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Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit John, am: 02.08.2004 ]

Mogwai bedürfen hoffentlich keiner großen Ankündigung mehr, waren sie doch eine der ersten Bands, die das laut/leise Prinzip auf instrumentaler Ebene zur Vollendung gebracht haben. Mit ihren nicht minder grandiosen späteren Alben „Rock Action“ und „Happy Songs For Happy People“ bewegte sich die Band dann hin zu einem kompakteren und flüssigeren Songaufbau und ließ mitunter beängstigend intensive und melancholische Klangflächen entstehen, die unzählige Bands beeinflussten und zahlreiche Nachahmer mit sich zogen. Während dem Southside Festival schnappten wir uns John von Mogwai, um uns ein Bild über den aktuellen Stand der Dinge zu verschaffen. Wir sprachen über Festivals, Computer und das nächste Album.


Musicscan: Do you like to play festivals like this?

Mogwai: I don't really, but it is really different than playing your own show. I mean I don't mind it, but it is not the same atmosphere. I quite like the fact that you have to play a short set and people are watching you even though a lot of them aren't really there to see you. You always try to play well, just for people who have never seen you before. It is definitely good because it is a totally different crowd than what normally comes to see us. And sometimes there is a band that you want to see as well. Actually that happens quite often, because when you are touring you miss all the good bands that have been playing in your hometown. So occasionally you get to see them at festivals, which is a good thing.

Musicscan: How does the communication with the audience work at huge festivals like these? Is it harder to communicate with people being a mostly instrumental band? Can you create the same kind of intimacy on stage compared to one of your headlining shows?

Mogwai: No, it is not quite the same. There is not really a problem because the music is so simple and there are no words. Most people who like it seem to get into it straight away; there is no big barrier there. Of course it depends on the people as well. It depends if they are drunk or not and it depends if someone else is playing at the same time. Most of the time it is fine, it is totally fine. We played a festival in Germany last year, I think it was the Terremoto Festival.

Musicscan: What makes for a good live show in your opinion?

Mogwai: For us a good show is when we don't make a lot of mistakes I suppose. When we play well. I don't know I just want people to enjoy it. When you are playing badly and you know you are playing badly and you are not concentrating and you make many mistakes you don't really enjoy it that much, because you are too busy concentrating. But when you are on stage and you see people enjoying it, that definitely helps.

Musicscan: Is the set totally structured and laid out or is there room for improvisation when you play?

Mogwai: We used to improvise when we first started and more often than not it ended up being a disaster. We wanted to improvise but it was just awful, so now there is not that much improvisation going on anymore. The songs don't really have any set structure. They are not always the same every night, so that is when we do something different with it. I mean we keep the basic structures, but we tend to extend them, because there is nothing to fall to pieces, because that is mortifying when that happens.

Musicscan: How does your songwriting process work? Do you all chip in ideas or is there one major songwriter?

Mogwai: Usually someone comes in with a basic idea like a small melody and a couple of chords and then we'll play it. Then we'll just all work on it and put our two cents in until it starts growing until what we think is a proper song. So the basic idea of a song usually comes from one person and then we are all working on it.

Musicscan: Isn't there a lot of conflict involved, too, when there are so many different minds working on something at the same time?

Mogwai: No, not really actually, which is really weird considering we all have really different musical tastes. You would think there would be a lot of disagreement, but we have doing this for a while now and we know what we are good at and what we are not. We have a pretty good idea about what works and what doesn't, but we try out most ideas and if it doesn't that is ok. We have never really had a proper argument over our songs. We are pretty laid back about it, which is good.

Musicscan: Do you think the band chemistry has changed over the years? Is it easier to work now than it used to be?

Mogwai: It is definitely different, because when we first started, we all had the same musical tastes and we were all excited about the same kind of things. The songs came about much more frequent when we first started. The songwriting process has become a lot longer, but I don't think it has become more difficult.

Musicscan: Do you think technology is a good aspect in music and do you embrace it along with all the possibilities it offers? Or are you rather sceptical and render it dangerous to become too involved in all that?

Mogwai: I don't think there is anything wrong with it. I mean some stuff is great and other stuff is terrible, but is all about how you use it. Something we have been trying to use more is electronics, just because it is a different sound from stuff that we have done before. The terrible thing about computers is that they can crash. We did a couple of shows with computers, but we are not using them at festivals, because one out of every three shows the computer will crash during the song. It always seems to happen at festivals, so we just stick to the basics at festivals now. But I think it is great, if you know how to use it well. I have no problem with it at all, even though some people go overboard with it and feature them too heavily. It is great to find a good balance.

Musicscan: Do you experiment a lot when you are in the studio or are all the songs already sent once you set a foot in the studio?

Mogwai: We experiment a lot more now, but it always depends on how much time you have. When we first started to record we would have all songs completely finished, because we didn't have much time then. So we had to record them and get out as soon as possible again whereas we have got a lot more time now in the studio to mess with the songs. We now have the opportunity to try things which we didn't use to. So we definitely experiment more now than we used to.

Musicscan: Do you think your music reflects where you are coming from to some extent?

Mogwai: It is certainly not conscious. A lot of people think we must be very miserable guys because of the music we make. We have never done music to convey anything. We have never done it to convey emotions or trying to get a point across. It is just there. I suppose most of the music we listen to is a bit more downbeat and minimal and not really party music and that is also why we write that kind of music. But it is definitely not deliberate. People actually don't believe us when we say that (laughs).

Musicscan: Do you like the Glasgow music scene?

