When you think of the Scottish music scene, the lullaby melodies of Belle and Sebastian or the Cocteau Twins usually come to mind first. But for over a decade, Glasgow quintet Mogwai has set the sound for the post-rock instrumental scene the world over. With a swirling mix of atmospheric guitar noise and pathos-driven electronics, the Scottish “Kings of the Independent Underground” have not only produced over seven studio albums, but also a live film, Burning. After a three year studio break, the boys are back with Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will. We spoke to frontman Stuart Braithwaite to learn about the band’s evolution over the years, and to try get to the bottom of why, exactly, all that noise makes us feel so damn emotional.
You guys have been playing for over a decade now. How have you seen the music industry change? I think it’s changed quite a lot to be honest. I think the way people get to hear music has changed quite a lot and a lot of things we thought were normal are not quite redundant. Like hearing a song on the radio and asking a record shop to get it for you. It’s so easy to get music and people don’t pay as much money for music, but I think it’s balanced out by the amount of music people have available to them.
And as artists, how have you evolved? We’ve added a member. We’re older so we can probably play a little bit better. But I don’t think the fundamentals of the band have changed too much. I think that technology has changed how we write music and record music, nothing too major.
Because you’ve been playing for so long does the music come easier at this point or is it more difficult to not become repetitive with your sound? I think it’ not difficult to write music but it’s not necessarily difficult to repeat yourself because you’ve done more before. You have to try a little bit hard to think of new types of songs to write and new avenues to go down. I mean, there are harder things in life than trying to come up with songs.
Did you set out to be an instrumental band? Not particularly, when we first started the band we had a lot of songs with vocals but they weren’t very good. The songs without the vocals were better.
Do you think that makes your music less appealing to a wider audience? I don’t think so, I think people are more used to dancing and singing though. I think people thought it was pretty weird when we first started but yeah, no one really mentions it too much now.
What would you say your music is about? What are you trying to convey? We’re not really trying to convey anything. I think our music is quite emotive and the nature of the emotion really depends on who’s listening to it and how you feel. There’s people that have said to me about the same song that it’s the most joyous thing they’ve ever heard and other people say it’s the most heartbreaking thing. I think it really just depends on how the person feels and I think there’s a vagueness. Do you think about that when you’re creating music, what it’s going to evoke in someone? We’re thinking quite practically, to be totally honest. I think the kind of music we enjoy writing and playing has a certain emotional resonance to it but I don’t think we have to try and quantify it or rationalize it. I think it just comes to us and it’s the type of music we like to make.
You have been together so long, how do you go able fusing your musical identities into one sound? I think it comes pretty naturally. I think that’s one of the things with bands, there’s a certain musical chemistry when certain people play together it has a certain sound and although we have a diverse taste in music, it just always comes together when we play with one another.
Why did you chose to title the album, Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will? It was overheard by the drummer of one of the bands on our label. He heard a guy saying it to another guy in a shop and we just kind of liked it. It was said by a guy that was in a Glasgow gang, and quite a lot of our records sales come from that culture that came with Come on Die Young.
What would you say is different about this album? I think it has more of an optimistic feel and it’s definitely a lot sparse; a lot of our music has a real emptiness to it so I think it’s quite different.
And you made a film… I think it was something that other people said, that we should make a live film. I ‘m happy with it and I think it’s quite a good document of us playing.
What’s next for your guys? Scotland. We’re doing five small shows there. We do two shows in Tokyo and then we come back and we tour the UK and Europe and then we go to America for a month, and then start playing festivals.