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Mogwai, not just a wallpaper band

Photo courtesy of Matador Records
Glaswegian band Mogwai plays shows so loud, its band's posters come with a pair of earplugs. See for yourself when the band plays the Rialto Theatre tonight.
By Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 18, 2003

Mogwai is a band that makes instrumental music. That doesn't mean it makes background music, or music for you to clean the house to, or music to have sex to. In fact, Mogwai doesn't make the kind of quiet instrumentals to put on the stereo to ignore and let fade into the environment. The band's music is brooding and angry, but at other moments, it's achingly quiet and beautiful. More often than not, though, it oscillates between all those points with startling speed.

The Glasgow five-piece, which began in 1995, stood in contrast to the more cheerful Brit-pop bands that Europe has been exporting for most of the '90s. Band members (especially the band's mouthpiece, Stuart Braithwaite) got in trouble for making hostile statements to the press about other bands. This included making "Blur: Are Shite" T-shirts to hand out to audience members during a festival where both bands were making an appearance. Thankfully, the band justified their posturing with four critically acclaimed albums, including their latest on Matador records, Happy Songs for Happy People.

Multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns spoke with the Wildcat while on the road to support Happy Songs for Happy People. Mogwai play the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., tonight. Tickets are $13 at the door. Call 798-3333 for more information.

Wildcat: How has the tour gone so far?

Burns: Actually it's been good. Where were we last night? Orlando? The stage was so small we were basically playing in a row. There were five people right next to each other. It was really quite strange. And tonight's gig was kind of similar. So I don't think Florida likes music around much.

Wildcat: When I saw you guys in Phoenix, it was a big outdoor show and it was so loud.

Burns: Was it?

Wildcat: I know you're a loud band, but I figured outdoors, it would diffuse.

Burns: Our last sound engineer was so loud, he would keep blowing speakers out.

Wildcat: I talked to your merchandise guy and asked him how loud the show was going to be, he said he couldn't hear me, his ears had started bleeding at the last show.

Burns: Yeah, he's our tour manager now.

Wildcat: You joined the band in 1999?

Burns: It was 1998.

Wildcat: Why did you join Mogwai?

Burns: Apparently because I was funny. That was the only reason I was given. I actually joined the band as a flute player, for some reason. And then I didn't play the flute for very long after that. I was trained on piano, and I could play the guitar. I changed to piano and guitar. I don't know · I just kind of joined and that was it.

Wildcat: Were you friends with the band before?

Burns: Yeah, mostly with Stuart.

Wildcat: Were you a fan before you joined?

Burns: Not really. I wasn't, no. I listen to different music. We all listen to different music, it's great.

Wildcat: What do you listen to now?

Burns: Anything that I think is good. I think I used to be a snob, where I wouldn't get into new bands, but now that's all I like to do, because I get bored really quickly.

Wildcat: So when does this tour end?

Burns: The first of October. Then we're home for a week and a half. Then we have a UK tour and Japan in November. It's a shame; I want to go home.

Wildcat: Do you just stick to one instrument onstage, or do you switch for whatever?

Burns: It used to be, if you made up a song on that instrument, then you played that instrument live. But it's kind of changed now. If it sounds like we can't play the song live, we have to work out who can play what. We swap around a lot, and we don't usually do that.

Wildcat: How does the songwriting process go? Do you all kind of write your parts for each song?

Burns: Usually one person has an idea for a song, then everyone kind of plays along until it's finish. We don't really finish until the last day of recording it. It takes a long time for us to be happy that we're finished with it. And. Fuck. I don't know. We're kind of credited equally on the albums, because we all just pay ourselves the same money. It's much more amicable that way, and there's no arguments. We do it democratically.

Wildcat: Is it the same for your videos? Because I was just watching your last video, and I was curious who came up with the idea for that.

(In the video, which is an animation, a man steals pets from his neighbors and buys animals from pet stores, then throws the animals off the roof of his apartment building).

Burns: It wasn't us. It was a Canadian company. I think our record company approached them about doing the video for, "Hunted by a Freak." They gave us some ideas, and we said yes to some. They basically sent us the story, and we liked the sound of it, and they did it. When we got it back, we were just amazed at how funny it was.

Wildcat: It's almost so sick and sad that it makes you laugh.

Burns: It's brilliant isn't it? We just said yes, but we didn't make up anything.

Wildcat: I'm having a hard time describing Mogwai.

Burns: Just steal someone else's review. They'll never know. When you can, cheat.

Wildcat: It's hard to say an "an instrumental band." But the thing I like about you guys is that your songs make you feel specific · feelings, instead of typical instrumentals, that people usually put on in the background and that don't really leave an impression on the listener.

Burns: They're (other bands) more like wallpaper.

Wildcat: But you guys aren't. Why is that?

Burns: I think a lot of those bands don't have any substance to them. They are just for atmosphere. That's okay if you want to have a sŽance. But it's not much use if you want to listen to music and enjoy it. I don't know. It's quite simple. We just try to make up nice melodies and put music to it. That's about as simple as it gets. We don't try to convey any emotions or anything. We're just five people playing music. Does that make it easier?

Wildcat: It does. Tucson's just not well-known for their ·

Burns: It's in a Beatles song, isn't it?

Wildcat: The only other thing I wanted to ask about was, I was going through the Matador message boards, and I saw some of Stuart's posts, and he's very angry. But you guys are very nice in person.

Burns: What did he say?

Wildcat: Someone gave their opinion on the album before it was officially released. Stuart said something like, "You think you get to comment on the album before it comes out, fuck you, you stupid cunts." That kind of thing.

Burns: (Laughing) He gets excited. We all get really excited. I currently have a big gripe with British Airways. I'm trying to be as vocal about their crap-ness as I can. We get upset easily. But we're never in a bad mood for more than five minutes.

Wildcat: It seems like you've gotten a reputation for being very angry.

Burns: I know! But we didn't make it up, it's the media. People ask us questions and we answer them honestly. I think a lot of bands don't do that, because they're afraid they might say something that might offend someone. But, fuck off if it offends you, you know? If you mean it you can just say it.

Wildcat: I will be sure to mention how amiable you guys really are.

Burns: We are, we are.

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Mogwai, not just a wallpaper band


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