Mogwai – Interview 2018

KIN is an original soundtrack album by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, released on 31st August 2018 on their own Rock Action. Active since the 90s, Mogwai have previously scored documentaries (Zidane, Atomic, Before the Flood, amongst others), but this is their first full film soundtrack. Directed by the brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker, the film stars Jack Reynor, Zoe Kravitz, James Franco and Dennis Quaid, and is a high-octane thriller that gets its UK release November. Following shows at Latitude, Primavera Sound in Barcelona, and the Robert Smith-curated Meltdown festival this year, they’ve got a short UK tour coming up, supported by fellow Glasweigans The Twilight Sad, including a sold out date at the Dome in Brighton. Founder and guitarist Stuart Braithwaite talks to Jeff Hemmings about the film, ‘donuts’, and their penchant for loud music.

Last year you released your highest chart placing album Every Country’s Sun, and this year you’ve made your first narrative film soundtrack, KIN.
It was amazing to do a project that was so different to anything we’ve done before and see how our music fits in a totally different environment to how it’s been used before.

How did you get involved with the film?
The directors were fans of our music, and asked us to do it. We were involved from quite an early stage, before they started filming. It’s been a good process. They are good guys.

How do you go about making music for a film like this?
We were working on it before the film was finished. A lot of it was references. We had a huge music playlist. They had a really specific idea of what they did and didn’t want. We went from there, and started sending them pieces of music, and they let us know what they liked, and what didn’t work so much. It was really just a process of trial and elimination until we all got something out of it we were happy with.

There was a lot of work involved. It was the first film for the guys, and they were under a bit of pressure from the movie business people.

As most of your original music is instrumental, how did you decide what titles to give each track this time around?
The track titles were based on the film itself. The directors were involved in the song titles themselves. That’s why we don’t have our usually ludicrous titles! They were really keen to be involved with everything which, to be honest, sounds like it could be annoying. But it was cool that they cared. They are really proud of the album as well as the film.

Tell me about the song ‘Donuts’
That’s a scene in the film where the two brothers, the two stars of the film, are bonding by doing donuts (where cars drive a continuous tight circle using their handbrakes). I’ve done a lot of interviews, and depending on the gender of the journalist… I think only boys are stupid enough to find that an amusing thing to do!

And the track ‘Funeral Pyre’?
One of the brothers gets killed, and there’s this big emotional speech next to the fire where he’s being burnt. The titles of the tracks are pretty much a spoiler for the entire film.

The only song with vocals is the final track, ‘We’re Not Done (End Title)’. Who sings that?
That’s me. To be honest there’s some vocals on most of the records, but it’s never been the main part of our records. I find it quite hard to write lyrics but here I was just thinking out loud what was happening in the movie.

The film is about to be released here in the UK. Is it a good film?
It’s a good movie. It’s a homage to films that we grew up watching, like Terminator and ET. It’s a fun film. I don’t think it’s super highbrow, but I’m really glad to have been part of it.

Do you think it’s mainly aimed at the American market?
I would think so.

How does Mogwai do in America?
We do okay. It’s our biggest place to play, we definitely have people there who like our music.

So, what can we expect when you tour the UK?
We’ll only do a handful of tracks from the soundtrack, and we’ll do songs from all the records we’ve made over the years. We did a couple of shows which focussed purely on the films we’ve made music for. We did a few for the Zidane documentary, and did a whole tour for the Atomic soundtrack, the Mark Cousins film. But, it wouldn’t work so well with this film, because there’s so much dialogue. It would get in the way of the music, or the music would get in the way of the dialogue, more to the point.

How does a Mogwai song come about?
Just writing music. With a guitar, or piano, or synthesiser, and just try and play until something stands out, whether it’s a melody or a chord sequence, sometimes a rhythm. We just play until it’s presentable to the world.

I remember seeing you for the first time in the late 90s at the old Concorde. It was loud! Do you remember that place?
I do remember that place! That was absolutely brilliant. We like it to be loud, but we don’t push it as far as we can. I’ve seen some gigs where it’s so loud that you can’t watch what’s being played. In the early days when we had some real equipment restrictions we would try and make it as loud as we could. Where it becomes a competition, all people get is a sore head, and you can’t hear what people are playing.

Are there more sound restrictions these days?
Yeah, in some countries, like Italy and Switzerland, they’re pretty bad for it. And some places in France. I think it’s cultural snobbery, even a really loud gig is nowhere near as loud as a brass section, but I’m sure they turn a blind eye to that.

The name Mogwai means ‘evil spirit’ in Cantonese. Was that the intention behind the name, to invoke an evil spirit!?
It was actually the little monster from the film Gremlins. We weren’t being too theoretical. But we did know it meant ‘evil spirit’, because Martin, our drummer, was working in a Chinese restaurant. That was always something cool that we knew.

What are your plans going into 2019?
We’ve got vague plans to make an album, and we’re working on another TV soundtrack at the moment.

Jeff Hemmings