Stuart Braithwaite seems to be constantly busy.
The Mogwai guitarist is currently releasing a new record with his post-rock stablemates based on their latest film soundtrack, as well as scheduling a tour with alternative super-group Minor Victories (also featuring Slowdive‘s Rachel Goswell, Editors‘ Justin Lockey and his film-maker brother James).
On top of this, he’s currently helping a crop of bands to release music via Mogwai’s own Rock Action label, and he continues to be a refreshingly honest and opinionated commentator on Twitter – as opposed to the usual PR-fuelled, personality-free musician ‘brands’ we’re usually treated to.
Luckily for us, Stuart had time to talk to us over the phone recently, discussing the new Mogwai record Atomic, and pretty much everything besides.
Hi Stuart. What can you tell us about the new Atomic album? What’s the general premise?
“It’s music that we wrote for Mark Cousins’ archive film Atomic. So the premise at first really was to just make music that worked well with the film. That reflected the themes of the various parts of the film. When we went to develop that into an album, we worked with it more and played a lot more music and expanded it a bit.”
What was it about the Mark Cousins documentary that inspired you to get involved? Was it the subject or his previous work?
“We actually agreed to do it before they had hired Mark. We’d seen other archive films in the series, like the one on Scotland that King Creosote did [From Scotland with Love] and the one on Sheffield that Jarvis Cocker did [The Big Melt]. We just thought they were good projects, that worked really well. The Atomic thing was something we had an interest in so it just made sense.
“Then when they brought Mark in, that was even better. He’s really talented and really good to work with. It worked out well all round.”
Mogwai – picture: Brian Sweeney
How much of composing a film soundtrack such as that is about collaborating with the film-maker? I know you’ve done it quite a few times, but are they hands-on or do they leave you to get on with what you do?
“It’s a mixture of both really. We were involved with Mark right at the start talking about what he was going to do with the film and that led us to go away and write music with those ideas in mind. There was a big collaborative part to it.”
And compared to your previous soundtrack work?
“Yeah it can be different. It was quite collaborative with Les Revenants. With the Zidane film we did, they really just let us get on with it on our own, which was different too. Certainly with the other ones, it was quite collaborative.”
Is soundtracking a major part of your band’s motif now? Is this something you enjoy and will continue to do?
“If we’re asked to do good stuff we’ll do it. I mean, I guess if we never did another, it wouldn’t really matter either!
“We’ve enjoyed the ones we’ve done and we’re always open to offers, if they’re interesting.”
What’s the appeal? Is it that you have to think differently about how you put the music together?
“Making music is about the same mindset but ‘working to order’ is something different to what we’ve ever done and it’s the chance to do other things with interesting people. Just having a creative process which is different.”
Mogwai had a line-up change in the last year, with John Cummings leaving. What was behind that and how has that changed how you work as a band? Are you more of a tight-knit unit?
“It’s the same as it always was, it’s just there’s four rather than five. I’m not really the person to ask about what was behind it, I guess the four of us will just have to work a bit harder now!
“John wasn’t in the band at the very start, so it’s not something we’re not used to. We’ll just have to work a bit harder.”
How are things going with Rock Action Records and are you still committed to supporting new music?
“Very much so. Sacred Paws are in doing their album just now, De Rosa and Mugstar records are ready as well. It’s going well, we’re certainly putting out some really good music, getting people to buy it is the tricky part these days. All you can do is get the band to the studio and make the record.”
Was the record label something you’ve always wanted to do? What inspired it?
“Well we started a label to release the first Mogwai seven inch, that was the initial inspiration. But we wanted to, since we’ve got the resources, do for other people what people did for us over the years. It’s been really rewarding.”
You have an unpcoming project called Minor Victories. What can you tell us about that?
“Yeah it’s a band with me, Justin and James. Justin plays in Editors and James is his brother. There’s also Rachel Goswell from Slowdive. They just started making a record and asked me to join the band. It’s quite exciting, the first song got played on the radio today and we’ve just announced our first gigs. We’re organising our first rehearsals, we’ve never even been in the same room playing music together – the album was done totally remotely. It’s an interesting project.”
Is that something that doesn’t concern you? The idea that bands have to live in each other’s pockets, I’m assuming that’s not something you go for yourself?
“Well, the band wouldn’t exist if that was the case. I live in Glasgow and Rachel lives in Devon. That’s a very long commute!
“I like getting into a room and playing, when we do it [with Minor Victories] it will be great, but it’s certainly not necessary these days to make a record. “
With the Zidane movie, did he see the film and has he ever turned up at a gig?
“He’s not turned up at a gig but definitely seen the film. I think he was really involved and I think he was a big fan.”
Did he say anything about the soundtrack?
“Apparently he said he liked it! And apparently that was quite a surprise because his taste in music was more pop. Maybe I’ll try and use that connection to get into the Real Madrid team one day.”
Atomic is available from April 1 via Rock Action. More info at www.mogwai.co.uk
Watch the video for ‘Ether’: