Mogwai as bastions of independence.
A band who have built their own world, Mogwai's last two studio albums have both cracked the Top 10, while 2017 closed with a mammoth show at Glasgow's enormous SSE Hydro.
But they're not quite done yet. Carving out a mirror career in the soundtrack world, Mogwai were invited to score high profile new motion picture KIN.
An absorbing document in its own right, the score follows similar such venture for the likes of Zidane, Atomic, and acclaimed French drama series Les Revenants.
The band's recent album 'Every Country's Sun' has been nominated for this year's SAY Award, and the hotly contested shortlist as always features some stellar releases.
Mogwai of course have a long association with the award - the artists on their Rock Action imprint are regularly somewhere near the winner's podium.
With the winner of the SAY Award 2018 set to be announced on September 6th, Clash got on the phone to Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite...
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‘Every Country’s Sun’ has made it to the SAY Award shortlist, how much does that mean to you?
It’s great! There are so many other good records on it, and it’s a nice thing to every year let people know about all the good records that people are making in Scotland. I’m pretty happy about it!
It’s a broad list, are any of the albums on there a particular favourite of yours?
A bunch, yeah. I really like Young Fathers, and obviously we (Rock Action) released the Out Lines record, so I’m a big fan of that too.
When you look at a list as broad as that one what facets leap out at you?
I think it’s really diverse, that’s probably what I’d take from that list. There’s a lot of different types of music being made in Scotland. I think there always has been. I think one of the good thing about the award is letting everyone know about what’s going on, and celebrating all the music that’s being made.
It’s a very independent-minded list – few if any major label releases!
That’s probably true. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of how good the independent scene is, or how few records are actually being signed by major labels.
One informs the other, doesn’t it? Some of these records need to just grow wild.
That’s true. Look at Free Love – I’m sure a label will pick them up, but it’s probably too wild for a major label.
Looking at Mogwai, your new soundtrack project ‘KIN’ is out now. What is it about narrative led projects that connect with the group?
I think it’s just interesting applying what we do to someone else’s story. Being part of a big project, one that’s different and challenging. It’s something we just enjoy. I really like the music on this film, and I’m looking forward to people hearing it.
Each soundtrack project has been incredibly fastidious – what differentiates it from a full album project?
It’s different. We do it a lot more quickly. We don’t get the time to obsess on things as we do as an album. We try and do the best we can with everything we do. I think as we turn these things into records we want them to work as records and not just be merch for the film – we want them to be records in their own right.
How did ‘KIN’ come about?
The director is just a massive fan of the band, and asked us to do it. It was their first film and they put a lot of faith in us. It’s not a small film so there was a lot of pressure for them to go with a more traditional score. We’re really grateful for them to think of us first.
Do you get to see the initial edits of the film first, or do you score around the script?
It depends on the schedule. They hadn’t started when they asked us, but by the time we started writing music they were sending us scenes and that sort of thing. It was quite a long process. But with Les Revenants they hadn’t shot at all, so we did that from the script. It really depends on what part of the process we get brought in.
Is there much of a back and forth?
There was a tonne of back and forth for this. And it was changing all the time as well – it started as a really long film, then they wanted it to be a lot shorter. It’s interesting for us to get involved in that process as well, as we never otherwise would. It’s quite an educational experience.
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You finished last year by playing Glasgow’s SSE Hydro – where do you go after that? Will you play intimate shows, for example?
We actually are going to do a small gig for charity! I think we’ll just see what happens. We’re going to go back into the studio next year and work on a record. We’ll see what happens – we’re quite comfortable going with the flow.
The band are split across different cities – and in Barry Burns’ case a different country – so does that mean you work across email, or do you have to be in the same room?
We can do quite a lot over email, but he also comes back. We’re actually doing another soundtrack right now and Barry’s over – I think he likes to get away from Berlin in the summer because it’s too hot. It’s only an hour and a half on a plane so it’s not too big a hassle.
I remember you did a lot of solo shows during the Scottish referendum debate, is that something you would return to?
I’m not planning on it, but maybe at some point. I think a lot of that stuff was just the only option to get involved! I’ll do something at some point, but I’m pretty busy with all this right now.
Rock Action must take up a lot of your time, how much input do the band have?
We’re not in the office every day. We’ve got a few people working full time, they make sure it all runs… but all the major decisions are made by us. And we’re pretty excited about things just now. People are really excited about the Kathryn Joseph record, and The Twilight Sad one is coming out soon. I think we’re in a good spot.
You’ve dominated the SAY Award for the past few years! Is it nice to be on the other side of the fence, and take Sacred Paws, say, from being unsigned to winning the prize itself?
I get a massive buzz from that! And they’re such an exciting band, such lovely people, and it’s just nice to be a part of letting people hear good music. It’s pretty cool.
The SAY Award is nationwide – moving from Neon Waltz in Caithness down to the Borders.
There aren’t that many people living in Scotland but it’s actually a really big place! Getting to some places is significantly more time-consuming than getting to Berlin. I can see people getting annoyed with the central belt obsession, so it’s good to see the attention moving all over. With Mogwai, the bigger the show gets the more difficult it gets to play some of these places – I’d like to see us play some of the more neglected parts of Scotland.
There is a question of infrastructure as well – more and more venues are under threat.
Completely. And I’m still furious about what happened to the Arches, which is one of the biggest scandals of recent times. I think the people who run cities should remember why cities are popular, and should keep an eye on that… rather than just taking the plaudits while destroying the spaces where people can create culture.
What do you think could be done to correct that?
I think a lot of it is just protecting cultural status. There’s this generational thing – some people won’t recognise what culture is. You saw that in London when they tried to destroy the skatepark at the South Bank, whereas if skateboarding was 20 years older it would have had a blue plaque on it. The kids had to kick up an absolute stink just to stop it being turned into a Starbucks.
I think we’re starting to see that, with people recognising that culture is more than just things – music or plays – created by dead people being performed over and over again. The actual spaces where culture is created are so, so important because once they’re gone, they’re gone. I think that’s one of the problems musicians in Edinburgh have, is that there’s a lack of places to play. I see it happen more and more in London now, because developers look at a space that hosts shows and think, well, we can turn that into flats. We need protection to stop that happening.
We should finish by talking about Mogwai – how developed is the new album?
We’ve got rough plans. We’re winding down the touring. We’ve got a dedicated rehearsal space now, so once we wind it down a bit we can go in there and see what happens.
Have you found that doing these narrative led projects have bled into different ways of approaching full Mogwai albums?
They all inform each other. I’d say the biggest thing we’ve taken from the soundtrack stuff is that we can do things pretty quickly. You don’t want to always do that – it’s nice to take your time! - but it’s good to know you can, and if you can quickly make a bunch of songs then you can dip through them, find the ones that really feel great, and work on them. It gives us more options.
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'KIN' is out now. The winner of the SAY Award 2018 will be announced on September 8th.
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