Mogwai: Not Post Rock

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source: Steve Gullick

One of the longest running post rock bands out there returns this year, with their eighth studio album titled Rave Tapes, and – wait, what do you mean Mogwai is not a post rock band? Their music is made up of everything post rock: 8-minute plus long tracks with impossibly long song titles that have nothing to do with the song whatsoever, and dynamic compositions that take their own sweet time to reach climatic ends, which are not really the end, as they take the same amount of time to fade back in to the next part of the song. (Even Wikipedia says so, and we know Wiki is truth – well, 99% of the time anyway). So, what does the Scottish post-rock-but-not-post-rock band mean? JUICE requested for an emergency phone call to get to the bottom of things, and guitarist Barry Burns was on the other end to clarify things for us.

Alright, Barry, let’s get this sorted out once and for all. You once stated in an interview that Mogwai is not a post rock band. If it’s not that, how then would you describe Mogwai’s music?
I suppose I would call it “instrumental music from Scotland.” We have been around for such a long time already, I don’t really know what we are anymore (laughs)! I guess, this kind of genre affiliation spawned from way back when our second album, Come on Die Young, was released in 1999, and back then, a lot of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor started coming out – post rock bands, as you would like to call them. I mean, I’m not saying we never were in that same group; I do think we were post rock in the first few records, but as we progressed through the consecutive albums, we have been trying to get away from that. As a band, we’re always trying to do things differently, make music with different kinds of instruments, and even try to play different styles of music.

How different has Mogwai’s music become with Rave Tapes as compared to previous albums?
It definitely has a lot more electronic sounds from synthesisers and such, as compared to the older albums, and lesser guitar riffs than the usual.

Speaking of tapes, we’re currently at a point of this technological era, when we do not need to bother with vinyl or tapes or CDs. We can just get our music straight from online streaming platforms like Spotify or Deezer.
Mogwai as a band has been around since the mid ‘90s, and it’s safe to say that you have worked alongside this inevitable evolution. How do you think that has affected Mogwai’s music creating process throughout the decades?
I don’t think it has changed how we write music, but instead, how we listen to music. Nowadays, you want to get ahead of the airwaves, and with the convenience available on the internet, there is a high chance that you can do just that. At the same time though, it still does put a lot of people off when they get bad copies of our music online. It’s hard to predict, whether or not the leak of an album prior to the release date helps the actual release of the record. That’s why it’s important for us to make sure that Rave Tapes does not leak online before the release date. I mean, it’s not something that we can really worry about, because it does happen to everyone, but at the same time, it would be great, of course, for that not to happen, you know. Besides that, what you can do is to make the physical release much more interesting. Hence our decision to release Rave Tapes on vinyl, CD, as well as a limited edition box set. You have to start making your records more exclusive now, so that when your fans buy the physical copies or limited editions, they are purchasing something much more important, and much more exclusive, as compared to a mere CD. We’re lucky, because whilst it’s undeniable that people don’t buy records as often as they used to anymore, those who still buy our records still go back to vinyl. I’m not quite sure why that is so, but I suppose, Mogwai sounds better on vinyl for them.

If you were to stop time or go back in time to a particular phase of medium, which would you choose, and why?
Ah, I would have to say vinyl! Although a lot of people would argue and say cassette tapes instead. We used to copy our favourite vinyl songs into cassette tapes, and make mixed tapes and music compilations for friends… I remember doing that in the ‘80s, and it was fun.

Cassette tapes were absolute sh!t when it comes to sound quality though (unless lofi is an aesthetic to you). Do you have a favourite record store that you patronise regularly?
There’s this one called Monorail Music in Glasgow, Scotland. I used to go there all the time, but now that I reside in Germany, I usually buy my vinyl online.

The 2001 fantasy romance Vanilla Sky had Sigur Ros, the 2004 sports drama film and television series Friday Night Lights had Explosions in the Sky, and the 2006 French documentary Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait had Mogwai.
Tell us more about scoring the soundtrack for this film.
I supposed it all started when one of the directors, Douglas Gordon, paired some of Mogwai’s older songs to a rough copy of the film. The music somehow fitted, and he really wanted new music from us for the film. Back then, when he approached us, none of us really knew who Douglas Gordon was (laughs)! But we decided to go for it anyway, and it turned out to be a lot of fun for us. Gordon gave us a lot of creative space when it comes to the soundtrack. He rarely interfered with our compositions; he basically just gave us a copy of the film, and we just made up music for it. It was a really good step for us as a band, getting our music out there in a film. We would definitely like to do more things like that.

How different was the process of scoring the soundtrack for a film, as compared to creating a studio album?
You have to have it in your head that you’re secondary in the film, and not the main focus. You’re just there to, shall we say, augment, or help with the pictures. Also, there has to be a constant and healthy dialogue going on with the director, so you know what kind of music he wants, when he wants our music, and for which of his particular scenes. That doesn’t happen for the usual Mogwai studio albums; we’d just get into the studios and try to finish recording an album (laughs)!

If Mogwai were to score another film that has already been released, which would it be?
I’d say 2001: A Space Odyssey. That would be fun!

Mogwai’s latest studio album Rave Tapes is available in stores now. They will also be performing at the Hostess Club Weekender, Singapore on Saturday 22 February ‘14.

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