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Mogwai by Marceline Smith

Do people expect you to be pretentious because of the music you make?
‘They did at one point but I think that everyone knows that we’re just fools’ – Stuart

So how do you reconcile this beauty, this heart-breaking ability with the reality of Mogwai in person, in all their silliness and with all the faults of normal people?

Just because Mogwai make perfect music doesn’t mean they have to be perfect in person – they’re real people. If they weren’t like us, then we wouldn’t find their music so understanding. In fact, I love Mogwai all the more just because they are so friendly, so funny, so sweet.

I love the fact that you can bump into Stuart at any number of Glasgow gigs and he’s bouncing around being stupid. It means you know they don’t take themselves too seriously, that the music they make is rooted in reality and if they want to give their songs silly titles or record their pub conversations it only adds to the whole that is Mogwai.

I liked Mogwai so much more after that interview in the NME where they’d given themselves their alter-ego names and were talking nonsense while still fiercely defending their music. And then when I saw Stuart dancing hilariously, giggling madly and running to put his pint on a speaker so that he could applaud Formula One after every song, I knew I had to speak to these people. I can’t remember if Stuart greets people by saying ‘hiya!’ or if I’m just inventing it because he should.

I love how Mogwai are the sort of people you’ll happily make a fool of yourself in front of, you’ll happily eat jammy doughnuts in front of them without worrying that you just might possibly drop sugar all over yourself (yes, I do that in my own home too…). There’s no falseness, no trying to impress, no muso-talk, no sucking up, no acting cool.

I like how they find things hilarious.

Manchester Roadhouse, 12 February 1998

The dressing room is just as scabby and tiny as I remember it and there’s even the same table with the same food piled on it. Stuart sits himself onto the sofa next to Dominic and invites one of us to squodge in next to them. This I gladly do, leaving Carl with the stool. All the members of mogwai are in the room as well as Aerial M, various members of ‘the technical staff’ and Pilotcan for some strange reason. All of them get involved in the discussion at some point but mostly it’s Stuart and Dominic we interview. During the interview, mogwai eat their tea, so for the most part I’m being elbowed in the ribs by Stuart. He also has this rather amusing habit of bashing me on the knee whenever he thinks that, not just that I’m not listening to him, but that I’m not looking at him!

marceline: Where will I put the taperecorder?
stuart: Here (holds it on his lap).
m: But what if you want to gesture? Then it’ll fall off.
stuart: Are you saying I gesture?
m: Aye.
stuart: Well, here then (holds taperecorder inbetween knees).
Stuart tries to look at my questions
m: They’re not written as questions anyway – you wouldn’t be able to know what I was going to ask.
stuart: In a code? Written in a code? That old fanzine trick..!
Tony from Aerial M arrives with a bag of records and half the room demands to see his purchases.
tony: I got two Joy Division things.
stuart: wahey!!! What ones?
Tony removes records from bag and reveals ‘Closer’ and ‘Still’.
stuart: You couldn’t have bought two better records, Tony.
dominic: Right, sorry, I believe you’re trying to start an interview or something.
stuart: Sorry!

m: Erm, okay, what superpowers would you like?
stuart: I’d like to be able to fly or something.
dominic: I’d like to fly. Or I’d love to be invisible.
stuart: Get the doughnuts, get the doughnuts in.
dominic: Who wants a doughnut?
m: Do you ask for doughnuts or do you just get them?
dominic: They’re just here.
m: Do you ask for stuff on your rider?
stuart: Too right we do.
m: What?
stuart: 72 cans of beer, two bottles of red wine, a bottle of whisky. Tequila.
dominic: Are you talking about our rider?
stuart: Yeah.
dominic: Picture of Princess Leia.
stuart: A colour photo of Princess Leia.
dominic: We’ve only had two so far in the entire tour though.
stuart: Three.
dominic: Well one was a drawing though.
stuart: No, we had the picture of her with the beach ball, the picture with the Ewoks…
voice: I want to see the beach ball one.
dominic: Oh, did we actually get that? I thought we bought that.
stuart: No, we got that on the rider. It’s in the van. It’s really nice.
dominic: Tony, Cassie? Do you want a doughnut?
tony: (surprised) yes.
stuart: So that’s what we ask for on the rider.

