In a windowless room in a disused army barracks in Mullingar, Minor Victories – a band made up of members of Mogwai, Editors and recently reformed ’90s shoegazers Slowdive – are coming to the end of an afternoon’s rehearsal. They are in the Westmeath town refining a live set for their slot that night at Castlepalooza Festival in nearby Tullamore. On drums, Martin Bulloch (Mogwai) shares a private joke with bassist James Lockey (Editors) while trying to get their rhythm section timing just right. To their left, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite is serious and seated, hunched over his guitar while eyeing up the row of effects pedals at his feet, wondering which one to activate next. Beside him is Slowdive vocalist and guitarist Rachel Goswell, adding some of her own guitar figures to the mix while laying vocals over the top. There are hesitant glances between the members, worried that it still sounds a little rough and unfocused but a welcome synergy soon kicks in as each member’s separate contributions neatly align into one coherent whole. Stuart kicks down on a pedal and the room erupts, the walls shuddering in a fusion of noise and melody. After each member flew over separately from different parts of the UK to be here, they appear relieved it has all been worth it.
The band may cringe at the thought of being described as a ‘super-group’ but, for want of a better term, that’s possibly what they are. Braithwaite is the de-facto frontman of legendarily loud Glaswegian instrumentalists Mogwai while Goswell was, and still is in fact, the voice of Slowdive – one of a batch of alternative bands that defined the look and sound of early nineties UK indie, before the onslaught of Nirvana and then Britpop knocked them into touch. On bass, James Lockey is part of the current Editors incarnation while Mogwai drummer Martin Bulloch has come along as part of the touring set-up. While Braithwaite and Goswell may be the relatively better-known faces in the group, it was actually Justin Lockey (absent on this trip) who initiated the project. “Justin contacted me through our mutual management in September of 2014,” reveals the down-to-earth Goswell, who along with the equally amiable Braithwaite, speak to State before hitting the road for Tullamore. “He sent me some instrumental tracks to see if I would be interested in doing some work with him. The first one that we did was ‘Out To Sea’. That’s the one everyone thinks Stuart has written! We then got busy with our own respective bands for the rest of that year,” she continues. “And then at the beginning of last year we went back and started sending things backwards and forwards. We then needed a guitar player and I suggested Stuart,” she says, smiling over at her Scottish bandmate. “We met at a lot of festivals and kept bumping into each other and got on all right. He’s also a great guitarist! Thankfully, he said yes. It was about April of last year that the nucleus of the band got together.”
Although Braithwaite and Goswell were already acquainted, Minor Victories are slightly unusual in that they had barely met as a group before playing live together. The album was put together via online exchanges of sound-files and email attachments, each devising their own parts independently at home. According to Braithwaite, this method of collaboration didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. “It wasn’t that different to how I do things with Mogwai,” he admits. “The only difference with Mogwai is that band is actually there! I probably recorded more than I needed to because I wasn’t sure what everyone wanted. It was still very early stages for a lot of the songs. The songs really took shape when Rachel was singing or when more instruments were added. It wasn’t particularly weird or anything.” Rachel, however, found the experience of working alone creatively liberating. “It’s easier, in ways. I didn’t have the time constraints of being in a studio, particularly when I’m doing vocals. When you’ve got other people around a desk, they might stop you halfway through a flow and stuff like that. You just need to do the whole thing and I tend to do four or five takes. Then you can take the best bits and blend it all together. So, for me, it was easier.”
So how did that dynamic gel when Minor Victories eventually played live together in the one space for the first time? “It was good,” says Stuart. “Martin from Mogwai and Calum, who plays keyboards, really did their homework. They sounded really good, really quickly. If they had done as little preparation as me, it mightn’t have sounded as good!” he says, laughing. “It was nice as we hadn’t spent a lot of time together – or any! – but we had spoken a lot. We had a relationship.” Do you both feel you each might bring a Slowdive or Mogwai element to the overall sound of Minor Victories? “We just turn up and do what we do, to be honest. We don’t really think in those terms, really,” Braithwaite says. Goswell agrees, “No, I don’t think any of us sat down and came up with a blueprint on how the record should sound. We didn’t sit down and discuss our respective parts. We kind of just got on with what we as individuals thought it should sound like.”
Away from Minor Victories, I ask Goswell how it feels to be back with Slowdive. The band, along with acts such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Lush, were synonymous with the early-90s subgenre of alternative rock, known somewhat dismissively as ‘shoegazing’. Does it feel different being part of Slowdive now? “Yes, definitely,” she says. “There was a lot of angst in Slowdive, maybe due to me and Neil (Halstead). A lot of it was quite difficult, especially from ‘Souvlaki’ onwards. Well, I say that but I ended up doing Mojave 3 with Neil for ten years after that so it mustn’t have been that bad!” she laughs. “Now, it’s great, we’re all getting on really well and enjoying it”. But the question remains, is she back for good – a permanent reunion? “I suppose it’s as permanent as anything can be. Who knows?”