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The Weekly interview: Mogwai guitarist John Cummings

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Before heading to Coachella, Mogwai plays Hard Rock Live Friday night.

You’re in your hometown, Glasgow. Are you getting to enjoy a little bit of time off before you head back out on tour? Yeah, a little bit. But there’s plenty to do.

I read an old interview where Stuart [Braithwaite] was talking about “happy hardcore,” a popular genre of dance music in Scotland. I was wondering if the name Rave Tapes is more or less an inside joke about that genre. It’s not so much of a joke as it is a reference to that kind of culture—people swapping tapes and stuff. I suppose it could reference any kind of music that’s difficult to come by and mostly enjoyed in a club fashion, with DJs playing mixes of different songs. Not something you can buy.

Has electronic music influenced you over the years? I would say it has, yeah. We’ve always tried to make use of whatever instruments are available to us: drum machines, keyboards, sequencers. Yeah, we’ve been using that stuff for years.

What kind of equipment did you use on this album that you haven’t before? I guess the biggest change would be Barry [Burns’] modular synth. It’s got a lot of great sounds; it’s just a great synth.

You guys are part of a student poetry competition called “Drowned Village” [Mogwai will put music to the winner’s poem]. How did you get involved in that? I only found out about it a couple of days ago. I don’t really know much behind the project, but I believe it’s to do with various villages across the U.K. that were destroyed for reasons of cultural advance. And we recently did the soundtrack to a French TV show—it has a similar kind of village that’s been flooded, but I’m not how sure how much that had to do with our taking part in the project.

The soundtrack you’re referring to is for the show, Les Revenants. How was it working on that? It’s a great project. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the TV show; it’s a pretty good show, pretty weird, not really too linear. It’s a different kind of style of quality drama [than] what’s on TV these days.

How does it differ working on a soundtrack than working on an album organically? I suppose when you’re involved in a soundtrack project you’ve got more of a steady target to aim for, and you can follow someone else’s lead. But when you’re making an album there’s not really anyone else with any kind of idea as to how it should turn out. It’s more responsibility and more work making an album, I think.

Last time you played Vegas was back in 2003. Yeah, it was a while ago.

I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard from others that not a lot of people turned out. Is that why it’s taken 11 years for Mogwai to come back? I suppose it’s a strange city that isn’t really ... I don’t know. When most people think of Las Vegas they don’t think of indie bands in the same way as when you talk about Chicago or New York. It does seem to be a very different kind of city than the ones that we would recognize more, but you get strange cities in all sorts of countries. Frankfurt, Germany, is a massive city, but it’s almost all kind of banking sector. It’s a funny city for concerts given the size of it. It’s just culturally a wee bit separate from places we normally go.

You guys didn’t play the Matador at 21 festival here in 2010, but you were also signing to Sub Pop around the same time. Is that why you didn’t end up being on that bill? We’re just quite busy. We were trying to get ourselves ready to do some other recording and work on other projects. Sadly, it wasn’t going to be something we could do. [But] it wasn’t anything to do with working with Sub Pop.

What can we expect from this show? Hopefully it will be loud enough to enjoy—not too loud, because some people have different opinions on it. I hope that we manage to play our songs pretty good.

Since the album does have more of an electronic sound, will there be any production or show element to accompany it onstage? Not really much of a stage show going on. We probably got a wee bit more of a light setup than we’ve done in the past. But hopefully it won’t be too weird, and it will be something nice to look at.

You guys are festival veterans and have played Coachella multiple times. Do you still like playing them? Yeah, festivals are one of the things that have been great to us, especially over in Europe. We must’ve done hundreds and hundreds. I think my view of what a festival was about was pretty solidified by 2004. It doesn’t really seem to me like things have changed too much. I know Coachella is quite different from a lot of European ones. I guess in Britain there have been more what we call “boutique festivals;” they’re not aimed at kids so much as folk in their 30s and 40s—young families, people who’ve grown up with indie music and have got proper jobs and a bit more to spend and [enjoy] being comfortable and seeing bands in bit more of a civilized manner. Which is nice.

What’s next after you’re done with tour? Well we’ll be doing quite a lot of touring this year and then recording some music for the second season of the French TV show. And I guess after that we’ll just make another album, play some more shows and keep busy.

Mogwai With Majeure. April 11, 9 p.m., $20-$25. Hard Rock Live, 733-7625.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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