing."


The music was a big part of why it was so good. I know you have co-credit with the Kronos Quartet on the music. Can you explain what your part was?

We just played the drums and the guitars. Clint [Mansell] wrote the music. We just learned the songs. Clint came over to Scotland, and we just recorded everything. I also played piano on it, which they didn't use any of. Which is a bad shame because it took me a long time to learn it. [Laughs] We have met the Kronos Quartet before, but we didn't record together. I think they did that at Skywalker Sound, which I would have liked to gone to because I'm a big Star Wars fan.

Even the new ones?

I really didn't like The Clone Wars. It was horrendous. Well, parts of it. I liked the lightsaber fights. But, it was a strange process, but I liked [The Fountain] a lot too.

How did it feel watching a movie like that and being like, “That's my shit up there?”

It's awesome. The last thing you hear is my guitar too, right at the end. That was exciting. It was weird because after we played our part, that was it. We didn't have any involvement in the mixing. Which is strange for us, because we're pretty much obsessed with control and not that have that control was a bit strange.

Are you happy with the way it came out?

Yeah, except if we did it, it would be a bit differently.

Did anyone explain to you what the hell is going on in the movie?

No. In fact, the guy who recorded it had no idea what the fuck was going on. He -- I'm trying to be nice here -- he wasn't even thinking about it.

You also did that soundtrack for that Zidane thing? Did you have more control over that one?

We had complete control over that.

How do you feel about those two works in comparison?

I'm happy with them both, but when I saw Zidane, because it was our actual music, I felt a bigger attachment to it. When I first saw it, they showed it on a fucking 50-foot high screen in a football patch, and there was like 10,000 people watching. That was the loudest thing of all time. That was great. That was a good experience.

Unfortunately, I come from the only country in the world that doesn't care about soccer.

No one bought that Zidane record over here.

What about Europe? Did they buy it there?

I think we sold the same amount of that in Europe as we did our last regular album.

I've never even seen it in a store.

Really? Thanks, you just reminded me we need to get some to sell. [Laughs]

Honestly, most people in this country just don't give a shit about soccer, and everyone else in the world does.

You know why that is? It's because you can't put adverts in there. You know how basketball and the American football stops all the time for the adverts? You can't do that with football. You can't stop it for adverts, so no one is willing to promote something where they can't sell it.

Yeah, you could also give a lot of red cards and stop for commercials.

Yeah, but that's one of the most exciting things when people get sent off. [Laughs]

I don't know what it is. We don't use the metric system; we don't like soccer. But at least our president is doing a good job.

Yeah, he's doing an awesome job. Another thing I think is weird about American sport, even though it's so commercial and stops all the time for the adverts, is that they don't have advertising on the jerseys, or uniforms -- is that what you call them? I find that, really, in America, nothing is sacred apart from what the dudes playing baseball are wearing.

So, I read a crappy review that Pitchfork leaked…

[Turns red and smiles big] Yeah?

Did you write that review?

[Quiet] I don't know.

You don't know, you're saying with a big grin.

[Laughs hysterically] Yeah, I'm not too sure. Someone sent it to us.

It's pretty well-written for a weblog interview. Words I don't normally see on there. Unfortunately this [recorder] can't pick up how red you're turning right now.


How come Tiny Mix Tapes didn't write a review like that? Why was it Pitchfork?

[Still quiet] I don't know.

You don't know? Do you agree with the review?

I don't know. It just a subjective thing what people think about music, isn't it?

Okay, we're done.

[Bursts into laughter]

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