Aug 16, 2022
By Dom Gourlay
Photography by Celeste Wells (for Under the Radar)
Issue #69 – 20th Anniversary Issue
As part of our 20th anniversary coverage we thought it would be interesting to conduct brand new interviews with some of the artists interviewed in our very first issue way back in December 2001. We weren’t able to talk to everyone for a variety of reasons but luckily many of the first issue artists were game for a catch up to discuss their albums from the early 2000s and what they’ve been up to since. With each new interview we’ve included a small image of the layout of the first page of each artist’s original article from our first issue. These articles originally ran in our 20th Anniversary Issue, but are now being posted online. Here’s a First Issue Revisited interview with Mogwai.
When we interviewed Mogwai bassist Dominic Aitchison in our very first issue the focus was on their album at the time, 2001’s Rock Action, the Scottish band’s third full-length, as well as the band’s tongue-in-cheek “Blur: are shite” and “Gorillaz: even worse” T-shirts. Speaking to the band’s guitarist and sometime vocalist Stuart Braithwaite now, it makes more sense to focus on the incredible 2021 they’ve had.
Having celebrated their 25th anniversary as a band in 2020, their tenth and latest album, As the Love Continues, hit the number one spot in the UK albums chart in February, the band’s first time doing so. The album was also nominated for the 2021 Mercury Prize, another first for Mogwai, and won the 2021 Scottish Album of the Year Award.
“That was amazing!” says Braithwaite of their unexpected chart success. “Really, really great. It is kind of surreal because apart from that, nothing’s really happened. Nothing was happening for anyone so I’m really looking forward to gigs starting up again,” he adds, referring to the continued COVID-19 pandemic and various lockdowns.
As the Love Continues was recorded very differently to anything Mogwai have done in the past. It was produced remotely on opposite sides of the globe with Dave Fridmann (who the band first worked with on 1999’s sophomore album, Come On Die Young, and who also produced Rock Action). It was a necessary requirement due to the pandemic but not something the band (which also features drummer Martin Bulloch and guitarist/keyboardist Barry Burns) wants to repeat again in a hurry.
“We were all wearing masks, which I can live with,” Braithwaite says. “But doing things remotely isn’t something I want to do again if I can help it. I do miss the producer being around. I don’t think it affected the record negatively but the experience would definitely have been better if we’d got to hang out with Dave all the time.”
Looking back over Mogwai’s career, Braithwaite says the band’s definitive album is neither Rock Action nor As the Love Continues, but rather the band’s fourth album, 2003’s Happy Songs For Happy People.
“We released that when the band was the least fashionable,” he explains. “People were really into garage rock at the time and we felt like outsiders. It was the first time we’d really felt like that since I originally started the band. So, I look back on that really fondly. It was on that album where we went out on tour in America with The Cure, which was a really great time.”
Mogwai feature from Issue #1.
In our first issue interview with Mogwai, the band expressed their dislike for the British monarchy, with Aitchison pointing out that part of the problem was some UK citizens still viewing Britain as an empire. “Britain is a fucking shit hole; it’s no more special than anywhere else so we don’t need a king and queen,” Aitchison said in our 2001 interview. The band’s stance on British politics hasn’t softened in the intervening years. Braithwaite is vocal about how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has mishandled Brexit in regards to its negative affect on British touring musicians.
“The way they’ve treated the music industry in comparison to the fishing industries is beyond a joke,” he says. “I think the UK government take the arts for granted. It’s something that makes a lot of money and gives the UK a lot of prestige worldwide.”
Braithwaite is also very pro-Scottish independence and agrees that the failings of the current British government have been a pivotal factor in the campaign for Scottish independence gathering renewed momentum after the last referendum in 2014 failed.
“I definitely think folks up here in Scotland don’t have a lot in common with Boris Johnson’s government,” he says. “I don’t think the majority of people in England do either. But they own the media and there’s no nice way of putting it. They’ve brainwashed people. They’ve brainwashed people into blaming things that are the government’s fault on foreign people. It’s not a new trick. We’ve seen it all before throughout history. It’s like Fascism 101.”
Mogwai has had incredible longevity, but Braithwaite admits his surprise that the band is still going strong two decades after first being interviewed by Under the Radar. “I was in my 20s then and you tend to think people in their 40s are ancient,” he laughs. “You can’t even imagine yourself being that person, and I’m in my 40s now. We’ve just not stopped. I guess that’s how you achieve longevity. Never quit!”
[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]