Stuart Braithwaite

Following the recent release of his first book, ‘Spaceships Over Glasgow’, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite reflects on the joys of noise, pets and looking to the stars

Illustration: Joel Benjamin

LOUD AND CLEAR

“This is about first hearing really noisy music from acts such as The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. It’s that feeling of your brain being overwhelmed by sounds so it can’t work out what’s going on and it starts playing tricks.

“My upbringing was the exact opposite of noise. My parents’ house was in Strathaven, near East Kilbride, across from a field with cows. When I first heard noisy music, it was so intense because I was used to countryside quiet. I remember hearing My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ and just not understanding it. There was a real kind of beauty in that noise.

“For me, noise doesn’t even have to be loud, it just has to be confusing. I remember when I started playing guitar and I first heard feedback – one of the purest noises. And when I got my first distortion pedal… plugging my guitar into an amp and being like, ‘Wow, this is a fucking racket!’. The guitar solo in The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ is such an influence on me, as is Lou Reed. As I got older and learned more about music, I realised how close this was to John Coltrane.”

PUNK ROCK

“It’s not even so much about the music – although obviously some of the punk rock records are, without doubt, among the best songs ever made. For me, it’s more the ethos of not waiting for someone else to do something for you. You just do it yourself. That’s my main takeaway from punk rock – the philosophy of not asking for permission to do anything.

“The music got me first… the Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Banshees, Joy Division, Bauhaus. But I never get just a little bit into something – I’m always head-first, getting into it all. So I read everything about the era and found that it wasn’t just about cool records but about a different way of looking at music, politics and culture. It was anti-establishment and anti-monarchy – things that really struck a chord with me.

“Then came Nirvana. I first saw them at Reading in 1991 when I was 15, and it genuinely changed my life. It was like, ‘Wow, this is happening right now. They are punk as fuck’. But punk can be in music that sounds different to that – I feel Stars Of The Lid are punk. They’re completely uncompromising and not doing it to make money, they’re doing it because they have to. Punk is much more than fast, three-chord songs. It’s a way of life.”

STARING INTO SPACE

“My dad was a telescope maker, so I was always around space and was quite aware of it. I’m not a very scientific person, but I would get a real kick looking through the telescope and seeing the stars and the craters on the Moon.

“I was more into sci-fi, so I really love ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Star Wars’ and any weird space-type thing. I love to look up at the night sky, and America has the best view for that. One time, when Mogwai were in Arizona, I remember our tour bus pulling over and we got out and saw this blanket of stars. It was just incredible.”

GLASGOW

“I’ve lived in Glasgow for most of my life, and people involved in music here have just been such a huge influence on me – musicians like Arab Strap and Franz Ferdinand. Seeing bands like The Jesus And Mary Chain, Primal Scream and Teenage Fan Club doing really well when I was a young teenager was definitely a subconscious inspiration. Making music seemed a lot more possible because others from a similar background to us had done that.

“In Glasgow, there are highbrow things and it’s down-to-earth too. I like that contrast. I also like just wandering around. My favourite places include a Victorian cemetery called the Glasgow Necropolis, and the parks. During lockdown, I got to find out about so many different ones because I got bored walking around the same places. Glasgow has more parks than many other European cities, which you wouldn’t expect.”

ANIMAL INSTINCT

“I’ve always really liked animals. I think they have a purity that we can only aspire to. We had lots of pets when I was young. We lived on a road which, although it was rural, people drove down it too fast, so sadly, a lot of the cats we had didn’t last too long.

“I’ve not dedicated any music to my dogs yet – they get confused when I play guitar. Like, ‘What are you doing?’. Lyra is named after the character in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ and Prince is named after The Purple One. There’s another dog in the neighbourhood called Hendrix, which I always love because with him and Prince we have probably the two best electric guitar players of all time.”

LIVE MUSIC

“This goes back to the original concept of my book, which was about live concerts. And then I realised that I couldn’t remember enough about them [laughs]. My big sister Victoria got me into music. She had good taste.

“My first gig was in 1989 when I was 13, and it was The Cure – the ‘Disintegration’ tour – at Glasgow SECC. Me and my friends got a minibus there, and it was amazing. My favourite venue is Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom. It’s an old dance hall with a sprung floor and brilliant views from everywhere.

“When there were no concerts during lockdown, I felt like I’d lost part of my body, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I don’t think I’ll ever take live music for granted again. When I play live now, I make a point of noting how special it is – it’s a real privilege to do.”

‘Spaceships Over Glasgow: Mogwai, Mayhem And Misspent Youth’, is published by White Rabbit.

Mogwai’s ‘Young Team’ and ‘Come On Die Young’ albums are reissued by Chemikal Underground

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