Scotland - Full Moon 215 - 03/16/14
Barry Burns of Mogwai
- an interview with...
Two decades of hilarious trial & error - a short interview with Barry Burns
"Receptor is even better than leftover Haggis and lukewarm Irn Bru! No seriously, if i didn't
have the Receptors there is no way we'd be able to play half of our songs live without hiring 5 more keyboard players and god knows how
many synths." (Barry Burns)
Maybe Mogwai have lost some of their anarchic power, as the NME seems to think, maybe there are still roaming the same plains, as Luna
Kafé's very own Håvard Oppøyen suggested in last month's review of their current album, Rave
Tapes, but some 17 years after their ground-breaking debut Mogwai Young Team, the Scottish instrumental post-rockers are still
a force to be reckoned with. On their latest LP they tend to favor slower tempos on a number of songs, while the synths sounds take on a
more prominent role. Age, kids, marriages, beards, anxiety and a love of comforts are all contributing factors, keyboard player Barry Burns
said, when he recently talked to us here at Luna Kafé.
LK: Barry, where are you right now and what is the vibe like?
Barry: I'm at my parents house just outside of Glasgow so the vibe right now is... regressive. And I'm recovering from a 24-hour
illness, so feeling a bit krank.
LK: After close to 20 years in this band, I think it's safe to say that you are in it for the long run. But do you remember
a specific moment when you realized that music could be more than just a passing thing on the way to a 9-5 job, but rather a possibly
Barry: Not really, it always feels kind of temporary to me and I think that's a good thing (if a little scary). It is nice when
we're asked to do other things, like the soundtracks because that makes us feel a little more part of, I don't know, something bigger.
LK: What did you like better about "good ole days" and which aspects of working in the music world are better right now?
Barry: I like the access to music, like if you hear it in a bar, Shazam it, then buy it on iTunes in seconds, if you want to. The
good ole days... you actually could make decent money from selling records but we never sold that many until a bit later on so we missed
that part of it. It's been strange to see how it's all turned out.
LK: Can you try to put the (almost) two decades of Mogwai in just three words?
Barry: Trial, error, hilarious.
LK: I suppose a lot of bands that have been around that long either start playing it safe and repeat themselves or they cut
all ties with the past try to do something else entirely. You however, did a pretty good job of never losing touch with your past, yet
always expanding and finding new ways. How is this possible?
Barry: I would say we work harder in some ways but not so much in others. I think we've been lucky to find the right chemistry. I
don't know what it is, but it's worked out fairly well. We actually do try to completely change direction and we never quite pull it off
but this makes us still sound like the same band. I have no idea if that's a good thing or not!
LK: When it comes to finding new ways and new forms of expressions - do you know what to do to get there quicker by now, by
putting yourself in the right places and situations, or are you still surprised when lightning strikes (so to speak)?
Barry: You learn a lot, you forget a lot of things you've learned and luck is also a huge factor (but so is persistence). We can
usually smell a rat with certain things/people and we've made slightly more good decisions than bad ones but we do fuck up horrendously
LK: Turning to Rave Tapes: Looking at it from your end - what made the biggest difference while recording this new album?
Barry: Just new equipment and musical toys really, which makes you play/write things differently but also a desire to not get bored
LK: Between Rave Tapes, the Earth Division EP (2011) and the live comeback of the Zidane soundtrack last summer
it seems obvious that you currently like to explore slower tempos and softer sounds quite a bit. So I was wondering is that something that
originally came about as a "side" concept for Earth Division and it worked so well that you continued to travel down that road for
a number of Rave Tapes tracks?
Barry: It wasn't (and rarely is) a conscious decision to play slower or softer. We don't try and contextualise/overlap the music
between one release to the other but we are who we are and we're always going to sound like this band. Maybe it's easier to observe these
things if you're out-with the band.
LK: Another thing that seems to be getting more important in your music these days are the electronic sounds (in various shades
and formes). Is that the result of a deliberate decision to use them in an attempt to broaden your sonic palette or is that something that
has been slowly creeping up on you?
Barry: There's something about either analog or digital synthesis which uniquely broadens the spectrum of sounds you can make - something
that using only guitars don't seem to do as well. I'm not saying guitars are incapable of this, I'm saying it seems easier to achieve with
synths and electronic drums etc...
LK: In that light: How much of an album have you mapped out in your mind before you start working on it? I was wondering how
much chance and how many happy accidents are involved in your music?
Barry: It's happy accidents mostly, speaking personally. I never have a cerebral approach to writing music, it's far more instinctive
and that's probably not going to change any time soon. Not really knowing what you're doing with certain instruments is also a really good
way to make music. That's why I like the modular synth, it's bewildering unless you're good at maths!
Copyright © 2014 Carsten Wohlfeld