Ahead of the release of their new album, As the Love Continues, we caught up with Stuart Braithwaite from Glasgow post-rock icons Mogwai.
Tomorrow, February 19th, Mogwai will release As the Love Continues, their tenth studio album. It’s an especially memorable day though, for it will be 25 years to the day since the band released their debut single ‘Tuner/Lower’. A quarter of a century as an enduring musical presence; few bands ever make it to such a landmark, not least at the height of their powers as Mogwai have done.
Recording sessions in the U.S. were abandoned after the onset of COVID-19, the band instead heading to the English countrywide while their producer Dave Fridmann collaborated with them from across the Atlantic Ocean. It was an unusual work situation but nothing seems usual anymore anyway.
Familiar Mogwai traits engulf the album. It begins in typical wide-angle cinematic grandeur on ‘To the Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth’ and ends with ‘It’s What I Want To Do, Mum’, slowly unraveling, suffused of its own energy in the way Mogwai songs usually are. In between though are new flourishes. Nine Inch Nails’ Atticus Ross (‘Midnight Fit’) and renowned composer Colin Stetson (‘Pat Stains’) appear on the record, offering new notes; the wonderfully-named ‘Ceiling Granny’ (continuing the band’s penchant for notably inane and silly song titles) is closer to straightforward indie rock than most of their work.
There’s also the lovely ‘Ritchie Sacramento’: where usually they conjure profound emotions with mere textures, this song comes with lyrics. A little story about the late Silver Jews singer David Berman (that Berman has received tribute in song by Fleet Foxes, The Avalanches, and now Mogwai just over one year after his passing speaks to the magnanimous position he held in music), it’s gorgeous and more overtly emotional and is perhaps acknowledgement that we are all feeling particularly prone to nostalgia and vulnerability right now.
This past year has been marked by critical adulation for new propagators of post-rock: Black Midi and Black Country, New Road have been earning praise for their experimentation in the genre; the latter even wryly sing of being “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act”. Mogwai’s album, though, shows that there’s much life left in the old hands yet. On As the Love Continues, they sound cooly self-assured and comfortable with their sound and standing.
Their next 25 years – as for us all – seem more uncertain than the previous 25 but as long as they continue to enjoy what they’re doing – something that was immediately obvious from talking to Braithwaite for just a brief amount of time – we can expect several more sublime records of introspective instrumentation from Mogwai yet; it’s why the name they chose for this historical album, As the Love Continues, feels so right.
Read our full interview with Braithwaite below as we discussed Mogwai’s new album, his relationship with Berman, horror films, and the future for the band.
Check out ‘Pat Stains’ by Mogwai:
TD: First of all, what experiences with Australia have the band had? When was the last time you were here?
SB: It’s a couple of years since we’ve been but we’ve always had a good time. There’s a lot of – as I’m sure you know – similarities between Australian folk and Scottish folk. We’re always up for a good time! People have got a good attitude toward life in Australia, and there’s a lot of good bands. We’ve played a lot of festivals there and they’ve always been really kind to us. It’s a place we love to visit.
TD: Are there any Australian artists that you like in particular?
SB: One of my favourite bands is from Australia, Dirty Three. I’m a huge fan of theirs. Older bands too, like Radio Birdman, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There’s a lot of good music that’s come out of Australia.
TD: About the new album then. When was it recorded?
SB: It was kind of in the summer when things were not as intense as they were a year ago or right now here. We got to go down to England to record it. We got out of Scotland. We were meant to be going to America but obviously that got binned. It was good to get away and see some different faces. That was the highlight of the year really!
TD: Do you think COVID-19 – and how unprecedented and uncertain it’s been – had an effect on the emotional depth of the record?
SB: It might have done. I definitely think the circumstances helped the record in a weird way because it gave us some more time to prepare. Also when we were writing it, we couldn’t do anything else, we couldn’t go out the house, couldn’t go to the pictures, couldn’t go see any bands, couldn’t do anything. In a lot of ways that was terrible but when you’re trying to write a record it’s actually not the worst thing to be locked in your house.
TD: Do you think for the listener it will offer a form of escapism then?
SB: I hope so, I hope so. That was certainly how I felt writing the music, that it was a way of getting away from the grim realities of ambulance sounds and only being allowed out of the house for an hour every day. I would like to think that. I always think that music at its best is an escape for people. It’s like anything, cinema or books, anything, it’s something to take yourself away from the everyday.