Mogwai: Yes, I think there are always some working bands. I mean you can see a lot of bands play in London, which are all trying to get signed. In Glasgow it is totally different, because they are just in bands for the sake of music, just because they want to make music. I mean, they are in it for the right reasons. There are a lot of different things going on. I mean it is probably the same as everywhere else. There are a lot of good bands and a lot of bad bands. Looking at from outside there doesn't seem to be that much of a scene. I think because it is a small city and there is only a small number of venues and most people in bands know other people in bands. We don't all get together and have jams and stuff like that, as people seem to think sometimes. But it is a good scene for music, there is a lot going on, a lot of varied things going on. It seems like every couple of years or every 8-10 years there seem to be a bunch of bands coming out of Glasgow and start doing really well. You have got Franz Ferdinand at the moment for example and there are lots of bands coming out that are doing really well. It is a good place to be in a band.

Musicscan: I was just wondering as we are talking about Glasgow if you are still doing that Metal Matinee with some of the guys from Aereogramme?

Mogwai: No we used to do that. It was usually a Sunday afternoon and people would come into the pub and they were hung over and they just wanted to have a drink and maybe some tea and then they were assaulted with the most horrible, brutal stuff. So they left again and we lost the bar and went out of business. It didn't last long. It lasted about a year, which is much longer than we had expected (laughs).

Musicscan: Do you feel like you filled some musical void when you recorded your first album? I mean at the time when it came out I couldn't compare it to anything else. I think it was something fairly fresh and new.

Mogwai: I don't know. People always say it was something totally new, but I don't know. I mean there were bands like Tortoise or Slint, who aren't instrumental, but who are all in a very similar musical vein. I think the only thing that made it really different was that we just simply weren't good enough musicians to play music like that. So we were a bit more simplistic and I suppose the lack of vocals that made it seem slightly different. I don't think we were something completely different, just because of the things that were out at the time.

Musicscan: Do you still remember your first musical experience? When did you notice that music was something special for you and that you wanted to pursue it in life?

Mogwai: You know it is terrible, but I really can't actually.

Musicscan: Well, how did you first get in touch with music?

Mogwai: I have got three older brothers and the next one up was eight years older. They all listened to different types of music. My oldest brother was really into punk like The Clash or Stiff Little Fingers and stuff like that. He always had his room next to mine, so I always grew up listening to his music. And then my other brother was the complete opposite. He was really into Simple Minds and Prince and my other brother was into country and folk music. So I remember hearing all this when I was growing up and I liked bits of each. It is quite embarrassing, but my Dad and I were great ABBA fans. Because apparently when I was sick or couldn't sleep I started dancing to the record and my parents had to get up and put me in bed. So I grew up with people who were listening to music all the time, so it was always there, but I never actually thought about making music until I was a teenager. I started to get really into it like most teenagers do and I started to get excited about it. A lot of my friends staring buying guitars and it just seemed like a really fun thing to do. There was a Sonic Youth video that came out called "99 Year Punk Rock". So I was listening to that and I started to go out to European festivals and that looked like fucking great fun so I wanted to do that, too. That was probably the definite moment where I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do.

Musicscan: Has you relationship to music changed over the years now that you do it professionally?

Mogwai: Shortly after I got into this band I entered a very bad time, because when I listened to music I started to dissect it and listened to the different parts. I was really clinical about it. And it really started to annoy me, because I didn't listen to music just for the sake of listening to music, just because I genuinely enjoyed it. That lasted for about two years and now it is back to just listening to it. It is all I spend my money on. All I pretty much do is listen to music. It made me a bit more fuzzy about what I listen to than I used to be. It is still a lot of fun to find something new and exciting, though. I suppose everyone who is into music is like that. They are always looking for something slightly different.

Musicscan: Talking about passions, what are some of your other passions in life besides music?

Mogwai: I used to be really into art and I thought that was what I was going to do after I left school. I applied to art school and then did graphic design for a couple of years. But when I was a younger teenager I wanted to be a comic artist, because I simply loved comics. For a while I thought that this was what I wanted to do. But the last thing I really enjoyed doing was drawing, so I was definitely quite into that.

Musicscan: Do you still incorporate the graphic aspect into your music or more specifically your live show?

Mogwai: No, we can't really afford to have light shows and stuff like that and not everyone in the band likes projections. With projections you know, if they are done well it is great. With Neurosis for example they look great and there are a couple of other bands, but when it is done badly it is just fucking terrible. It is really, really bad. So it is usually just five balding, ugly guys on stage playing music. We can't afford to have a spectacular light show so we are going to have the music speak for itself.

Musicscan: Totally different topic now. What do you think about the whole file sharing, Napster, downloading kind of issue?

Mogwai: I have absolutely no problem with it. I think it is a great opportunity for people to check out music. I think most of the bands who complain about it are absolutely massive and make a lot of money anyway. It is a great way for small bands to get exposure. We obviously have no right to complain about it, because half the guys in the band own I-Pods. I mean it probably does take away money from certain bands, but I don't really care. It is just a good way to hear music. The only thing that annoys me about file sharing is the way albums always end up there before they come out. I mean I would have been delighted to get bands' albums before they come out, too, but it is really annoying when the album is out months before the album comes out. But there is nothing you can do about it, though.

Musicscan: Are you already working on new material for the next album?

Mogwai: Yes, we are working on a couple of songs. We are not anywhere near recording, yet, but we are working on new material. We plan to have it done by the end of the year hopefully, but we ended up taking on a lot more touring this year than we thought we would.

Musicscan: Can you already say something about it? Are you going to venture into a slightly different direction?

Mogwai: It is hard to say, but we are definitely going to try to do something a bit different. The last album, even though it is not quite like the previous albums, I didn't think was that dissimilar to the stuff we did before. So we are going to try to do something different this time around. It is always hard to say what our records are going to sound like, though. Every time we record a record we always say that it is going to be louder, that it is going to be more rocking, but it never works out the way we imagined.