Mogwai have announced Rave Tapes as their new album due out on January 20th. Phil caught up with Barry Burns of the band, to discuss dodgy parties, bearded comedians and even some serious questions about the music.
(((o))): Mogwai have recently announced Rave Tapes as the title of the new album, with first track 'Remurdered' also being unveiled. Given the album title and danceability of said track, can we expect glow sticks, white gloves and dodgy ecstasy being sold at future shows?
Barry: Probably not, although the idea is without any doubt amusing. You really only see emotionally damaged people dancing at our shows, and that's not going to change regardless of BPM.
(((o))): Seriously though, do people still look for meaning in your song/album titles or has everyone realised they're basically made up from nothing or in-jokes?
Barry: I think it dawned on most folk (at different speeds) that album and song titles are simply for catalogue purposes and also so we know what songs are what on a concert setlist. Trying to read into titles like 'Golden Porsche' is maybe a waste of time.
(((o))): If Rave Tapes, comes from reminiscing of 90’s dance parties and that whole culture, did you consider having a release show in the kitchen of some squat surrounded by guys in kappa tracksuits trying to eat their own face off?
Barry: Every single night on the tour bus dude. Nah, I was more picturing getting one of those Cyberdelia 90's 3-D videos and playing along with it on a giant screen in Strathclyde Park on a Sunday night. Extra bongos will be hired.
(((o))): How has the response been to ‘Remurdered’ so far? Although it's hardly a total departure, was there any trepidation about doing something a bit different or what the reaction would be like?
Barry: Honestly, it feels like the biggest risk to me is to keep making the exact same music. It feels good to do different stuff as long as your brain is able to produce it. It's very easy to fall into your own clichés, and although I know we can be guilty of that sometimes, I feel like we do try hard not to do that.
(((o))): Mogwai albums generally have an element of variation throughout. Is 'Remurdered' a good indication of the style and sound of Rave Tapes overall however?
Barry: It can be something as simple as, we bought some modular synths. Different instruments often just yield different results in music. The album probably has that synth theme throughout it but there are some straight up guitar tunes on there too. I think when a band has so many writers, it's bound to have variation, possibly at the expense of cohesion but I've never been massively bothered about "the album". I just enjoy good songs by bands I like.
(((o))): There is a touch of a John Carpenter soundtrack feel to 'Remurdered'. Is there an influence on the band by his work or the likes of Fabio Frizzi, and the film work of Argento or Lucio Fulci?
Barry: We've always been fans of John Carpenter since the beginning. One of those touchstones where we all like the same band (which doesn't happen all that often).
(((o))): The Les Revenants soundtrack released earlier in the year really captured the eerie and unsettling feeling of the TV series. How differently to usual did you approach the music for it?
Barry: Not that differently. We had a rough idea of the story and characters but other than that, we just wrote music keeping broader details of the plot/characters in mind. There was no playing to a video or anything.
(((o))): There seems to be growing interest in classic film scores and soundtrack work with the likes of Death Waltz Recording Co. releasing exclusive reissues of horror soundtracks on vinyl. Is there any film or soundtrack in particular you like?
Barry: I bought The Fog and some other Death Waltz stuff recently and that's been great to listen to again. It's good quality soundtrack music which stands up pretty well on its own.
(((o))): Have you already been approached to work on the second series of Les Revenants, and have plans for any more film projects been lined up?
Barry: We will be touring for much of next year but I think we'll have some work to do on the second series. The thing is, the music will no doubt have quite a few of the same themes so I wonder how much new music they will actually require. We'll see. We also have a film that we're doing which involves Antony Crook but more details about that soon I think.
(((o))): Mogwai recently performed Zidane in full with a simultaneous screening of the film. How was it performing an album in full for the first time and would it influence any requests to do it again with some of your previous albums?