TD: I wanted to ask about some of the collaborators on the record. You’ve got Colin Stetson and Atticus Ross. How did those partnerships come about?
SB: Well we already had done something with Atticus, the Before the Floods soundtrack with Trent Reznor, so we were in touch with him. He was totally cool, we asked if he would help us out and he really went to town on it. With Colin Stetson, we were speaking about a collaboration and we felt that song could do with something else, we gave him a call and he went for it. Both of them turned out really good. Both did something that we couldn’t have done on our own which is what we wanted.
TD: Everyone always talks about the uniqueness of your song titles. The one that stood out for me this time was ‘Ceiling Granny’ – is there a story behind that?
SB: Yeah! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film The Exorcist 3? There’s a really scary bit – and this is a total spoiler – where this woman crawls along the ceiling. We were watching it in the studio and anytime someone would go to the toilet, they’d come back and be like ‘have I missed ceiling granny?!’. That’s the scariest bit in the film. It was just patter from watching a scary film.
TD: The other one was ‘Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever’. Was that a wee reference to that famous – or infamous – chant commonly heard at Scottish gigs?
SB: I mean, it might be! Gavin, our guitar tech, said it and just thought it was good (laughs). It’s just pure nonsense.
Check out ‘Ritchie Sacramento’ by Mogwai:
TD: The ‘Ritchie Sacramento’ song is about Dave Berman. Were you an actual friend of his or just a fan?
SB: I’d met him but I wasn’t a close friend. I was actually better friends with his wife Cassie. She came on tour with us once. I met Dave a few times but I was more of a fan. I really loved his records. I’m pretty good friends with Bob Nastanovich though, who was in Pavement. It was his post about Dave that inspired the song. I checked with Bob that it was alright to do it because you never know, because it’s something personal but he was totally up for it. I saw him sharing the song on Twitter so he must be alright with it.
TD: You don’t normally use lyrics that often. Did you feel with ‘Ritchie Sacremanto’, because it was such an emotional subject, that it had to have lyrics?
SB: I mean, just the song itself sounded like it should have lyrics. It made sense when the song was getting write. We do use lyrics one in a while. They’re usually a lot more abstract obviously but it just made sense for this one.
TD: You’re always called a post-rock band and there seems to be this new generation of post-rock bands coming through now and getting a lot of hype. Bands like Black Country, New Road. What do you think of this new generation?
SB:: They’re good. I’ve only heard a couple of their songs but they’re pretty good. It’s pretty mad for there to be bands that were born when we started that have the same influences. I think that’s really good because I consider that music to be timeless. Bands like Slint and Rodan and that kind of stuff. So it’s really cool to see other generations pick that up and run with it.
TD: Mogwai are really involved in the Glasgow music scene. For a city with such a strong music community, how has it been coping with COVID-19’s shutdown?
SB: To be honest, other than people that we really work with, like Arab Strap and Twilight Sad, I’ve not really seen anyone. That’s the one thing, there’s a lot of people that you see at gigs and you’re pretty good pals with them but you don’t hear from them that much afterwards. I hope everyone’s alright. It’s definitely been weird. I’m pretty good friends with Belle & Sebastian and they’re plans got messed up even worse than ours. I think that they’re totally rethinking what they’re doing.
TD: Did you consider Mogwai more of a recording band or a live band before COVID-19?
SB: Probably live. Right now obviously we’re 100% a recording band but our music makes more sense live, that’s where it comes into its own. Obviously that’s not happening just now, we’ll just wait and see when we can do it again.
TD:: With this being your tenth studio album, how have you maintained the creative freshness?
SB: I don’t know (laughs). That’s a bad answer though. I think we still like doing it, that’s the main thing. I think people can hear when you’re phoning it in. We were all really excited about maing this record, about making these songs, and hopefully that comes through. It is pretty daunting though when you think about it. That’s a long time!
TD:: Do you think you can go for another 25 years then?!
SB: I’d be 70 or something then. Aye, definitely, why not?
TD:: As The Love Continues is coming out through your own label Rock Action Records. Have you got any other cool upcoming releases planned this year?
SB: Oh yes. Just a couple of weeks after the release of our album, we’ve got the new Arab Strap album. That’s pretty exciting. I think a few of the bands are making tentative plans but the Arab Strap one is the only one that’s finished and ready to come out.