Mogwai Talks Soundtrack Work, Weird Song Titles, and the Rare Lyric
The Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai's been releasing albums for the past 20 years.
The band is now on its eighth full-length, Rave Tapes, if you do not count its two noteworthy soundtracks. In 2013, the group released the score for acclaimed French television mini-series Les Revenants, about zombies who want to come back home and live with their families. And seven years prior, Mogwai issued its sublime soundtrack for Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait, a "documentary" featuring French soccer player Zinédine Zidane, shot in real time, with 15 cameras fixed solely on him during his fateful final game before retirement.
Mogwai's lively approach to its music and its vivid, atmospheric quality works great for soundtracks. It also, as guitarist John Cummings reveals, inspires surreal yet evocative song titles, like "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead." We recently spoke about writing music for film, weird song titles, the rare lyric, and more ahead of his band's first visit to Miami.
Crossfade: Rave Tapes... What inspired that album title?
John Cummings: The title was just something that's kind of a reference to concerts of 20-odd years ago.
It opens calmly, recalling your soundtrack work for Les Revenants.
Well, we'd done that just quite recently, so I suppose there was going to be some kind of connection.
How does writing scores influence your album work? Or do you treat them the same?
I think they're two very different projects with two different ends to achieve. We're using the same equipment or technology or whatever, but for a Mogwai album, a straight up studio album, the music has to do things. It has to maintain interest. It has to have different contrasts or similarities to create a listening experience. But to go along with visual footage, it's almost a problem. The music's too interesting. It's difficult for us to do our job and not really be noticed, I suppose. Yeah, that's the big difference. Music for film stuff is generally not to be noticed. Music for album stuff is kind of to be noticed.
I like listening to those soundtracks. They stand well on their own.
Well, that was important to us when we were making the records, that they shouldn't just sound like they came from a TV show or a film. We put in a lot of work into Les Revnants' music to turn that into an album, and we did a bit of work with the Zidane stuff, as well, to turn that into an album.
You have great titles inspired by Jim Morrison and Stanley Kubrick and such. Do your titles inspire the pieces? Or do the titles come later?
The titles come at the very end. Right when the music is finished, we'll go to a list of titles that we've been compiling for the last couple of years, stuff that would be funny to call a song, and then we got 15 to 30 songs we need to find titles for. They're not more connected than that. Sometimes, something in the title will fit with the song, and that's purely coincidental.
So the song "Stanley Kubrick" really was not inspired by Stanley Kubrick?
Well, we like Stanley Kubrick films. We do like his films, and that was a bit of a nod in his honor, trying to call something after something, like a lot of children are named after people, like their parents or whoever. So yes, calling something after Stanley Kubrick is a bit of a nod of the hat. But Jim Morrison, we're not inspired by Jim Morrison. That's completely humorous. We don't really like Jim Morrison at all.
So, you're just stating a fact: Jim Morrison's dead.
Yeah. He's dead.
See also: Mogwai Talks Rave Tapes, Post-Rock, and Running "Very Much a Democracy"