carl: What part would you like to play in the new Star Wars film?
stuart: One that means I get to go off with that girl.
dominic: Ohhh, Natalie Portman.
stuart: Yeah.
dominic: She’s Princess Leia’s mum. (much clattering) Is John being an arse?
voice: Yes! He is!
dominic: Skelp him across the head, man.
voice: I did.
stuart: So, basically, Princess Leia’s dad…so I get to conceive Princess Leia. It means when she’s born I can’t go out with her though!
m: And then you’re going to get blown up, aren’t you?
stuart: Aye.
dominic: It means you’re gonna die.

m: What’s your favourite superstition?
stuart: I do actually have a superstition. Quite a lot of superstitions actually – really stupid ones.
dominic: What was the question, sorry?
stuart: What’s our favourite superstition. Just like, sometimes if I see a street and it’s not very long and I’ll think, ‘oh, we’ll play a good gig tonight if I hold my breath while I walk up this street’, and I’ll end up 3/4 of the way up the street…like, blue, running, just like there’s no way I’m gonna not do what I’ve set myself up to do.
m: You’d rather die?
stuart: Yeah…just stupid. Do you have a superstition, Dominic?
dominic: I’ve got hundreds but none of them…
stuart: Taking your shoes off?
dominic: It’s not a superstition – it’s just something I like doing. I can’t really think of any offhand that I could mention.
stuart: Last night there was a point in one of the songs and I was like, I realised I was standing on one foot and I thought, ‘I’m not gonna put my other foot on the ground until the loud bit’s over’. Did you see that? In ‘Ex-Cowboy’? It was really hard after a while – I had a really sore leg and stuff.

c: Who’s your ideal valentine?
stuart/dominic: Princess Leia.
m: I think we could have guessed that.
stuart: Princess Leia/my girlfriend.
dominic: I’ve got too many, man. Alicia Silverstone. I thought of someone else the other day.
discussion of various people
stuart: Cassie from Aerial M (she’s standing beside us and laughs).
stuart: (to me) It’s a good doughnut, isn’t it?
[Whether this was a reference to the fact that I had dropped sugar all over myself or just a polite question I can’t say.]
m: It’s not the best doughnut I’ve ever had.

Mogwai by Marceline Smith

m: Have you had people…asking for your autographs and stuff? ‘Cos we were here seeing Urusei Yatsura on Monday – last time everyone was just, ‘yeah, it’s a band’ but this time they were all, ‘wow!’ and excited like they were pop stars.
stuart: People ask for our autographs but in a sort of like, normal way..like you would say,’Oh, can I get some of your chips?’.
dominic: But we do have to sign a lot of things.
stuart: A lot of things actually. Becomes quite painful after a while.
dominic: Quite embarrassing.
stuart: But we always write our names differently (laughs).
dominic: There’s this one guy, he’s a bit of a nutter, I signed his CD once and then the pen ran out. So next time I met him he insisted that I write it again with a proper pen, and this is when I wrote my name as demonic and he was standing next to me and he made me write it as Dominic.
stuart: If he asks me to sign, I’m gonna write, ‘fuck you weirdo fuck’.
everyone laughs
voice: That’s a fantastic name for a song.
stuart: (wonderingly) ‘Fuck You Weirdo Fuck’? Aye.

