Mogwai have mastered shifting dynamics: quiet to loud, dark to light, ice to fire, and back again. Members of the Glasgow, Scotland, five-piece are skilled craftsmen of the transition. More than just going big to small, Mogwai compose movements in volume. Calm sections pull you into a cellular stillness, an ultradefined slow motion. These parts are almost in stasis, like looking at an insect wing under a microscope, where you can see the cells, the nuclei, and the serene structural makeup at its most minute. The wing cells look colossal through the microscope, the nuclei as big as lakes. When the music then moves to loudness, guitars distort massively, cymbals ride into turbulence, and production swells into overdrive. And in what often seems an instant, Mogwai crush the microscope, ignite it, then drop it off a cliff.
With their newest album, Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will, Mogwai sound more driving than open and celestial. The mostly instrumental songs sport momentum and heading—more of the good that guitar-led music can create. Tracks are well cared for and grown (like those of Tortoise and Trans Am). Drummer Martin Bulloch and bassist Dominic Aitchison live inside each other's brains, leading beats to water with a divining rod. The sounds the band presents are all we need—no more, no less. It is an efficient band, and Hardcore Will Never Die is an adroit, layered, and meticulous rock offering. "San Pedro" patterns in warm riffage, as tandem guitars crease in and out of each other like a symbiotic post-rock dialogue. "Mexican Grand Prix" is immediate—moving up-tempo on a frictionless plane, sinister vocals bounce between vocoder and alien falsetto, keyboards chime reflected notes, the song rises and falls into cobalt-blue splendor, reaching conclusion with fragmented guitar sound-wave files. Guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite spoke. No microscopes were ignited.
If Mogwai were an insect, what insect would you be?
I guess we'd be a bee. They seem to have a high and very positive profile right now. And they look cool.
What if the bee were blasted by a gamma ray and grew to be the size of a football stadium? What would it do? Would it save people or attack people? Would it be lonely? Maybe it can speak, and it runs for public office. And wins. Wait, this is Mogwai's giant-bee story. I should let you tell it.
I think we'd make shitloads of honey. We'd give it to parts of the world where they don't have food and use our stinging powers to destroy some of the shittier people in existence like Sarah Palin, Drake, and Kyle Lafferty.
You all seem subconscious with your music. Especially in the transitions and sounds. It all seems instinctive, like you're able to just let it happen naturally. Nothing seems to be overthought or forced. Is this true?
I don't think we work any harder than other bands, to be honest. Sometimes we can get a wee bit obsessed in the studio trying to get something right, but that's pretty normal I think.
Speaking of the subconscious, do you guys remember your dreams? It sounds like you all would remember your dreams well.
I've been having really weird dreams recently because the bus is going over some really bumpy roads. I had a dream where there was a fax machine that was at the side of the stage while we played that pumped out memos telling everyone how to feel.
What effects pedals do Mogwai use?
We're all into pretty different pedals. John Cummings [guitar] is totally into the Fat Sandwich and the Death by Audio fuzz pedals. I'm more old-school with my Big Muff and Rat.
How did the recording for Hardcore Will Never Die go? Where did you do it? Who produced?
It went great. We recorded with Paul Savage from the Delgados, who recorded our first album. We recorded it at his Chem 19 Studio. We mixed at our place, the Castle of Doom. Both are in Glasgow.
Talk about the song "Rano Pano." What elements combined to make it?
Barry [Burns, guitar/keyboard] came up with that song, and I honestly don't know how he came up with it. When I first heard it, I was thinking, "What the fuck is this?" I totally love it, though, even though it's demented. Barry says it sounds like the Muppets should be singing it.
What is your favorite place to play?
I really love playing in Tokyo. People in Japan have always been pretty into our music, and it's somewhere we love to visit. We've made a lot of friends there, and I was really glad to hear that they were all okay after the earthquake.
Is there a place you've played where you felt like you didn't belong?
Not really, to be honest. There have been places that were unusual, but nowhere unfriendly or unwelcoming. We did go to Juarez on a day off once, and I definitely didn't belong there. That place is fucking dark.
How does Mogwai feel about the Southern part of the United States? Like Georgia or Mississippi or Alabama? Where there are real rednecks who chew tobacco and spit accurately and watch NASCAR.
I think we're pretty into those places. Foodwise especially. There are some great places to eat down there. I'm also a big fan of country blues music, so it's good to see where so many of my favorite musicians like Skip James, Lead Belly, and Blind Willie Johnson lived their lives.