Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai on musical roots and the awful Margaret Thatcher
Steve Gullick Mogwai
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.