c: How did you get Kevin Shields to do the remix?
stuart: We sacrificed this goat….eh, no we just asked him…and he said ‘yes’. What did you think of it?
c: I liked it, yeah.
stuart: (giggles) I like it as well.
m: I liked how it changed and then it did stuff and then it changed again.
stuart: Yeah…it was definitely unlazy. It’s actually the first time on a record that he’s showed how good he is at frequency manipulation in a sick way…’cos it really is rumbly and squealy.
m: What song was it?
stuart: ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’.
m: Was it?
stuart: (kills himself laughing) Yeah (laughs some more).
m: Were you chuffed with the remix you did for David Holmes?
stuart: Nah..not really. It was a bit of a muck around. Could have done a lot better.
m: Were you less chuffed with it when you heard what Arab Strap had done?
stuart: (obviously thinking hard) Errr…aaah…I think Arab Strap were a bit generous with their own…music to be honest.
dominic: I really like it. I think it’s really good.
stuart: No, it’s good. But do you not think they should have asked for a bit more money if they gave them a song basically instead of a remix? No, it is good.
m: And do you think Slint will be happy that you’ve…just stuck half their song in it?
stuart: Ohh. They know all about it. I mean, Brian McMahan phoned my house!
dominic: And we had to try and clear it before it went out and..erm..unfortunately…
stuart: We didn’t manage to clear it. Well, we’re in the process of clearing it but Brian took so long to, because Slint all live in different towns and whatever, so it took a long time to let them all hear it. David (Pajo) doesn’t mind!
m: What did he (Brian) say to you on the phone?
stuart: (does hilarious laid back whispering american accent): “Hello Stuart. I got your tape. I can’t really see a problem with this but perhaps we could get some money, not your money, but I think we’ll contact the label, try and get some money for this”. And that’s what he said.

c: Have you had any interesting run-ins with The Law?
stuart: We’ve had a few close calls with customs on the way in and out of Ireland. I’ve never been arrested or whatever.
dominic: John’s the only one of us.
stuart: John’s spent a night in jail before. He was drunk and a policeman ran over your foot? (the last directed at John).
john: Almost.
stuart: And you started swearing at him? At the car?
john: I turned round and swore at the car, not realising.
m: Quite right too!
stuart: And he ended up in jail. And it was horrible food, wasn’t it?

m: Have you met any good second-rate celebrities?
stuart: Eh, Rob from Adorable – he’s our number one second-rate celebrity that we’re hanging out with at the moment.
dominic: He’s a good guy, man.
stuart: Met a guy from Revolver, haven’t we?
dominic: Aye.
m: I liked Revolver. I liked Adorable as well.
stuart: You’ll meet him tonight – he’s a good guy. He lent us that guitar. Who else? We’ve met some right…did we meet Loz from Kingmaker the other week?
dominic: Aye. We’ve met that Graham from Urusei Yatsura as well.

food arrives and the discussion turns to plates and forks and Virgin trains)
stuart: Ugh, Virgin trains are hideous. (to me) Did you drive down here?
m: No.
stuart: Bus?
m: Train.
stuart: Virgin?
m: I think part of it was.
stuart: Did you have to do a swapsie?
m: Yeah, change at Preston. But…it started off as a Scotrail train but by the time I got off it it was a Virgin train. I don’t know how they managed to do that.

c: What did you think of the way you were filmed on the Brats?
stuart: It was alright. The only bad thing was that…(his attention is diverted by food) Ally, can you scoop me some pasta on top of that? Eh, yeah, the only thing was that on the actual night of the gig, because they’d the TV cameras, the stage was really bright-looking and it kind of looked like something off of daytime TV.
dominic: Shut up about the fuckin’ stage! There was no problem with it at all, man!
stuart: (firmly) it was too bright.
dominic: (bemused) I’ve never met a…man that moans about stupid things such as you, man – the stage was fine.
stuart: (loudly) Too bright! Feel that inter-band tension. You could cut the air like a knife… (everyone laughs at his mistake) Is that no’ the right thing? So what did you think of the way it was filmed?
c: I thought they weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing ‘cos there was no singer.
m: It was like when they used to film Slowdive or somebody and it was like, ‘oh no, what are we going to do – let’s film this cool girl in the audience and some people snogging…’.
stuart: Michael used to work for Slowdive, didn’t you Michael?
c: I liked your t-shirt though.
stuart: (pulls at scabby-looking t-shirt he’s wearing, surprised) This one?
c: The one you wore at the Brats.
stuart: That’s friends of mine who are in a band from Wales called Headfall and they make all their own things and that’s one of their t-shirts. ‘Punk has no sound’ and on the back it says, ‘definition:sound, definition:youth’.

