Half a decade after the great feeding frenzy of unwashed indie rock bands [read: Nirvana, Sebadoh, etc.], the Next Big Thing In Rock is anyone’s guess. That it might be a group of five early twenty-somethings from Glasgow, Scotland, named Mogwai, [after a furry puppet in the movie Gremlins], makes as much sense as anything else ushering in the millennium. The fact that their particular self-stylized genre can only be considered R-O-C-K in the most academic sense of the word, has given music critics everywhere license to brush off their thesauruses, for lack of any apt comparisons. The truth is, Mogwai defy the whole status quo of indie rock as the new cultural capitalism, just by keeping their mouths shut, for the most part. Perhaps that is the reason so many critics have already hailed this brave new band as the new “psychedelic post-rock hope”.
Strong expectations to live up to, to be sure. But this brash young gang of Scots have learned to laugh at themselves through all the hype. With four albums and a slew of singles under their collective belt, Mogwai is embarking on their first “proper” American tour, in support of the much-lauded “Come On Die Young” – the title itself nicked from gang graffiti in their hometown]. In a recent conversation with guitarist Stuart Braithwaite, he disseminated the shroud of mysticism which has plagued the band during their four-year life span.
“I think that in Britain the music press thrives on that …it’s all very interesting, if you say the band was good – or the band was bad – you kind have to [use a lot of] metaphors, to make it interesting. I really think that it’s just kind of funny. If we were really bad, and we knew we were shit, [and a] reviewer said, “the night exploded with the night of the band”, we were like, “no, we were shit”. People stopped doing that a wee bit. In addition to having their records produced by the likes of Kevin Shields [My Bloody Valentine] and David Fridmann [Mercury Rev], they are currently putting the finishing touches on a project with acclaimed ’70’s producer Arthur Baker (“a version of a Jewish hymn, very quiet-like, and sixty-minutes long”]; and have just recently recorded an EP with a brass band, tentatively due this October.
In the past you’ve said that the whole “quiet-loud thing” was becoming a bit of a cliché. Do you find that people tend to lump you in with bands they feel are doing a similar thing as Mogwai?
“Yeah, you don’t want to encourage people to start saying that there’s a scene and a clique around it either. One of the most important things is – not so much in America, but when we play in Britain, we try and get bands that people probably haven’t heard of, that we think people would like to hear. I’m trying to get bands over from America that haven’t played a proper tour.”
You’ve referred to Mogwai as being somewhat of a political band, because of your non-conformist approach to what people expect from bands in general – the non-reliance on lyrics to get your point across, for example.
“I think that there’s a blatant suspicion that we’ve been doing so well just by doing whatever the fuck we want, because so many bands spend all their time just trying to please other people. In that sense what we’ve achieved could certainly be a blueprint for people who aren’t powerful enough to just do what they want. There’s some kind of political statement behind that and it’s certainly a lot more about expression than about capitalist gain. I’m afraid there’s a lot of people that go for that kind of money straightaway and end up selling a lot less records than we do …they’re just trying to make a lot of money.”
Despite the critical praise, “Come On Die Young” has been receiving in the music press, Stuart himself has referred to the album as “…a heavy-duty dour-a-thon. It’s really dour, I think, totally. It’s …hard luck. Every single song is in a minor key, and some of the songs are like 40 beats per minute, or something like that. We take our music really seriously, and we listen to very serious music in a serious manner. We just don’t like bad music. It’s as simple as that.”
Indeed. The album opens with a track titled, “Punk Rock”, an austere guitar melody which features a voice-over by Iggy Pop, solemnly intoning that, “punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators …a term that’s based on contempt – in fashion, in style, elitism, Satanism and everything that’s rotten about rock and roll.” The remaining eleven tracks borrow heavily from a rich musical palette which might include the likes of Brian Eno and Erik Satie, as much as Tortoise or Low. Still, the band did manage to achieve one of their dreams this year, when they were nominated for four out five awards in their homeland’s heavy metal mag Kerrang! Quite an accomplishment for a group who were once regarded as “new shoe”, in reference to the Ride-inspired phrase of “shoegazing” bands.
“Oh, we do jump about a wee bit”, laughs Stuart. “We generally wag our upper bodies side to side. We do actually a great ballet – you’ll piss yourself when you see it. I think it counts just like rock, you know?”
[Mogwai will be playing at First Avenue this Saturday, September 11. ID show, doors at 6:00 pm]
© J.Free; 1999; 2022