Barry Burns is a multi-instrumentalist who is integral to the post-rock Glaswegian ensemble Mogwai. Impact’s Alex Paszkowicz had the chance to catch up with Burns in an informative interview discussing a range of topics such as their upcoming albums, their work in a Netflix short series and their current tour.
The conversation with Burns was insightful, full of wit and likeable charm; the musician kept me engaged from the beginning. “The fear of working in a supermarket” was Burns’ humorous answer to my opening generic question of what sparked his desire to become a musician. He quickly followed up with a telling statement, “I like to write music.” Since its release ‘As The Love Continues’ reached UK number 1 in the first week of its release. Burn’s passion for music has certainly paid off as part of the Mogwai collective.
Turning the conversation to their distinctive sound, I questioned Burns on why Mogwai settled on post-rock characteristics for their music. As he joined the band before recording their second album, ‘Come on Die Young’, he was fundamental in shaping their sound along with Stuart Braithwaite, Dominic Aitchison and Martin Bulloch.
“Stuart and Dominic just hated Brit-pop. They thought it was really unserious music.” He continued, “I think there is a lot of that in Glasgow where they just didn’t want to be part of that whole Brit-pop thing.” Since their beginning, they explored different sonic possibilities with emerging production techniques and intricate multi-track layering in their guitar arrangement.
Their home city of Glasgow was fundamental for their formation. Burns expressed that the positive atmosphere in the city helped to nurse the underground rock music sphere into existence. “There was a great little scene, everyone used to help each other. If you needed a drum kit, someone would be there for you.”
musicians encouraged each other to express themselves however they saw fit
Clearly, through this constructive environment, musicians encouraged each other to express themselves however they saw fit. “Everyone wanted to help each other out”, which meant that bands could “sound different from each other” because they felt supported.
Networking with other musicians in Glasgow was also valuable for the growing band. “Alex, who is the singer in Franz Ferdinand, was the booker for a little venue and he used to book the best bands.” Franz Ferdinand is a popular indie rock band polarised to Mogwai’s post-rock sound. However, their growth around various soundscapes supports the notion that the Glaswegian rock scene was crucial in forming Mogwai’s distinctive sound.
Mogwai is releasing remastered versions of their first two albums, ‘Mogwai Young Team’ (1997) and ‘Come On Die Young’ (1999). The announcement came 25 years after the first album, with the release date for both set for the 10th of February 2023. Burns also hinted at “another album [release] this year” separate from the remastered works.
Both of their first albums are unique in their own right. ‘Mogwai Young Team’ was a precursor to their success, with the experimental use of vocals combined with melancholic thematic material evoking a reflective yet sombre atmosphere. Similarly, ‘Come On Die Young’ worked to solidify their chosen sonority experimenting further with the arrangement and technology available to them.
They return to Nottingham on the 14th of February at Rock City, a significant venue in the rock music world
The band have chosen to use the original producer Paul Savage to remaster the albums. Although Burns was not a band member during the first album’s release, he suggested they may have been unsatisfied, saying, “they didn’t have a good time doing that record.”
I questioned Burns on why they decided to trust Savage’s expertise the second time. “He’s got a really good taste in music and knows how to master a record now.” By saying that they “trust what his ears think” Burns suggests that the band believes Savage is now perfectly suited to master their records again.
The release of their two remastered albums is accompanied by a tour already underway, with the Scotland leg completed. It restarts on the 10th of February, the same date as the release in the Manchester Albert Hall. Another band, Brainiac, will accompany all concerts in England until the end of the tour on the 19th of February.
The passion for their expressive music is still alive within the band
The musician finds that the novelty of touring has worn off from his youth. He claims that logistically, touring creates unwanted stress, and keeps him away from his family. Nonetheless, he admits that playing live “is so much fun for that like 90 minutes”, even getting his “adrenaline going”. The passion for their expressive music is still alive within the band, meaning that concert-goers can expect thrilling performances.
Mogwai has played in Nottingham before, as Burns reminisces about the “picturesque” Nottingham City Council building on Old Market Square. They return to Nottingham on the 14th of February at Rock City, a significant venue in the rock music world. Listeners can expect an updated set list with “some bangers in”, as Burns remarked humorously.
As well as releasing successful albums and extensive touring, the band have also focused their musical creativity on projects in film and TV. They have created soundtracks for “maybe six or seven” of these projects, notably the TV series, ZeroZeroZero and The Returned. Recently they created the soundtrack for a true crime drama short series Black Bird, developed by Dennis Lehane. The show has received good critique scoring 8.1/10 on IMDb, and the actor, Paul Hauser, won a Golden Globe for his role as a supporting actor in 2023.
Burns enjoys these experiences despite the heavy workload in his role as the band’s multi-instrumentalist since “it’s mostly piano that they want.” He finds that, “they’re never the same thing” meaning that he feels he can constantly adapt his knowledge and creativity from project to project. When I asked whether Burns prefers writing albums or creating soundtracks, the musician replied that he has “no preference for either”. However, he recognises that music for TV and film must be composed to a prescribed brief, differing from the creative freedom of writing albums.
Mogwai is another unfortunate victim of circumstances that the music industry cannot control
Lastly, I probed his opinion on some current aspects of the music industry. Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that the band “can’t tour easily and everything’s really expensive.” These issues affect artists and bands in the music industry, creating problems because of the lack of revenue. Mogwai is another unfortunate victim of circumstances that the music industry cannot control, yet they still suffer.
Concerning the effect of the increase in streaming services, Burns simply stated that “the horse has bolted.” This phrase suggests that for Mogwai, the impact of streaming services on their revenue has already been affected. Musicians have learnt not to rely on an income based on sales from records. Hence, Mogwai has turned to TV and film composition as another income method, allowing them to explore their creativity through music.
Featured image courtesy of Antony Crook. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image 1, 2, 3 and 4 courtesy of @mogwaiband via Instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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