Since their first release in 1997, Mogwai’s musical voyage has spanned genres, decades and the globe.

Their latest release Rave Tapes ropes listeners into a dream-like sonic journey, and conjures notions that the album’s distinct story could only be told by this group of experienced, synergetic musicians. Their style of explorative rock music, while mostly instrumental, paints portraits with sound.  Tapping into a diverse orchestra of experimentation and familiarity, the album seems to be a direct reflection of the band’s unique ability to ignore and shift the rules of genre and convention. The Scottish band’s exploratory, honest approach to sound positions them as a standout independent rock act in a sea of over-toned voices and overdone duets.

Their general lack of lyrics allows for the music to take centre stage, and provides a place to dig deep into the instrumentation and sounds that many listeners often simply consider as canvas for the lyrics they connect with.  Their forthcoming EP promises to be no exception. Listed with tracks that did not fit into the Rave Tapes narrative, the release will provide listeners with an extended sampling from this collection of songs.

We sat down with Barry Burns (guitar, keyboards) of Mogwai to talk about the new record, and how playing together for almost 20 years has influenced their sound and their process.



I wanted to start by speaking about New Orleans, I know you guys are playing a show there during Jazz Fest. That must be kind of cool and exciting. Have you ever played a show there before?

We have been a couple of times and its always, always good fun. It is definitely a place in America that has its own distinct atmosphere. Yeah, I like it a lot. I think New Orleans is one of the kinds of places where you know where you are by the kind of sounds and the music around you, which is always nice — I always like that.

Are there any new bands that have influenced the Rave Tapes record?

Yeah, I’m sure there are to be honest. I mean even like bands on our label and bands we know like Fuck Buttons and people like Oneohtrix Point Never and The Long, in fact I think The Long are from New Orleans. I think we are always constantly listening to new music and taking something from it, which I think is the healthiest way. I think everything you hear that you like is going to feed into your veins and just give you new ideas of how other people interpret their own vision.


It seems like you guys really approach music with an open mind. Rave Tapes is such a journey and a story, but does not seem to be one ‘type’ of rock.

I agree with that. I think genres can be really restrictive. I think if a band ever says, ‘we’re a male band or we’re a country band or we’re a punk band,’ than it kind of closes off many different avenues. We’ve kind of always thought of ourselves as a band, and I think the music we make is pretty distinctive in the way that we play. And even, I think, if we try different things kind of outside of that comfort zone, it’s always for the best.

I agree, I think everyone should go outside of their comfort zone. It always yields the best in the end.


You spoke about the kind of off the cuff more improvisational approach that you took for this record as opposed to your previous albums, how did that come about?

To be honest, a lot of that was kind of circumstantial to do with the fact that it was last minute. The songs were written, but not everyone had the parts down, so a lot of those parts — especially the guitars and keyboards — were pretty much written on the spot…and I think that pressure can be a really motivating factor. It definitely worked out well.


So what was that process like, did you learn a lot about your bandmates? You have been playing together for so long and then to switch up your approach seems really interesting.

The process, well I mean…quite a few people in the band write music, so usually who ever wrote the song will get the basic structure together and you know work with the rhythm people, the drums and the bass, and then we just pile into it and play music until it sounds good. Really, it’s kind of trial and error and that’s how it goes.

So is it a different process now that you guys have know each other musically for almost 20 years, I guess it’s been?

To be honest, it’s not really changed that much. I mean recordings changed because people record with computers now. Maybe the same process that we do now, we maybe do in our bedrooms rather than do in the studio, with computers, but the actual process of it has not changed that much at all.

I’ve also read you speak about the friendship that you guys have and how it’s allowed you to be a band that is around a lot longer. You’ve been consistently making music together for a long time, which is really unique…

We have just been playing together for so long that we are the only people who will put up with each other now (laughing). So were kind of institutionalized… but yeah we get on fine, we work together well, we all know what we are all about, so it works fine. It’s good.

What do you have upcoming that you are looking forward to this summer? Festivals? I know you have some tour coming up.

Yeah, we have a lot of festivals, we are at some really good ones. We also have got an EP of songs that didn’t make the record we are going to do some more work on those songs and get it out in the autumn or the fall as it is called here…we are also doing the music for the second series of The Returned [a French TV series]… so we’ve got lots of things to do.


Speaking of your EP,  I guess since it is songs that didn’t make the cut, it will be in the same vein as the Rave Tapes?

Some of them are, some of them are a bit different to be quite honest. It’s quite a varied bunch of songs. so I’m looking forward to getting that finished.

Is it kind of the rock stuff that people are used to hearing?

Yeah, there are a couple of rock songs and another one that is kind of more in the kind of the Rave Tapes mode, but we literally didn’t get it finished…it was one of the best songs, but we ran out of time and didn’t get to finish working on it, so I think it is definitely going to be good. I am looking forward to getting it finished and getting it out.

 Published May 31, 2014