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Mogwai has lasted because they ‘just managed to keep going’

If you want to keep your band together for two decades, do what Mogwai have done, and start an instrumental band.

Mogwai are on tour with Majeure. They play Union Transfer in Philly on May 8, Terminal 5 in NYC on May 9 and the House of Blues in Boston on May 10. (Credit: Steve Gullick) Mogwai are on tour with Majeure. They play Union Transfer in Philly on May 8, Terminal 5 in NYC on May 9 and the House of Blues in Boston on May 10. (Credit: Steve Gullick)
Scottish post-rock band Mogwai aren’t much for words, but the instrumental post-rocker’s January-released “Rave Tapes” includes a spoken-word passage about Led Zeppelin’s lyrics being satanic cyphers. Lest there be lawsuits, it’s a rerecorded but real warning from a Christian broadcast, whose announcer clearly overlooked the fact that Robert Plant was busy singing about Hobbits and hedgerows.

“Yeah, he’s actually singing about Hobbits,” laughs Mogwai’s multi-instrumentalist John Cummings. “There’s plenty in Led Zeppelin’s music that’s ridiculous, you don’t have to make up stuff.”

But why sample something about Led Zep’s penchant for the dark side at all? Well, once upon a time, Mogwai were also known as bad boys of rock (or post-rock at least) mostly for the decibel-pushing volume of the band’s instrumental epics, which had critics fearing for their eardrums.

“We were young once,” says the quietly spoken Cummings with a touch of irony. “We just enjoyed what seemed like all the free beer. I don’t think we’re like that anymore. On the whole, we were just lovable scamps.”

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Over eight albums, rather than petulance, volume has proven a pertinent texture in the band’s far from (always) heavy music. What with scoring the European TV series “Les Revenants” (think: “Resurrection”), and also the “Zidane” biopic, not to mention the cinematic, elegant “Rave Tapes,” Mogwai are now dignified post-rock elder statesman.

“We’re as much the last men standing as anything else. We just managed to keep going,” Cummings says levelheadedly. “It seems strange that not more bands manage it. Hopefully, over time, you get to know how to not annoy other people as much as they get to know how not to annoy you. It’s not that difficult to put up with each other, really.”

That attitude goes when making music, too. Not having a vocalist or a lead guitarist or a dominating musical element has left Mogwai leaderless and truly democratic, creatively. Such flexibility has allowed the band to not only continue, but also evolve.

“In the beginning there was malleability in various areas because we were clueless,” Cummings says. “When you don’t know anything about it, you’re more than happy to follow someone else’s lead.”

He says “clueless,” but it seems more like “people wise enough to listen.”

Cummings isn’t so sure about that theory and has a more commonsense explanation: “That’s sounds a bit grandiose,” he says. “If you don’t know what you’re doing and someone else does, then, yeah, follow them.”

 
 
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