m: Have been staying in Travel Inns?
stuart: Travel Lodges.
m: Aye, have you played any good practical jokes on the people there?
stuart: No.. not really..
dominic: Aye! We nicked the cleaning lady’s shoes yesterday. She knocked on the door ‘cos she knew we had them. Gavin went up to say, “I’m sorry, they’re all a bunch of arseholes”, and she just totally thought it was him! …Well it was amusing at the time.

m: So what do you do on the tour bus?
dominic: Watch videos, listen to CDs. Read. Eh, insult each other quite a lot. Sleep.
stuart: We’re making a wee film as well.
m: On the tourbus?
stuart: Well, it’s not all going to be on tour but we’re on tour at the moment so that’s what we’re filming. When we stop being on tour it’s going to become a kind of ‘Lord of the Rings’ style fantasy epic starring Sean Connery and Cilla Black.
m: And do you intend to put this out?
stuart: It’s gonna be in the cinema.
m: In one cinema?
dominic: No, all the Odeons!
m: Have you ever made a video for any of your songs?
stuart: Um, our american record label made one and they made us mime along to ‘Summer’.
dominic: On top of a roof in New York. And Martin didn’t even have a drum kit – he had to play his knee.
stuart: Can I have some bread please, Dominic?
m: So has it been played on MTV?
stuart: I’m sure they would have told us so I bet they haven’t.

c: What’s your favourite track off ‘Young Team’?
stuart: Eeehhh, ‘Like Herod’.
c: Yeah.
m: Is there any of them that you can’t play..or won’t play, live?
stuart: Most. We only play..we can play four but we choose to play three, and these days we only play two: ‘Like Herod’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’. Some of the songs we’ve played once or twice – we played ‘Tracy’ once.
dominic: Twice.
stuart: Twice? ‘Radar Maker’ once and quite a lot of them never.
dominic: ‘…Long Way From Home’ – we used to play that a lot.
stuart: Oh aye, we used to play that.

Steve tour manager announces press will have their +1s removed. Everyone cheers.

stuart: Oh, more questions!

m: What’s your Steve Lamacq anecdote ‘cos everyone’s got one?
stuart: He was scared of us for about a year – that was quite funny.
dominic: He had to introduce us on stage, like T in the Park ‘cos it was being played on the radio and we’d just recently put the boot into him like, in the NME and I think he’d heard the rumour somewhere that we were kind of mental (everyone laughs)..fuck knows where he got that from – but when we turned up he was visibly like, shiting himself, man, and we came along and was like, (makes strange pretend mad conversation noises), and he’d said when we did this thing on the radio with Kenickie, “Not exactly a band you’d pay your last £5 to see”. So basically when he came onstage he went, “this band we at the evening session love and I’d encourage anyone to spend their last £5 on them and to prove it here’s my £5 here”.
stuart: I’ve still got the pound he gave me.
dominic: Aye, and he gave us a pound each.
stuart: Aye, that’s an anecdote really. He was even alright wasn’t he? No real banter or anything, just said hello. I once got really drunk and had an argument about why he doesn’t play bands like Tortoise on the radio.

