Posted May 4, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Barry Burns on Mogwai: Still loud, still having fun


On Mogwai’s eighth studio album Rave Tapes, the band delivers another set of compelling mood-altering, mostly instrumental tunes. Mogwai wrote and recorded Rave Tapes at the band’s Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow, Scotland, with producer Paul Savage, who also worked on their 2011 Sub Pop album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. We spoke with Mogwai keyboardist-guitarist Barry Burns from an El Paso tour stop.

The band has been around for close to 20 years now. Talk about how you came to join the group and how different or similar things were back then.
It was pretty exciting for me. That’s when we were doing the Come On Die Young record with Dave Fridmann just outside Buffalo and it was all very new for me. It’s been great. We’ve grown up together as a band. It’s still very enjoyable. There are sacrifices to be made with regard to not hanging out with my wife. It’s getting difficult, but it’s still lots of fun.

At the time, did you think the group would be going strong for two decades?
No. I thought it would last three years.

I was already getting ready to stock shelves in a supermarket somewhere.

The lineup solidified around time that you joined, didn’t it? What was the key to that?
I think before I joined there wasn’t someone who could play the piano. I could play a little guitar too. I think they wanted to broaden the sound of the band. I wanted to write songs for the band as well. It helped that there was another writer.

Was the band always considered to be post-rock?
Yeah, what does it mean? What does it mean? A lot of people think about of our first three records in that way. And they think of bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky. I don’t feel like we sound like that anymore but maybe I’m wrong.

I have the impression that you started to use more electronics as time went on. Is that accurate?
Since the third record, we have had loads and loads of electronic stuff. I think because it’s really loud and really soft on this record that people are like, “You have synthesizers now?”

What have your movie soundtrack experiences been like?
Pretty good. The only sort of Hollywood movie we did was The Fountain. Clint Mansell wrote the music for it and we just played on it. We also the score for Zidane, a film for Douglas Gordon about the soccer player. That was nice because he let us get on with it. The thing we’re doing now is the first and second CDs of the French TV show called The Returned. That’s good as well because we’re allowed free rein. It’s good fun.

Did you always play really loud for the live shows?
Yeah, this guy Kenny who’s an old friend of ours does sound and he tell us how loud it is. It’s pretty devastating.

It’s hard on the eardrums. It’s painful. We are very careful about it because we do it every day. I wouldn’t like to see us live.

Talk about recording Rave Tapes. What’s it like to be able to work at your own studio?
It was great. We’ve had the place for five or six years. We’re just about to buy a bigger place. It’s good because it’s expensive to record music. If you can save money by owning the studio, it’s nice to do that. It’s also a comfortable place to go and we all know the area where it’s located in Glasgow. That really helps. We used it in some capacity for the last two records. For this new record, we did the whole thing there with Paul Savage. We did the recording and mixing there.

How was your approach different?
I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that we bought a bunch of synthesizers and drum pads and samples. Martin [Bulloch] the drummer wanted to some electronic stuff. And the bass player [Dominic Aitchison] wanted to do some stuff on bass synthesizer, which was great because I don’t think it’s out of his comfort zone. I just wanted to buy expensive synthesizers. They were fucking expensive.

Despite its title, “Remurdered” sounds really whimsical and fun.
The music is left out of the story. A friend of mine was in Glasgow. He was telling me about a guy who had been attacked and the guy who attacked him had stabbed him with a knife and rolled him up in a carpet and they were going to bury him the next day. When they went back to bury him, he was gone. He had survived. I thought it was amazing. My friend said that they found him the next day and remurdered him. It was so dark.

The music certainly doesn’t match the story. How’d you decide to give the song that name?
I don’t know. We don’t think about what goes with what. We just have songs and a bunch of titles and it doesn’t matter. Maybe subconsciously we pick the titles but it’s not really talked about.

I love the title of the last song “The Lord is Out of Control” is great. Who came up with that?
Those aren’t really lyrics, just someone reading something out of a newspaper. There was a heat wave somewhere in the South. There was a woman from Georgia or something and her air conditioning had broken down and that was one of the things she said. We thought it was funny. It doesn’t make sense.

What’s the story with the narrative in “Repelish?”
That was another American radio show that we found on WSMU. We had to re-record it just in case it was a copyright thing. We got a friend of ours from Chicago who now lives in Glasgow to re-record it. It’s on the archive for WFMU. Their website has the whole thing. It’s really funny. You should have a listen to it. It’s nonsense.

What will the live shows be like?
We have some album artwork as the backdrop. We had projections on the last tours. We just decided to just have lights on this tour. The guy who does our lights is just better at doing lights. People have told us it looks really good. It’s something we don’t pay attention to it because we’re just playing and trying to not make mistakes.

Do you anticipate the band going for another decade or two?
Fuck no. No thanks. This has to end. When people don’t come to see us or don’t buy the records, that’s when we have to think about other things. The tour has been great so far.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

Tues., May 6

Wed., May 7

Thurs., May 8

Fri., May 9

Sat., May 10

Sun., May 11

Tues., May 13

Wed., May 14

Thurs., May 15

Fri., May 16

Sat., May 17

Sun., May 18

Tues., May 20

Wed., May 21

Fri., May 23

Sat., May 24

Sun., May 25

Amos’ Southend, Charlotte, NC

930 Club, Washington, DC

Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA

Terminal Five, New York City, NY

House of Blues (Boston), Boston, MA

Metropolis, Montreal, Canada

Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, Canada

House of Blues, Cleveland, OH

St. Andrew’s Hall, Detroit, MI

Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL

Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA

First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

Ogden Theater, Denver, CO

Depot, Salt Lake City, UT

Sasquatch! Festival, Gorge, WA

Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

Vogue Theatre (BC), Vancouver, Canada


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].