It’s just after 10am and neither myself or Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite have fully woken up. “Yeah, I’m not really used to this hour either, to be honest,” he says, the unmistakable tone of a man whose spark is more often struck at night. Either way, speaking from his Glasgow home a day after the release of his band’s critically-devoured ninth studio album, Every Country’s Sun, the 41-year-old musician has every right to a lie in.
Having spent the last three years centring on soundtrack work and individually giving the whole living life thing a go, Mogwai would find themselves fashioning their latest – and quite possibly greatest – statement right throughout 2016, a year that, lest we ever forget, the sheer whatthefuckery neither Braithwaite, nor the rest of Mogwai, managed to dodge. Informed by a collective desire to creatively deflect from all the (shite) classics (Brexit, Trump, the outcome of the Scottish Indy Ref and the passing of Bowie) the post-rock torchbearers set to it once again. Wait a minute… they viewed the death of Bowie to be on the same level of apocalypse-hinting significance Brexit et al.? “Yeah. It genuinely was on the same level,” Braithwaite says. “I mean, it’s also because he had just released a new album and it had got to number one and all. He was such a nice guy and it affected us. I’ve never really been one to be affected by some famous stranger dying, but this was a different thing altogether.”
In its aim to deflect from the worldly menace that crept just out of sight, Every Country’s Sun is a release that is positively triumphant in tone. From the balmy surge of opener ‘Coolverine’ to the album’s masterful closing track – a personal favourite of Braithwaite’s – the album feels like a feature-length “fuck you” to the forces that seemed to conspire to turn the world inside out “Yeah, I agree,” Braithwaite enthuses. “It’s definitely a positive album. We didn’t consciously try to do that but it turned out that way. I suppose writing the music was sort of an escape from things that were happening around us and we channelled that into the music.”
When it was debuted by way of a secret set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona back in June, Every Country’s Sun was eagerly received. From small pockets of limbs erupting during the uproarious, Slint-hinting squall of ‘Old Poisons’ to sweet, somnambulant lullaby ‘aka 47’, hundreds of lucky heads bore witness to a release that, contrary to even the uppermost expectations of their most faithful, exceeded all expectations. What was it like debuting the album, all shock and awe, in the Spanish sun? “I enjoyed it,” Braithwaite says. “The festival asked us to do it and after a bit of thought, we agreed. But there were some nerves there as we hadn’t debuted a full album before. Normally when you’re preparing for those kinds of shows you learn a few songs. Very rarely do you play the whole album, so that was a new thing for us and a little challenging. But we relished it.”
All whilst firmly keeping two eyes on the creative vistas before them, Every Country’s Sun feels almost like something of a Nietzschean Eternal Return to their earlier work at the turn of the millennium. Produced by Dave Fridmann - who previously worked the desk on the foursome’s equally stellar Come On Die Young (1999) and 2001's Rock Action – the writing process considerably differed from those early days living in each other’s pockets in Glasgow. “We used DropBox to trade ideas early on,” Braithwaite reveals. “When you’re not touring you’re kind of left to your own devices. So especially with Barry (Burns) living in Berlin, we just sent things back and forth and then we properly demoed over here in Glasgow before recording with Dave. We kind of wanted them to be different things and places, which all came together for the recording.”
In the sixteen years since they worked with Fridmann last, Braithwaite and co. have evolved significantly as a unit, releasing five studio albums and several EPs. Why did Every Country’s Sun have his name written on it? “It was for a couple of reasons, really. We got thinking: we really like a lot of the stuff Dave has worked on and we’d worked with him before so we felt really comfortable. It was also just good to get away, you know? It was good to decamp. I’d say about 75% of the album was written before going into the studio and we would work on other stuff when we were in there. We experimented a bit but the songs were pretty much written.” Unsurprisingly, Every Country’s Sun is an album that bounds forth as a refined statement of intent, each quiet lull and huge implosion masterfully guided by the four-piece’s long tried-and-tested alchemical union.
Having felt like a less stressful endeavour of having to “work around another person’s vision” in the realm of soundtrack work (“It’s a lot less pressure, although of course it still comes with its very own pressures…”) Braithwaite sounds relieved – pleased even. Having bit my tongue for 20 minutes, I go for the jugular: I think this might be Mogwai’s greatest album to date, I say. Is it?
“I know you’re not meant to say these things but I think it might be,” he says after a pause. “I know these things are relative and we might look back on it differently but we’re really happy with it. It was important for us to get this one right and I think we did. That said, we’re in a position now that we could write a jazz album and no one could stop us. I mean, we’re not going to do that but still…” Even though they can – and despite the fact they certainly could – for a band going 22 years to still to be at the peak of their powers is as rare as a 6am start to the day. Stick to what you know best, guys: it seems to be working out well so far.
Every Country’s Sun is out now via Rock Action. For more information about the band, including forthcoming tour dates, please visit their official website.
Read the DiS 8/10 review here.
Photo Credit: Brian Sweeney