m: Can you speak any Gaelic…?
stuart: No, my mum speaks it fluently.
m: …apart from ‘Telefios’? (Scottish news programme entirely in Gaelic)
stuart: ‘Padraig Post’ (‘Postman Pat’ dubbed in Gaelic’) is about as far as my Gaelic goes.
m: You get ‘Rugrats’ in Gaelic now.
dominic: ‘Donny Murdo’ as well. Like, see, ‘Dangermouse’ is called ‘Donny Murdo’ in Gaelic and that’s just his name because..eh, Dangermouse in Gaelic isn’t DM so they had to change his name to Donny Murdo.
stuart: (over-excitedly) Can I get a banana Dominic, can I get a banana?!
voice: There isn’t a word for ‘danger’ in Gaelic.
stuart: That’s ‘cos it’s really nice up in the highlands. There’s nothing dangerous apart from…sharp-toothed fish

c: What would a Mogwai tribute band be called?
stuart: Fridge.
dominic: Aw, that is rotten, man.
stuart: I’m not insulting Fridge, it’s just that…
voice: What did you say..?
stuart: He asked me what a Mogwai tribute band would be called! And what else am I meant to say? Basically this band Fridge did a version of one of our songs and we got to hear it today. It’s just really weird hearing someone else playing your song.
m: Who do you think has got the best band name? I think Mogwai would be in the top three?
stuart: I think we’ve got a very…Joy Division’s my favourite band name but I like Girls Against Boys, that’s a good name for a band. Unwound’s a good name for a band. Sonic Youth – good name for a band. Eh…
dominic: That Stars of the Lid band.
stuart: Oh, yeah, eh…eh …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – that’s a good name for a band.

m: Right, can you choose a band and slag them off amusingly, convincingly and for as long as possible without stopping?
stuart: Right, today’s band are called Ultrasound!
m: Go for it!
stuart: Right, the singer looks like Bilbo Baggins’ mum. The music is dire. Seventies progressive metal without any rocking or guitar solos or comedy. They’re old. They’re a hyped London band that people only go and see out of curiosity. They’re just utter, pure……pish. Dominic, do you want to slag a band?
m: Choose a different band.
dominic: Eh, I c…
stuart: Choose a different band, man. Dominic, come on!
dominic: Who do I really hate?
stuart: (promptly) Air.
dominic: Nah, I just don’t like them, man. I can’t really slag them.
stuart: Just pish.
dominic: Just pish.
stuart: That’s all I can really think of.
dominic: Did you not put the boot into Travis?
stuart: Travis!! Travis? Come on, Travis! There you go, that’s an open goal and a half, isn’t it?
dominic: Belle and Sebastian – I like slagging them, man.
stuart: I don’t think that would be diplomatic, to slag off Belle and Sebastian in a scottish fanzine.
dominic: Okay, eh…
stuart: Lovely boys…
voice: Stuart, wipe your mouth!
stuart: I like having bits of food hanging off my face! (everyone has hysterics)
voice: You take after your dad then.
stuart: Right, here’s an amusing anecdote featuring young Kieron from Pilotcan: one night me and Dominic were drunk, we were walking through Edinburgh and we saw a jakey and I went, “that reminds me, my dad’s a vagrant, my dad lives in the streets”, and Dominic said, “yeah, he used to be a really successful artist” and all this and we were just talking shit ‘cos we were drunk.
kieron: I did not believe you.
stuart: Aye right! You believed me like fuck! Like, you can’t deny it!!
kieron: You knew that I was laughing but then when you were slagging me you were saying, “I was there and you fell for it”, you totally changed your story.
stuart: No, you’re talking rubbish, you believed that. Which isn’t so bad, I mean everyone’s gullible once in a while, right? (Kieron is protesting) Everyone’s gullible once in a while. You said you thought that was my stepdad and you thought my real dad was a jakey. Right, so…so basically this is all fair and well, everyone’s gullible once in a while. But everyone doesn’t meet my mum and ask how my dad is ‘cos he lives in the fuckin’ streets!!! (laughs very loudly)
Kieron is still protesting but Stuart keeps shouting him down, having a louder voice and more conviction.
stuart: Never have a seen such a vague attempt at face-saving.
Everyone else starts telling stories about Stuart and the like.
stuart: Anyway, this is turning into me getting a slagging, even though he’s the gullible fool.

