Photos: Brian Sweeney
Within the opening seconds of their 1997 debut album, Mogwai Young Team, a Norwegian woman recites a student newspaper review of a Mogwai gig in Bergen. “Music is bigger than words and wider than pictures,” she tells us, followed by “if the stars had a sound, it would sound like this.” Three minutes and forty-five seconds in, there’s their first post-rock ‘guitarmageddon’ moment. There have been a few more since.
A ‘Young Team’ once, I ask Stuart Braithwaite how different it feels being a palpably older team: “It’s good, actually. There are a handful of things, like travel, which seem harder when you’re in your forties, but the vast majority are easier. You just don’t worry so much; what once seemed daunting isn’t anymore.” I raise the pre-Christmas, SSE Hydro hometown gig in Glasgow, with its 13,000+ crowd, and some self-deprecating backtracking ensues: “That one did feel daunting, as it happens. We don’t normally fill that kind of venue.” Considering their coruscating 1997 album opened with, ‘Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home’, there’s quaint irony in Stuart’s 2018 admission that one of the joys of that gig was that “it was good to be able to walk home for lunch before the soundcheck.”
“[Art] is a way of trying to find enjoyment in a troubling world.”
Eh? Have Mogwai gone soft? One listen to last year’s Every Country’s Sun would shelve that notion. Soft? No. More cheerful? Sonically cuddlier? Kind of. In the movies, mogwai were always the more squidgy and adorable incarnations. So, why the more uplifting arrangements on their latest long-player? Guitarist, Barry Burns called the album “distracting.” Stuart agrees: “I think that’s the case with a lot of art, unless you’re confronting issues head on. It’s a way of trying to find enjoyment in a troubling world.”
Pleasant “distraction” could also entail a film or series with an awesome soundtrack, composed by Mogwai. I tried to explain Mogwai to a musically-deficient mate in 2001 by saying that they were cinematic – the soundtrack of something that hadn’t been made yet. Now their soundtracks are very much in demand (mostly): “We’d been trying to do soundtracks for years; nothing really came up.” In the last few years, things have genuinely taken off. If the French series, Les Revenants is a yardstick (dead schoolkids come back to life years after a coach crash), it’s possible that people have only recently made programmes that are sphincter-twitching enough to warrant the looming, hulking, portentous Mogwai juggernaut. I bet if they’d soundtracked the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones would have properly shat himself. “We actually asked about the latest Blade Runner film, but our call was not returned,” chuckles Stuart, adding, “I don’t think it’s any great loss to the world.”
A sold-out Colston Hall ought to be a perfect space for their “bigger than words and wider than pictures” sound. I ask whether they’ve ever yearned to return to smaller venues, like Glasgow’s Hug and Pint: “Good friends of ours own that place, but I don’t think we could even get all our equipment on the stage.” In that case, I excitedly ask whether there’s a chance, tongue-in-cheek, that they could do Mogwai Unplugged instead, to which Stuart (ever the gentleman) politely replies, “I think that would be the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of the human race.”
“We actually asked about the latest Blade Runner film, but our call was not returned… I don’t think it’s any great loss to the world.”
In contrast, the best thing of 2018 so far is that this leg of Mogwai’s tour sees the return of Martin Bulloch, back behind the drums after health problems took him out of action last year. The entire team, in full force, with some decidedly non-Pharrell ‘happy’ songs? Bristol, get ready to post-rock.
Mogwai play the Colston Hall on 3rd February, with Every Country’s Sun out now.