With his thick Scottish accent and humorous remarks, Stuart Braithwaite, leader of the post-rock instrumental band Mogwai, comes across as a likeable rogue. Considering that his band's stock and trade is music that features dense and distorted waves of noise and feedback, Braithwaite's easygoing candor is unexpected.
But a quick glance at Mogwai's album and song titles will let you know that, although the music may be serious, there's a deep undercurrent of humor to the band's psyche.
"Honestly, we don't put a lot of thought into our song titles," Braithwaite says, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Detroit. "It's just random thoughts and expressions. I mean, we got our new album title from just some guy in a shop."
He's referring to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the band's seventh full-length album, which was released this past February. Although the new album features a few more melodies than previous efforts, songs like "White Noise" and "How To Be a Werewolf" are as deafening and unruly as anything in Mogwai's fine back catalog. Even a song with a title as tongue-in-cheek as "You're Lionel Richie" still features Mogwai's trademark roar.
"I saw Lionel Richie in an airport," Braithwaite says. "So I named a song after him. To be honest, I don't know too much about the guy's music."
Esoteric song titles are just the beginning of what makes Mogwai's music so special, though. Cinematic in scope and delivered in dramatic fashion, the music of Braithwaite and his four Scottish cohorts mixes the classic slacker shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine with the primal early punk of the MC5. Braithwaite insists there's still more going on as well.
"We're big into Joy Division and we're all fans of Rhys Chatham as well," he says. "It's hard to talk about your own music—hard to look at it objectively, I mean. We're just an instrumental rock band that's damn lucky to have done as well as we have."
Indeed: Several of Mogwai's albums have made it fairly high on the modern rock charts, a fact that amazes Braithwaite.
"I guess, since our songs don't have words, people latch on to the melodies," he says. "That being said, I never thought a record by us would be on any chart."
Still, such success was a welcome thing—and far more welcome than the band being described as a post-rock entity.
"I just don't know what that term means," Braithwaite says. "That's why I don't like it."
Either way, post-rock or not, Mogwai's impressive onstage howl (even with the cheeky song titles) is a pleasure to behold.
And Braithwaite's humility is as unique as his band's music.