m: Which member of the Labour government amuses you most?
stuart: (laughs) Aye, the disabled sympathy guy, the blind guy?
m: David Blunkett.
stuart: Yep, I find the fact that they’ve put him in a position so people would feel guilty to slag him off…even though he’s still implementing all this shady new legislation. I find it quite funny that they’ve went for such a..pathetic, eh..Esther Rantzen-style attempt.
voice: What are you talking about?
stuart: Slagging that blind guy from the government!
voice: Oh, right.
stuart: Probably putting tax on white sticks next…fuckers. Anyway…
c: Have you got any plans to conquer America?
stuart: Yeah.
m: Personally, or as a band?
stuart: As in our own private army, we’re gonna conquer America.
dominic: Too right, man. We’re gonna kick their ass.
stuart: We might be going over there to play in June. Or we might not. We went there last year actually. We have played there.
c: Who with?
stuart/dominic: Pavement.
m: Have you spoken to Pavement?
stuart: (sarcastic as you like!) No! We did a week and a half tour with them and I didn’t say a word to any member of the band! (laughs) ‘Course I’ve spoken to them, we played with them!
m: (laughing) Aye, but does Steve Malkmus actually talk in sentences in real life or does he just say words?
stuart: No, he’s really, sort of logical- he speaks totally normally. Interesting boys, lovely people. Bob actually came up and played drums with us one night as well.
dominic: Out of time…
stuart: Very out of time, I wasn’t going to say that.

c: Do you have any scary obsessions?
stuart: Scary obsessions? I’m obsessed by Babylon 5. Some people, if they don’t like it, they call me scary. Dominic’s obsessed by getting really baggy trousers.
dominic: Not in a bad way – I just like…
stuart: (to me) They’re new shoes, aren’t they? How new are your shoes?
m: Oh, they were only £10 – my other ones I’ve been wearing for about two years (slight exaggeration), they were falling apart. [It’s now October 1999 and I’m still wearing those falling apart trainers fact-fans!]
stuart: Anyway…
m: I’ve run out of questions…
stuart: (to Carl) You had loads on that bit! Ask more!
m: Aye. Ask that.. ‘what’s your favourite cliche about the Glasgow music scene?’
stuart: Cliche about the Glasgow music scene? I don’t…I think it’s such a crap scene that no-one’s even invented a cliche yet. Maybe that we all sort of like…..play gigs with each other. There you go. We haven’t played a gig with another Glasgow band, apart from this festival where we played with Urusei and the Delgados (and Eska. And the Urusei tour with Backwater…). I just shot myself in the foot, didn’t I? Can you think of any cliches about the Glasgow music scene?
voice: Paul Campion (from AC Acoustics).
stuart: Yeah, Paul Campion.
m: Did you get any, like, offers from any major labels?
stuart: They keep in touch and stuff. Certainly a few major labels have tried to sign us but…
m: Don’t you think you should have discussions and pretend, just to see what they offer you?
stuart: There was one major label that got us a piano once for a gig ‘cos we said we’d quite like one, and were also willing to completely fund us for a year and a half until we decided if we were going to sign with them.

c: Are you concerned about the type of audience you attract?
stuart: Erm…sometimes, if you see someone in the audience and they’re being a total dick or whatever or you just think, ‘I hate people like that’, you wonder why they’re interested in the music that we make, but as a whole, no, I find they’re mostly decent people who like the music which is all you can really ask for really.
m: Do people expect you to be pretentious people?
stuart: They did at one point, but I think everyone knows that we’re just fools.

Steve reappears to point out that there are three people waiting to do interviews.
stuart: Do you thing you could ask them if they mind all doing it at the same time? And taking chances each with the questions?
Aerial M start playing ‘Dazed and Awake’. Stuart starts clapping along.
stuart: (singing) That was a good idea. Spend less time doing fanzine interviews.
discussion about how crap it is doing joint interviews. Stuart then picks up my taperecorder and speaks directly into it.
stuart: Thanks very much! Sorry if it was rubbish. I’m sorry…

Interview by Marceline Smith and Carl Bradley

Mogwai website