If it were up to the finger-painter that is our right brain, humans would have no need for song titles and band names and lyrics. But thanks to our left brain, and its penchant for party-pooping, we tend to like to have words to identify with the music. So when five guys from Scotland collaborate as Mogwai, creating tremendous rock music without a singer, we tend to define it with some catchall bull-honky like "post-rock."
Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai's founding member, takes slight umbrage. "To be honest," he says, "I'm not a big fan of the term."
Braithwaite spoke with City Paper via phone from his Glasgow home while taking a breather from the band's current tour. "I've been eating a lot of curry," he explains, "because I think that the curries in England and Scotland are a lot better than the ones in Europe, and certainly in America."
Mogwai has been stirring forth its own supersonic curries, creating what the guitarist hesitantly describes as "slightly melancholic, instrumental rock" for more than 15 years. Maintaining a humble profile and puritanical work ethic, the band continues sculpting a body of work as amorphous as it is impressive.
The band's roster has remained nearly unchanged throughout its existence. Braithwaite and his bandmates -- John Cummings (guitar/piano/computers), Martin Bulloch (drums), Dominic Aitchison (bass) and Barry Burns (piano/guitar/computers) -- have come a long way from practicing under his parents' roof. Now they rehearse inside a nightclub.
"It's not really that cool, actually," says Braithwaite. "I think it's disgusting. That's why I'd rather start rehearsing in my parents' living room again. That is, if they'd let us."
Burns no longer lives in Scotland, so band practices are fewer and farther between these days. "I think we tend to rehearse less often, but maybe a little bit more intensely," Braithwaite says. "I think most bands should rehearse more. Everyone can get better, us included."
Such relentless dedication to improvement often stokes musicians' egos until the practice space goes up in flames. Yet here is a band whose name, a reference to Gremlins, and whose song titles ("Kids Will Be Skeletons," "Rano Pano," "Superheroes of BMX" and "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead," just to name a few) draw from a vast pool of referential obscurities and Scottish "bloke" humor
As one of the band members confesses in the disembodied narration for Adelia, I Want to Love: A Short Film about Mogwai, "I like the fact that anyone could have made these records." There exists a kind of anonymity in the musicianship exhibited by Braithwaite and Co., which sets them apart from many of the bands they have shared the stage with over the years.
"I guess it's all relative," Braithwaite explains. "I mean, we know a lot of musicians and we've played with a lot of bands over the years. Compared to some, we were a really big deal but, compared to other ones, we were little, like a really small deal."
The latest record, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, finds the five Scots teaming up with Paul Savage, the producer responsible for the band's debut, Young Team. No longer manning the control panels and soundboards themselves, as they did for 2008's The Hawk Is Howling, the musicians were free this time to fully pursue a reinterpretation of their original influences.
The result is on par with Brian Wilson's underrated Beach Boys masterpiece 20/20, only far thicker in texture, as each song transmits the full breadth of Mogwai's catalog. For its current tour, the band has arranged a live mash-up of images behind the stage, a visual metaphor that speaks to the new album's themes of retrospection and endless projection.
"We've taken a look back and seen what we played in each town the time before so that we're not giving people déjà vu," Braithwaite says. Mogwai will keep growing its work like fractals, recursively expanding the dimensions and turning self-similarity into one-of-a-kind music.
"I don't want to be too conceited about it," Braithwaite says. "But I don't think too many people make the kind of music we make, the way we make it. And I guess there's always a lot of people discovering our kind of music so, in time, there could be many more people wanting to hear our band, which is awesome."
First-timers can spin the wheel and take their pick of any number of Mogwai LPs, EPs, B-sides, compilation tracks, you name it. Each record chapters itself like a novella while inhabiting the massive scope of a bona fide rock opera -- without all the singing and dancing, of course.
Narrative progressions slide through musical digressions and the combined effect conjures a sense of place for the sound. "I guess our music has quite a lot of space in it, which probably lends itself to sitting well with, kind of, images and other forms of art," Braithwaite says.
"Yeah. Also, the style of the music is quite, um." He pauses. "Um, I really, I can't think of the word. So, I guess whoever happens to hear our music can make up their own word for it."
MOGWAI with ERRORS. 8 p.m. Wed., April 27. Mr. Small's Theater, Millvale. All ages. $23.50-25. 866-468-3401 or www.mrsmalls.com
- Melancholic, instrumental, amorphous, impressive: Mogwai