The Scottish post-rock renegades share a cinematic visual for ‘Coolverine’ and talk us through their upcoming ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun
Under the giant, dart-shaped solar panel standing in the centre of Primavera Festival’s Parc del Forum in Barcelona, a hundred-strong queue is beginning to form. After 20 minutes it’s reached to its thousands, the sun-drenched punters standing in a zig-zag formation. The number of Celtic and Scotland football shirts in attendance should give you a rough idea of what everyone’s queueing for: a few hours earlier, Mogwai announced a last minute appearance at the festival. They only needed to send one tweet (“Just arrived in Barcelona”) for word to spread, and by the time their 8pm set starts, countless fans are still stood under the solar panel, hundreds of yards away but able to hear the growling opening notes of the Scottish veterans’ new album.
Mogwai are here to perform their ninth full-length, Every Country’s Sun, in its entirety. It’s a record that merges the spike-encrusted ferocity of their 1990s albums with the tender, minimalist style that defines their most recent records. It’s testament to the album itself that virtually everyone who makes it to the secret set sticks around for the entire 56 minutes.
Once ballsy, establishment-rattling renegades, the past few years has seen Mogwai settling into a groove. Having spent the decades exploring various permutations of their ‘post-rock’ sound (they still hate the term), today they’re more popular than ever. 2014 album Rave Tapes was their first to chart in the UK top ten, and they’re widely seen as one of the UK’s more reliable and resilient acts, incapable of making a duff record. Still, Every Country’s Sun seems intent on taking risks. Produced by Dave Fridmann, who last worked with the band on 2001’s Rock Action, it contains arguably their poppiest moment to date (“Party in the Dark” is a New Order-nodding melodic joy) and moments of strung out ambience, like standout “aka 47”.
Lead single “Coolverine” is similarly spacious, and Dazed has the first play of its accompanying video. Directed by James and Justin Lockey at Handheld Cine Club – guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s bandmates in Minor Victories, alongside Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell – it’s a disorienting mix of gravity-defying acts and slo-mo despair. “Fuck knows what’s happening!” laughs Braithwaite about the video. “I just love the mad faces of all these people they know. They make all their videos in Doncaster – you’d think it was in LA, wouldn’t you?”
You just played Every Country’s Sun in full for the first time. Did it all go smoothly?
Stuart Braithwaite: There were a few bits here and there, but that’s always the case with tours and playing songs for the first time. The space between your hands and your brain gets a bit muddled, when you’re full of nerves. But I think we managed it. People stayed until the end!
The album becomes more intense and firebreathing towards the end, especially in ‘Old Poisons’.
Stuart Braithwaite: That’s a banger. That’s a lot of fun to play. And it’s not too hard for me! I’m not playing a hard bit. Not saying I’m some kind of virtuoso, but I can just enjoy the music rather than worry about what my fingers are doing.
“A friend of ours didn’t know anything about the universe. They thought the reason it was a different temperature in different places was because every country had their own sun” – Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
I know you’re supposed to take Mogwai album titles with a pinch of salt, but Every Country’s Sun is quite sincere. What’s the story behind it?
Stuart Braithwaite: It is silly, but it also resonates. It’s silly because a friend of ours didn’t know anything about the universe. They thought the reason it was a different temperature in different places was because every country had their own sun.
How old is this friend?
Stuart Braithwaite: Old enough to know better! So we thought this was really funny. It was always going to be a song title. But when we were talking about album titles, it definitely had a universal message of positivity that we liked. After Brexit and all these horrible, really fucking negative things happening in the world, it felt like a positive collection of words. Every country has the same sun. We’re just fucking mammals living on a rock.
This is the first time you’ve worked with Dave Fridmann since 2000. You’ve obviously done so much since, and so has he. Was it like working with someone completely new?
Stuart Braithwaite: It wasn’t. It was like working with someone that you work with every day, and you really like working with. To be honest, if Dave Fridmann lived in Scotland or we lived in America, we’d probably make every record together. It was a brilliant experience. We got on well with his family. I mean, it was weird – we had this big gap of working with him, and it was almost like nothing had changed. But his kids who were toddlers were now adults. One of them is studying sound engineering.
What defined the way you made this record?
Stuart Braithwaite: I think it’s just the sound that Dave brings – a really warm, overdriven, full sound. It suited the songs we made. And it really contrasts with Rave Tapes, which is a really minimal record. And now we’ve made this maximal follow-up.
“If the music isn’t engaging and doesn’t work, you’re fucked whatever it sounds like. I’m probably more obsessive about making music now, but I’ve realised the stuff it’s important to be obsessive over” – Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
Rave Tapes was your first record to break the top ten. Mogwai have never aspired to be in the charts.
Stuart Braithwaite: But when you put your own records out, it’s quite nice! Atomic went top 20, and it’s great. We’re lucky, the people that like our band are very loyal. They still buy records.
2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will was the first album you self-released. Since then, the game has changed so much and is changing so quickly. How much have you learnt?
Stuart Braithwaite: Tons, absolutely tons. It’s a balancing act, being the band and the label. Sometimes you’ll do things knowing this isn’t going to sell us any more records. But someone offering you to play a big festival is so much more to do with selling records now. It used to just be about shifting units. That’s kind of gone. Not that the album as an artform is not still incredible, but if anyone’s planning on having a career in the music industry by just making records and not playing shows, then good luck to them.
Do you always approach a record thinking there’s new ground to pave?
Stuart Braithwaite: To be honest, in recent years, I’ve really just been focused on getting some good songs together. The other stuff falls into place. Sometimes when you worry about stylistic changes and surface elements, the songs get lost. The most important part of any record, band, artist, or singer is the music itself. If the music isn’t engaging and doesn’t work, you’re fucked whatever it sounds like. I’m probably more obsessive about making music now, but I’ve realised the stuff it’s important to be obsessive over.
You wanted to make a fuller-sounding record, but there are still moments of introspection, especially on ‘aka 47’.
Stuart Braithwaite: I was worried about playing that tonight! Because it’s so minimalist and ambient. But it worked really well.
“This felt political, this record... making art is in itself a political act. You’re choosing to do something to make the world a better place. If that’s not a political act, what is?” – Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
You’ve been so vocal about the general election. How do you see the result going?
Stuart Braithwaite: I’m an optimist and I actually think Corbyn will win. Maybe not outright – he might need support from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, but I think he might win. Theresa May is a car crash. She can’t answer a question. She’s a mess. They’ve made a fundamental flaw of hanging the campaign around her character, when her character is… nothing.
Being a mostly instrumental band who rarely use vocals, people might not perceive Mogwai as political. But would you say otherwise?
Stuart Braithwaite: This felt political, this record. We were in America just after Trump was voted in. Upstate New York, in the sticks. I think that making art is in itself a political act. You’re choosing to do something to make the world a better place. If that’s not a political act, what is? I remember watching Trump’s first press conference, after he won. And he was just talking absolute bollocks. I remember thinking, ‘What is fucking wrong with people?’ Not even just the fact that he is intellectually incapable, but morally he’s a piece of shit. And it just shows how polarised the country has become, and how far away from actual news these stations tend to broadcast.
Mogwai release Every Country’s Sun on September 1