Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite: ‘It’s even easier for weirdos to find each other now than it was in the 90s’ | Mogwai
Jhe most surprising thing about reading the memoirs of Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite is that anyone involved can remember anything. Such was the full-body commitment with which participants of the Glasgow 90s music scene he documents threw themselves during the last days of the music industry’s real money, that the whole era should , by right, be a big blackout.
The subtitle of his book Spaceships Over Glasgow is Mogwai, Mayhem and Misspent Youth, and since his early days experimenting with sniffing Tipp-Ex solvent while listening to the 13th floor lifts, the madness rarely stops. On Mogwai, Norway’s first overseas tour in 1997, they partake in the ferry bar so enthusiastically – sniffing alcohol for added intoxication – that for a few hours they really aren’t sure one of them fell overboard. Musical milestones flash by in a drunken blur, relationships suffer and spirits fray at the edges. At one particularly dark moment, Braithwaite responds to his breakup with his teenage sweetheart, Adele Bethel (later of Sons and Daughters), with a months-old psychedelic bender and manages to convince himself that his right hand is demonically possessed.
While Braithwaite, 46, feels no shame recounting Mogwai’s wild days eating baby food on tour, “reviewing some of the things that have happened that are painful hasn’t been the most painful thing. easy,” he says. “Like, really thinking about losing my dad or getting divorced…I’m not the type of person to talk about myself at all, so that was weird. But then you think about the good things that happened after or before.
Some of the fondest memories relate to his introduction to music as a teenager in the Clyde Valley: a lost world of recording songs on the radio, from school to skiing to queuing at record stores for tickets concert and stay awake for live performances on late night television. . More spellbinding, it evokes a sensation familiar to anyone who has stood near the front lines at a Mogwai concert: the physical rush, the all-consuming force with which bands can swallow you whole. At 13, Braithwaite saw the Cure for the first time: “I had never heard anything so loud in my life, but it wasn’t just volume, there was also clarity,” writes- he. “I felt transformed.”
A few years later, after witnessing Nirvana in Reading in 1991, he happily realized that Kurt Cobain was a fan of Scottish bands such as the Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub. How did the support of Cobain, the figurehead of alternative music ambition at the time, affect the Glasgow scene that followed? “It was really, really important,” he says. “Because there were two camps. There was the ‘move to London and try to sell millions of records’ camp, then there was the Pastels camp, Teenage Fanclub, and that’s the worldview ‘stay in Glasgow and be like the Pastels’. who won. I think representation really matters. When I started making my own music, I didn’t think, ‘Oh, I could never do that’, because I had seen people like me do it before.
The dark splendor of Braithwaite’s gothic youth bands, along with the hunched guitar noise and dynamic onslaught of American indie rock, post-hardcore and grunge fueled the sound of Mogwai, the band he formed. with bassist Dominic Aitchison and drummer Martin Bulloch in 1995 (guitarist John Cummings, who left the band in 2015, and multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns later joined; former Teenage Fanclub member Brendan O’Hare also played with them for a short time in the late 90s). Their largely instrumental music, by turns aggressively loud and heartbreakingly delicate, became the focus of the disparate and chaotic gang of bands based mainly around the Glasgow venue, the 13th Note – whose bookers included Alex Huntley, later Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, and author David Keenan. – and the Chemikal Underground label, run by the Delgados and home to artists like Bis and Arab Strap as well as Mogwai.
The explosion of talent served as a counter-current to the very English vision of 90s mainstream indie. Britpop seemed to Braithwaite, he writes, “the complete antithesis of everything we cared about. It lacked imagination, beauty and stature. He rarely lost an opportunity to let people know, from Mogwai’s “blur: are shite” T-shirts to Braithwaite’s declaration in their first NME interview that they were on “a crusade against the kind of person who chooses to be in a band not because they think people deserve to hear their music but because they want their face on the cover of magazines”.
In the book, Braithwaite describes Arab Strap’s 1996 debut album The Week Never Starts Round Here as “probably the first time I heard something that properly reflected my experience growing up in Scotland”. In the years to come, bands such as Twilight Sad, Glasvegas and Frightened Rabbit became more confident in their identity; before that, says Braithwaite, “even in Scotland people just thought the Proclaimers were absolutely hilarious, because they sang with a Scottish accent… you wonder what was going on in the national psyche, that people were embarrassed to sing in the way that They spoke.”
Raised in an independence family – rarer in the 90s than now – Braithwaite lent his voice and his music to the yes campaign in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum, and is unwavering now that a second vote won’t be answered. is never far from the headlines. “I hope all Scots are watching the Tory Prime Minister’s leadership race closely,” he tweeted in July. “Do we really want these people to run our country? … We have a way out. Let’s make sure we take it.
Independence wasn’t a priority for him or his peers in the music-focused ’90s, he says, whereas now “I think I can probably count on two fingers the musicians I know who aren’t pro-independence here. When you realize the democratic deficit in Scotland and the fact that we are governed by Tories, despite not having voted Tories before we were born, it sinks in a bit. The arguments against certainly look a lot flimsier than they did in 2014.”
The Mogwai are also committed to independence in a broader sense. Never signed to a major label, they’ve released their albums through their own label, Rock Action, since 2010, and set up their own studio, Castle of Doom, in 2005. “I would advise everyone to try to get as much control over what they do what they can in all areas of life,” Braithwaite says. “It’s nice to know that when you’ve made a terrible mistake, it’s your own terrible mistake.
And while the recent return of Arab Strap and the Delgados to the musical fray is cause for great celebration, Mogwai has never stopped: their latest album, As the Love Continues, nominated last year for Mercury, was their first to top the UK charts; in July, they released a soundtrack for the Apple TV+ crime drama Black Bird, and are already working on another, which has yet to be announced. And music is still thriving in Glasgow. “It’s gotten to the point where a lot of people are moving here because of the music,” Braithwaite says. “And the community aspect is perhaps even stronger now thanks to the internet – it’s even easier for weirdos to find each other than it was back then.”
Mogwai’s bizarre bond remains strong, and Aitchison and Bulloch read the whole book and approved, Braithwaite says. “Although they got it before it hit a publisher, so they were like, ‘Somebody’s going to take a look at this, right?’ Martin helped me probably more than the internet, I used to call him all the time, he keeps joking that he’s going to release his own book called The Truth.
The band have just completed a string of festival dates, and Braithwaite, bolstered by the discipline of book-writing, intends next year to “try to write a ridiculous amount of music”. Looking further, he harbors yet another childhood dream, the one referenced in the title of the book: that of life on other planets. His late father, whose gentle, free-thinking presence comes through strongly in the book, was an amateur astronomer and Scotland’s only telescope maker, and taught his son star gazing. In a bizarre coincidence, young Braithwaite and Aitchison first spotted Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton at a public meeting in Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, called to respond to the wave of UFO sightings in the city in the mid-1990s. In the book, he ponders the possibility of hiring someone, as Jimi Hendrix did, to watch during Mogwai concerts for alien craft being drawn to the music. So does he still believe?
“Oh, more than ever!” he says. “Throughout my life I’ve been through periods of doubt, but the New York Times UFO exhibit a few years ago threw me right back. I mean, I don’t really know what it is, but there are some really weird things flying around, 100%.”
While awaiting confirmation of intelligent life beyond the solar system, Spaceships Over Glasgow will bring solace and inspiration to all those souls uplifted by music who, like Braithwaite, have never stopped gazing up at the sky.
Read an exclusive excerpt from Spaceships Over Glasgow at theguardian.com/music