Barry: That was the most we've ever rehearsed for anything and it was quite difficult to pull it together at first but we all really enjoyed the gigs. As for the older records, none of us are so into the idea. Seems a bit retrospective…. white flag-ish. I don't know, if someone offers us free Magnum Whites forever…….
(((o))): Having the Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow must really benefit the writing/recording process. Do you tend to have stuff written well in advance of recording, and how easily did Rave Tapes come together?
Barry: It actually didn't come together very easily (which is fairly normal for us) and there were a number of factors against us but somehow we always get it done in the end. I get very panicky, though I don't actually think there's anything wrong with that, it's just the way I work and I have to deal with it. I feel sorry for the other boys but there you go. We had many ideas of songs and some were finished, others not so much but you never know what's going to work until the last days of mixing. It's a strange process, filled with good and bad things and lots of curries
(((o))): There appears a very democratic approach to decisions within the band. Is there ever a struggle however, like someone constantly bringing up "guys, what about this death metal track I've been working on" and getting a "aye, maybe next album", or something similar?
Barry: Not really. Democracy seems to work within this band and we're fairly in tune with what we think is good (obviously not always but that's completely natural with 5 brains). There are not many demos that you can't present to the band, we'll usually have a bash at even the most outlandish stuff that you thought you'd keep for your solo project with Hugh Laurie, who never got back to me every time.
(((o))): The band seems to already have a busy schedule lined up. With upcoming appearances at ATP, Celtic Connections in Glasgow and an extensive US tour already announced. Is touring now more difficult with different personal commitments, like your own Berlin based Das Gift bar and being away from long periods of time?
Barry: Yes, it sucks being away from your families and wives etc. It is by far the worst thing about the job but it's just what has to happen. My wife runs the bar, I do very little work for that so she keeps it in order but there's are very few days when I'm on tour when I don't feel bad for her and I'm sure with there being children with other members of the band that we'd all appreciate going away less. It's certainly not ideal and I have a feeling that 7 straight weeks in the USA is really going to take its toll on us. It's a worry.
(((o))): With the label (Rock Action Records), do you personally keep an eye for emerging music talent, or new Scottish music in particular? I've recently been impressed with a lot of upcoming acts, like Atom Tree, Machines in Heaven and a lot of quality in general around.
Barry: I try to, though I often find my friends in Berlin or other members of Mogwai are way better at finding new music than I am. I don't have the patience to read music magazines or trawl the internet for exciting new stuff. Instead I will look at pictures of cats that look like they're in a little biker gang etc, so I certainly have the time. I've always been impressed by the amount of good stuff in Glasgow and it's really become more confident, less cringey.
(((o))): Recently I asked on twitter if people had a favourite Mogwai album. The response hugely diversified with very few people agreeing on the same album. Do you think that’s part of Mogwai’s success appealing to a wide range of music fans and appreciating different aspects of each album?
Barry: Maybe, yes. It's good that people are pretty divided on that matter but it's nothing at the front of my mind.
(((o))): On a lighter note, it’s been mentioned you pass a resemblance to comedian Frankie Boyle these days, I thought I passed him in Glasgow one day only to see a picture pop up on your twitter asking “do I look like Frankie Boyle?” from what looked like the same day. I’m still not sure if it was you or him! Will this influence any decision to keep the beard or not?
Barry: Man, I have had hairy face of sheer reluctance to shave since the age of 19. Last shave with that cream stuff, I was around 18 years old. It horrifies me, the wee blade on the skin, the razor burn. Jesus. But yeah, I look a bit like him. Maybe he feels the same. I mean, you just wait around to get a beard, it's surely one of the easiest tasks.
(((o))): Finally, thanks for taking time out to speak with us. Is there anything you'd like to add?
Barry: You are most welcome. I'd like to add that Glasgow City Council had better not have decided to spend all that money on CONEGATE.
Rave Tapes will be released on January 20th 2014 on Rock Action Records and on Sup Pop in America. Pre-order information including exclusive box sets, can be found on the websites.