anyone who is interested in adventurous new british music will be familiar with the name mogwai. a tremendous run of early singles - 'summer' and 'new paths to helicon' in particular - made many tired ears prick up and take notice of this new noise coming out of scotland. hailed as the rightful heirs to my bloody valentine, they also owed a debt to the more left-field american acts like bardo pond and slint. a debut album 'young team' wowed the uk press, although musically it didn't excite as much as the initial singles. a remix collection 'kicking a dead pig' followed, and in summer '98 they released the 'no education, no future' ep which featured one of their finest songs to date, the epic 'christmas steps'. ever keen to progress they went to america to record with dave fridmann (flaming lips, mercury rev) who produced their remarkable new album 'come on die young'. when i met up with them i was eager to get their reactions to the rise and rise of mogwai.
first of all, what about the reception that mogwai have received, especially from the time 'young team' was released, as it really seemed to gain acceptance from all sorts of diverse publications and musicians.
john: "it's been good, but i think it has surprised us. when we did 'young team' for instance, we didn't think it was the best thing we had done, but people saw things as a progression, and we thought those parts were shit! but now i've grown to like it."
so do you think the early singles were better than the debut album then?
stuart: "i think we thought that we'd rushed the 'young team' a bit. we could have worked on it for months and made a better album, but then we'll have another album written and recorded by the time we'd have done that.
dominic: "we did rush it, we could have done it better. it was a product of the time as well. we weren't in a very good mood and you know that when things aren't going well you just want to get it finished. things got exaggerated and it all got a bit...."
d: "yeah, miserable. but looking back now it wasn't too bad, and john was having a good time anyway!"
j: "aye, i was!" (he doesn't elaborate!)
how about the idea of incorporating vocals into the music?
s: "yes. well i tried singing on some of the new material just to see how it turns out, but we have done songs with vocals that we've never done anything with. one has made it onto the new album so hopefully the backlash won't be as bad as when bob dylan went electric!"
so mogwai wasn't always an instrumental band?
d: "no! we used to have vocals on every song! there were a couple of instrumentals but man, we were fucking rubbish when we started. there was one song that was called (inaudible on my recording i'm afraid -j) that was the most ultimate pish that anyone had ever recorded, it was early ash gone wrong, not that i'm slagging ash mind, cos i like them. it was like fraggle but it had the same tune as duran duran's 'rio' and tlc 'waterfalls'!"
blimey. so why do you think that mogwai have been so well received by the press when a lot of the bands that have inspired you - bardo pond spring to mind in particular - are being ignored?
d: "i think it's a case of timing really. the sort of stuff we do has come back and more people are getting into it now, whereas not so long ago nobody gave a fuck."
s: "also, the fact that we live in britain and we've been able to prove ourselves in front of british audiences. a lot of the bands that influence us are american and haven't had that chance."
d: "a lot of people have a problem with liking american bands - it's almost like xenophobia."
s: "maybe people find those us art-rock bands too clinical though, and while they are amazing bands we tend to be not so polished at times! we're really a bunch of guys who imagine we're in motorhead even though we're playing art-rock music!"
ok, enough about the american bands - are there any uk acts that you rate?
s: "arab strap obviously. bob tilton. i consider them to be very like us, not necessarily in a musical sense but more in the way they think about things. they just have a bit of a motivation problem."
d: "there's a great story about the time they supported rocket from the crypt in manchester. they turned up at the venue, saw the size of it and went 'fuck it, we're not playing!'"
explain a bit about mogwai's relationship with chemikal underground records.
s: "it's not totally permanent, but we like working with them and we're definitely doing this new album with them. they are totally independent, they've made their own money, and they work the label how they want. they're not funded by anyone but at the same time they're not small-minded - they want to see the bands do well. they don't have any stupid indie ethics like not selling through virgin or hmv. to me that sort of attitude isn't saying "i'm not working with those people", it's saying "people who shop in those shops aren't good enough to buy our records." i'm totally against that. contract wise we have a good publishing deal, so we gave up our day jobs on the strength of that."
talk moves back to the american underground, and in particular aerial m, the solo project of ex-slint/ palace brothers/ tortoise guitarist dave pajo, who have completed a uk tour in support of mogwai. how does it feel to have someone who is obviously such a big influence on you supporting you?
s: (laughs) "it's ridiculous, but then if it makes young kids that have never even heard of slint check them out then it's great. they are the velvet underground for our generation, so when people discover them through that it's amazing. i was really honoured to have aerial m on the tour."
the remix album 'kicking a dead pig' has a similarly impressive pedigree. kevin shields, david holmes, m-ziq, surgeon... how did you get involved with david holmes, because on first impressions he seems like an unusual choice of collaborator?
s: "well his label go!discs really wanted to sign arab strap and they were willing to follow them to the ends of the earth, and they managed to see us a couple of times during that chase. and when the single came out (david holmes's 'don't die just yet') they wanted to do something different with the mixes rather than just getting techno guys in, so they got us and arab strap! it was the first remix we had done and we enjoyed it."
and of course there was a bit of slint slipped into the mix wasn't there?
s: "yes, the drums and bass from 'good morning captain' are in it, slowed down a little. i actually got to speak to brian mcmahon (slint leader) about that, and although he really didn't like the original song he didn't mind the remix. he's a nice guy. we've done a therapy? mix too. oh, and we have heard about david holmes new café called mogwai, so we'd better get free food!"
### since we conducted this chat holmes has sold his shares in mogwai cafe and moved on###
there are various spoken pieces on 'young team'. how did these come about?
s: "well the phone call about us having a fight was a joke."
d: "basically we phoned colin our manager and told him that i had decked stuart in a row over the mix, and it was funny but we only used it until just before colin loses it with us!"
s: "but if you get a call like that what are you going to do? the band you manage who are recording their much awaited debut album have just split up in a violent fit, the two songwriters have hit each other and say that they aren't coming back!"
oh yeah! unfortunately common decency dictates that i can't tell you about the backward messages at the end of 'yes i am a long way from home', or any of the other anecdotes about other indie-stars porn habits. i believe we could get into legal difficulties with the latter subject! as well as their breathtaking music, mogwai show themselves to be a really good bunch of blokes, content to chat to us at their leisure. they're also a fantastic live experience so do not fail to check them out when they tour the long-awaited new album.