Interview: Mogwai

Thirsty for JUICE content? Quench your cravings on our Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp

As the band that popularised post rock, Mogwai needs no introduction. Their rivalry with Sigur Ros, their proud Scottish heritage and their quest to be the loudest band in the world are well-known by fans. And for 1 night in January, for the first time ever, Mogwai is playing live in Malaysia.

We were expecting an informal interview in a bar with empty beer bottles and cigarette butts, but taking place mere hours before their KLCC Convention Centre gig, we were sat down at opposite ends of a very formal conference table with founding members Stuart Braithwaite (multi-instrumentalist) and Dominic Aitchison (bassist) instead. With only minutes to spare, JUICE went straight for the jugular: post rock and why Australians can’t play Scotsmen.

What have you been doing since you guys got here?

Dominic Since we’ve got here, we’ve eaten a lot of food!

That’s part of our culture. We like to feed our guests. I heard a few of you guys caught a football game the other day?

Dominic Yeah, it never happened.

Stuart We were going to … but then we decided to eat instead. (laughs)

Dominic We also did some drinking. Eating and drinking. Beautifully culture you’ve got here….

What’s kind of fertile musical ground is Scotland?

Stuart It’s isolated culturally. But in real terms it’s not that isolated, it’s only 6 hours drive from London. But a lot of media never really leaves London. So that leaves a lot of bands to find their own feet without too much pressure, that’s why I think there are a lot of good bands in Scotland. It’s a good place to play music.

Dominic It’s quite a small setting as well. So you end up meeting everybody that’s in a band. There’s always a certain amount of places that everyone hangs about so you get to known everyone pretty quickly and that’s good.

It’s not exactly Iceland is it?

(In unison) No! It’s definitely not. (laughs)

So while we’re on the subject of Iceland…

Dominic Oh, I knew it! I knew it was coming…

You haven’t heard the question yet. We were going to ask you what you thought of Bjork?

Stuart Really?

No, actually we wanna know about Sigur Ros.

Dominic Go ahead. (laughs)

After being around for more than 10 years, the media still compares the both of you. You’ve known them for just as long, what are your thoughts?

Dominic I’ve got no problem. I think they’re a good band. I think I prefer Vonbrigði, I’m not so keen on the direction they’re going at the moment. But yeah, they’re a good band that has recorded some really good records.

That’s a nice thing to say about them. What do you think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart?

(Dominic and Stuart look blankly at us for half a minute, then burst out laughing)

Dominic I think it’s a terrible movie! The Scottish accent is really horrific. Yeah, it’s strange. I don’t understand why you would have an Australian playing a Scottish guy.

Stuart It’s not his idea….

Dominic No, it probably was his idea. He did direct it. But it was weird. Near where I live is where a lot of these battles took place. And really embarrassingly they built a statue in the town centre of William Wallace but it was the Mel Gibson version of William Wallace. It was really embarrassing. So it didn’t last long. People complained and it got moved. Well, it’s not a film I would watch anyway.

Stuart I don’t understand why he tried to put on a Scottish accent because in most historical things, they just completely ignore the accent. Like if you’ve watched Barry Lyndon, the Stanley Kubrick film that’s set in Austria and Germany, everyone’s just got an English accent. Even the Nazis had English accents. So I just don’t know why he bothered. It wouldn’t have made the film any worse if he just did it in his Australian accent. It would’ve make more sense than this bad Scottish accent. It’s a hard accent to copy. People remember how Scottish people say certain things and then they say everything like that. You end up sounding like Groundskeeper Willy from the Simpsons.

Are there a lot of Shoegazers in Scotland?

Stuart Not really. Most are slightly weird and noisy kind of bands. Bands that play different kinds of music play together all the time. I think it’s pretty boring going to see gigs and all the bands are on the same page.

Mogwai has been labeled Shoegazer from time to time. Are you guys sick of hearing that term?

Stuart I don’t even hear that term enough (laughs). I’m probably a lot more comfortable with it because a lot of the music we were into when we were young was called Shoegazing.

Dominic It’s better than Post Rock!

So do you think Post Rock is still significant?

Stuart I don’t really know what Post Rock actually is. I think that people just call instrumental bands Post Rock. A lot of the bands that people say are Post Rock like Tortoise or Labradford don’t sound anything like each other. So if it’s just bands that sound like us, then how’s that Post Rock? That’s just Post-Mogwai.

Does your quest to be the loudest band in the world have anything to do with a secret Punk Rock streak?

Stuart No, we gave that up years ago. It was a bad idea.

Dominic We got to a stage where it was so loud that you couldn’t make out any music. It was just a wash of noise and people weren’t enjoying it. I mean, there’s no point pissing off your audience just for the sake of it. So we turned it down a bit. And a lot of places that we play at nowadays have noise limits so we can’t be as loud as we like or used to be. So we’ve kind of given it up.

Stuart We’re still quite loud but it’s not the be-all end-all of our live performances.

Would you consider Irvine Welsh and the band Big Country to be the cultural icons of Scotland? And has Mogwai secured a spot in their company?

Stuart Probably. Irvine Welsh is a famous writer and Big Country is a successful big band from Scotland. Yeah, they’re definitely cultural icons in Scotland and I’d like to think that we are, maybe, to a lesser extent some cultural product of the country … if we keep making music for a bit longer than Big Country managed.

Thanks for the interview guys! Do you guys ever get bored of interviews? Because we’ve read some of your past interviews and it seems like the media really bores you.

Dominic I don’t know. Stuart’s usually the one that does them.

Stuart Hmm … some are boring, but it’s not all the same so it depends on the interviewer.

Dominic Yeah you get asked some pretty boring questions….

So do you prefer answering questions about Post-Rock or Braveheart?

Stuart + Dominic Braveheart probably…. (laughs)

Mogwai rocked KLCC Convention Centre on Wednesday 21 January 2009. A big hurray to Tuborg and Soundscape for bringing them down! For a full report on the concert, click here.

Image Euseng Seto