“If the stars had a sound, it would sound like this.” A bold statement and the promotional plug for Scotland’s post-rock ensemble Mogwai, which plays live tonight at The Wall (這牆).
Taken from the opening sample of Yes! We Are a Long Way From Home on their debut LP Young Team, the line marks both a musical dawn and now a return to Taipei for the Glaswegian quintet, this time peddling their latest studio album The Hawk Is Howling.
Often likened to their better-known Icelandic peers Sigur Ros and the Canadian collective Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Mogwai — Martin Bulloch on drums, Stuart Braithwaite on guitar, Barry Burns on guitar and various instruments, Dominic Aitchison on bass and John Cummings on guitar — are master-craftsmen of richly detailed, layer-cake rock.
A miscellany of tone and style, The Hawk features the band’s climactic heights, rock action and lucidity that are found in varying degrees in its discography. A feature (or non-feature) most notable to first-time listeners would be the complete absence of lyrics or vocal melody.
Though The Hawk may be dissected in terms of style and form, without words Mogwai’s greater message remains clouded and is arguably better determined by the listener than the band.
Best-selling crime writer and fan Ian Rankin recently commented on the absurdity of describing Mogwai’s work. “It’s completely redundant ... Mogwai paint pictures in sound; no words needed,” he said.
Nonetheless we thought it worth offering them the chance. Last week, Stuart Braithwaite answered a few of our questions by e-mail.
Taipei Times: Which tracks have you been playing most on the tour? What goes down well?
WHAT: Mogwai live at The Wall
WHEN: Tonight at 8pm
WHERE:The Wall (這牆), B1, 200, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). Tel: (02) 2930-0162
TICKETS: NT$2,800 at the door; NT$2,700 advance tickets available at White Wabbit Records (小白兔唱片行) inside The Wall’s shopping complex
ON THE NET: www.thewall.com.tw; www.mogwai.co.uk
Stuart Braithwaite: We’ve been playing six songs from the new record on tour as well as a few from each of our old records. I think that the song that has been best received has been Batcat.
TT: Can you tell me about your set list for Taipei? What should people expect who go to see you in Taipei?
SB: I don’t know yet exactly but probably 12 or so good Mogwai songs with very few mistakes.
TT: What do you perceive to be the highs and lows of your output to date and what have been the biggest factors in shaping that?
SB: I think that we’ve mostly kept quite a high standard in our records but my favorites are Come On Die Young and Happy Songs for Happy People. I think that the reason for those being so good was that they were fun to make, which makes a big difference.
TT: Mogwai’s largely vocal-less cinematic sound seems to embody a faceless sense of romance, yet in past interviews band members have come across as very grounded. How do you think a relatively down-to-earth bunch of people have ended up generating such fantastical music?
SB: I genuinely have no idea. Scottish people are quite down to earth, though I think we have a romantic element too, but are a wee bit shy about it.
TT: Would you agree that your music has a sense of romance about it or not? Is it deliberate?
SB: I do agree but don’t think it’s particularly deliberate. We have a very natural way of writing and recording music which means we don’t tend to think about it too much.
TT: Is there a Mogwai album methodology? Or is every LP conceived differently? What is unique about The Hawk?
SB: We have methods, but they aren’t particularly thought out. They are more habits really. The new record has no vocals, but other than that it wasn’t conceived very differently from the other records.