Mogwai on their new album, Trump and the Tories
With 22 years, nine studio albums and several film soundtracks behind them, Scottish post-rockers Mogwai are still going strong. Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite talks turbulent politics, their latest record and the lack of funding for working-class musicians.
FEW bands reach their third decade intact. Even fewer manage to release nine albums across 22 years, losing just one member in the process.
But Scottish post-rockers Mogwai certainly have. And all while managing to remain a force who can turn their hands to an array of projects, such as scoring both a football documentary and a nuclear history film.
They returned in a more traditional format this year with their ninth studio album Every Country's Sun, minus guitarist and keyboardist John Cummings, who left for a solo career in 2015.
Band-leader and guitarist Stuart Braithwaite is supposed to be talking about the record and a few upcoming shows in the US and elsewhere, but he seems far more interested in bemoaning the current state of the world.
The Tories are a "despicable bunch", Brexit is like "approaching an iceberg" and Donald Trump is an "incomplete human being", he says, in-between snippets of conversation about the Scottish four-piece's recent effort.
The record landed in September but was completed in January – and Mogwai arrived in the US to start recording it just before President Trump was elected.
Thus their whole time in the studio was set against a backdrop of drama as the world watched power transfer from Barack Obama to Mr Trump.
"The whole election felt like a slow motion car crash," Braithwaite says.
"And then to be there when Trump won, it was really weird. Then we finished mixing just after he got inaugurated so we were there for all of the horror."
It is a reflective album, in that it collects the band's contrasting sounds of the past 20 years into an 11-track record. For their first since Cummings's exit, they decided to sign up psyche-rock veteran Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, MGMT) on production and headed to his isolated studios in New York state, where they shielded themselves from the political events around them.
Every Country's Sun charted at number six, their highest ever position and only their second ever top-10 studio record, after 2014's Rave Tapes.
So, something resonated – and although Trump's rise is not explicitly dealt with, Braithwaite believes there is plenty of subconscious shielding from the turbulent time the world has endured.
Forgetting the music again, he goes back after his number one target.
"He doesn't seem to have any empathy, any intelligence, he just seems to be a genuinely awful person on every level," he says of the current White House incumbent.
"He doesn't have the intellect to grasp anything other than what people think about him. And even on that level, he's doing such a bad job on making people like him."
Although his commentary is intriguing, Braithwaite has far more substance when addressing the politics of the music industry. He brushes off concerns over the band's position in a world where touring is increasingly important, but adds: "What really worries me, is there being the resources to introduce new bands.
"I think that a lot when I look at festivals, most of the headliners are old bands.
"And that's not because music is not as good as it used to be but probably because there isn't the money to market bands up to that level, as often used to happen."
And that lack of money has led to the rise of middle-class singer-songwriters and bands, he says, without naming names.
"There's nothing wrong with those people making it but there isn't enough variety. You look at bands like Arctic Monkeys or The Jesus And Mary Chain and think would bands like that get to make albums as easily now?
"It's harder; labels don't have money for tour support so it's hard for bands to get out and play as much for people outside of their home towns, unless they have their parents' credit card or something."
Grime music is an exception, he argues, because of the lack of expense needed to create it at a grass-roots level.
"That shows once you take away the financial burden, you get these really f****** talented and inspired artists making music that represents their lives and communities," he says.
It is the same as the working-class rock seen in the 1980s and 90s, adds Braithwaite.
"It's punk, it's rock. It's people getting off their arse and making stuff themselves and inspiring people, which is what culture and music should be about."
Quizzed on what can be done to help tomorrow's Arctic Monkeys or Jesus And Mary Chain to break through, Braithwaite immediately, and justifiably, takes the conversation back to the front line.
"If your parents can't afford to feed you, then they can't afford to buy you a guitar," he says.
"It gets back to more fundamental things about society and the way poor people have been victimised and made an example of to try and detract from what the bankers did.
"It's just another way the culture of austerity affects people's everyday lives. It meant you are more likely to get a posh singer-songwriter and not the Sex Pistols or the Happy Mondays or The Slits."
The band are currently back in Trump's America for a tour and Braithwaite is delighted to be showing the record off after such a long wait.
They will return to Britain for a show at London's Brixton Academy before an end-of-the-year homecoming at Glasgow's SSE Hydro.
Solely focused on the music for the first time in a 20-minute conversation, Braithwaite says: "I'm just enjoying going out and playing all the songs.
"We're really lucky that people are keen to hear what we're playing and writing, I just want to keep making music."
:: Mogwai's Every Country's Sun is out now on Rock Action.