THIS IS HARDCORE
For Mogwai, the definitions have changed over the years. These Scots were once known for their power and a cerebral approach to the gentle art of making music.
But a host of copycats have chipped away at the distinctive nature of the band's output. Now, the word that comes to mind is 'consistency': it speaks to Mogwai's capacity to maintain an intimidating level of creativity throughout their 15 years in existence and see off the lazy imitators.
A high level of consistency brings its own set of challenges, however, and with each album release you can almost feel the expectation: this is the one where Mogwai drop the ball; this is the moment where they perhaps drift into irrelevance. It's something the band themselves feel acutely. â€œYes, I think we do,â€ says guitarist and vocalist Stuart Braithwaite. â€œI'm really proud that we've never really fucked up and I'd like that to continue. When we make a record our only goal is to write and record as good a collection of songs as possible, and how they turn out tends to happen almost by accident.â€
Mogwai's latest album is the gloriously named, 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will', and as far as critical opinion is concerned it sees the band holding their collective nerve. Braithwaite too is pleased with the outcome of the sessions. â€œI'm totally happy with it to be honest. It has a really complete feel, which I'm really proud of.â€
And well he should, because 'Hardcore' is a long way from Mogwai simply signing in for some studio time, banging out the tracks, and packing their bags for the tour. There have been some important decisions in the creation of the album, the most interesting of which is the return of producer Paul Savage, who last worked with the band on their 1997 debut, 'Young Team'. â€œPaul has been doing a lot of great work over the last few years with The Phantom Band, Twilight Sad, Aidan Moffat and Franz Ferdinand,â€ Braithwaite says. â€œI think that both us and Paul have grown and moved on a lot since we worked together all those years ago.â€
The other major collaborator on 'Hardcore' is multi-instrumentalist, Luke Sutherland. Sutherland's violin has long been a feature both in the studio and onstage for Mogwai, but with 'Hardcore' he takes a step to the front, contributing a haunting, atmospheric vocal for album highlight, 'Mexican Grand Prix'. It's something Brathwaite can envision happening more in the future. â€œDefinitely. Luke has added hugely to every project he's helped us with and is a pleasure to work with and be around. He's a huge talent and I can definitely see us working together in the future.â€
One of the most surprising tracks to come out of the 'Hardcore' sessions was 'Music For A Forgotten Future', included as a bonus track on special editions of the album. It found Mogwai moving out of their comfort zone and building a 23-minute-long piece to accompany an installation by artists Douglas Gordon and Olaf Nicolai. It's a striking movement of music, perhaps more distinctive than anything on the album itself, and something the band would enjoy doing more of in the future. â€œI think so,â€ Braithwaite says. â€œIt's great writing music where the music is not the focal point as it allows you to leave more space than normal. I'm a big fan of space in music.â€
Of course, getting into the studio for Mogwai isn't quite as simple as it once was. Band members John Cummings and Barry Burns now live in New York and Berlin, respectively - something that Braithwaite says isn't such a big deal. â€œThere was a lot of international file sharing while we were writing the record but other than that it hasn't changed too much. We still all got together to rehearse before we went in to the studio.â€
And writing and recording music isn't the only thing on Mogwai's plate these days. The group also have to worry about their own music label, Rock Action Records, both in terms of balancing their own output and looking after the concerns of younger bands on the Glasgow scene. â€œIt can be a little [tough to balance],â€ Braithwaite says. â€œBut we made a conscious decision to concentrate on the music only while the album was being made. When it comes to the other artists on the label, the hardest part is trying to keep up with the younger bands when out drinking. The youth have so much stamina! The music scene in Glasgow is really great at the moment, although I think it always is. There always seems to be a bunch of new exciting bands appearing out of nowhere.â€
There have been record label-related challenges on the other side of the Atlantic too, the band making big news when they decided to leave Matador in favour of the granddaddy of United States independent record labels, Sub Pop. But Braithwaite is quick to diffuse any controversy over the switch. â€œWe just felt like a change, and Sub Pop are a great label. I have to thank Matador, though, as they are also a great label and were fantastic to us over the years.â€
But it's the concerns of touring that Mogwai are currently considering. Next week they head to the United States and Canada, kicking off a series of dates that will see them travel all across North America, doubling back through Europe and eventually ending up in Japan and then Australia, for Fuji Rock and Splendour In The Grass respectively. It's five years since the band last appeared at Splendour, but Braithwaite has nothing but fond memories of the experience. â€œJust a lot of fun, really,â€ he says. â€œPeople in Australia are always up for a party and our music is really appreciated there too. Splendour was fantastic. We're doing Fuji the same weekend [this year] so it's going to be hectic but great at the same time.â€
The touring will continue right up until later October, when the band (well, most of them) return to Glasgow and â€œhopefully write some new musicâ€. It will cap off a busy year for Mogwai, but then again it's hard to imagine them operating at anything less than full throttle - such is life when you yourselves are hardcore.
MOGWAI PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS, WHICH HITS WOODFORDIA IN WOODFORD, QUEENSLAND, JULY 29-31. SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.COM