Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, apart from being arguably the best titled Mogwai album to date, is also without a doubt, one of their strongest. Their seventh full length album, Hardcore… has cemented Mogwai’s reputation as the band that creates the most textured, most dynamic and most intensely affecting post-rock in all of the land. The Line of Best Fit stopped by La Route du Rock in Saint-Malo, northern France to catch up with multi-instrumentalist and certainly one of the friendliest and funniest interviewees we’ve ever come across, Mr Barry Burns ahead of the release of Earth Division EP.
“I’m absolutely knackered. I think we’ve got a little bit more popular…sadly! Even after years of trying to sabotage our own careers, we’ve gotten slightly more popular. It’s going well though, I think we’re just itching to get home for a while. We’ve got a few weeks off, next week. I’m going to Scotland on a camping holiday, I can’t wait.”
And tired they will be. Since the Release of Hardcore… in March, the band have toured the States and travelled the length and breadth of the UK and mainland Europe numerous times. “We’ve been on the road since January. But it’s a bit different for me, because [they] all live in Scotland so I had to come over to do the album this time last year. I live in Germany, I went there 2 years ago, but I had to come back to Scotland last August – so I’ve kind of been away since last August, really.”
Despite the gruelling touring schedule and the many hours spent on buses and planes, Mogwai seem to be enjoying themselves and a renewed success, with audiences larger, louder and more adoring than ever before. At each event that The Line of Best Fit has had the good fortune to be able to watch Mogwai sets this summer, audiences have stood transfixed throughout and been left speechless (and slightly deaf) afterwards. “We’ve had really good times on this tour, I think the best show that we’ve played on this tour, if not the best show ever – definitely of the year anyway – was in Sicily a few days ago. It was just amazing, because you play these places where bands never really play and that we’ve never been to before, and the kids just go mad. There were, like, 5 rows of kids jumping around to mid-paced, minor chord music. It’s unusual, but we like it.”
The Mogwai live set has developed into something of an expert demonstration of technology meeting live instrumentation, with layers upon layers of electronically produced sounds lying comfortably alongside the all encompassing power of Mogwai’s trademark wall of guitar sound. So, how did the band find that notoriously difficult process of transferring the new tracks from the studio to the stage? “Oh aye, finally it worked. Well, if you ask any of the band, it was basically me shouting at a computer – getting really angry at an inanimate object for about 2 out of 6 hours every day. Me going ‘Why does this not work?!’ Drives me mad, but we’ve got it together. But I really enjoy this part of it. I know I’m moaning about not being at home, but actually, when you can play the songs properly without having to worry about things like that, it’s quite nice.”
Mogwai are not only responsible for bringing us their own music, but also that of artists such as Errors, Part Chimp and Envy through their label, Rock Action Records. The latest release to appear from the label’s fold is the band’s own Earth Division EP, which luckily escaped the fire that recently destroyed the Sony distribution warehouse where the Rock Action stock is/was held.
“We think the EPs going to be ok. I know that some of the stuff hadn’t been delivered to the warehouse, and other Rock Action artists had stuff that’s coming out and they weren’t sure if it all went there. Most of our stuff has been destroyed. I don’t feel as sorry for us as I do some of the smaller bands on the label, that there’d be no point in repressing stuff, because it’d nearly come to an end. But they just don’t have any stock. It’s just shit. People are really helping, PIAS have organised some other distributers to help and people have really reached out to them. There’s a bit of a fraternity thing happening right now, which is quite nice. It brings a tear to the eye! The distribution of rock!”
“It’s not a complete disaster… It’s a shame. It really is crap. Chemikal Underground, our old label must be suffering ‘cause their stuff was there too.” For concerned fans wanting to offer a helping hand, what would Barry suggest the best course of action is? “Just send all of your money to Mogwai In Need. 1-800 Poor Mogwai. Or just buy the digital release. There’s not much more to be done when the product is up in the ether. I’ve just realised, it’s probably quite a lot of environmental damage too, to get them all repressed, plus the smoke as well.Very surprised stuff didn’t happen in Glasgow – but we probably just didn’t get round to it yet. It’s a good thing though, because if stuff like that kicks off in Glasgow, you know it’s going to be Apocalypse Now 2.”
Having assured that Earth Division EP would be fit and ready for its scheduled release, the conversation turns to the thought behind releasing this latest collection of songs. “It’s nice to make people aware that you’re still going, if you haven’t released anything for a while” comments Burns. “Not everyone can make it out to every gig that we play, so it’s nice to put some stuff out.”
“It’s all stuff that we’d recorded when we did the album last year that either didn’t fit in the record, or there were too many songs. We don’t like to put too many songs on a record. I don’t, anyway, my attention span’s about 40 minutes and I think anything over that… It’s funny, because it doesn’t sound like the rest of the stuff that we put on the record, but I’m glad those songs weren’t on the album, because they wouldn’t have fitted as they’re a bit filmy. It didn’t fit with the other stuff on the record, because [Hardcore...] is quite poppy sounding for us, although I know it’s not a poppy record. For us, it was a bit like ‘a major chord – what’s this?! This is a new feeling!’ [This] is a bit more melancholy than the stuff that’s on the record, so it didn’t fit.”
The first two tracks of the EP, ‘Get To France’ and ‘Hound of Winter’ show Mogwai delving deeper into the quieter moments found on their previous works, whilst retaining the intensity and deeply considered structuring that is such a prominent factor of Mogwai productions. As previously mentioned, strings play a big part in the instrumentation of this EP, so how do the band go about arranging this part of their music? “We got a guy that we like to use for string arrangements to come in, and do all these arrangements. I learnt it at college, but we work with Paul Leonard-Morgan. He’s there, he’s really helpful and he doesn’t overpower you. And we just let him get on with it. He knows how minimal we like stuff – not always, but he knows if we don’t want him to make it too crazy. It’s quite an abstract thing to talk about, but he knows what we’re all about and we just let him get on with it. He’s a really good guy. He hires 4 string players to come in and do their bits, and…yeah! He does Spooks and stuff, and he’s doing films now, so aye… he’s good. Too good for us, he’ll not be back!”
After spending many months working on the creation of an album and EP, followed by a lengthy touring period, it’s understandable why bands would claim to tire of the songs on their last release. With Barry Burns, however, this doesn’t appear to be the case. “By this time normally, through an album’s progress, I think I’m completely burst listening to the songs. But this time around, I still really enjoy playing them. Maybe because a lot of the songs, compared to some of the older ones are quite difficult to play live because we’re quite practised at being super restrained, and this one’s a bit more Liberace. It’s quite good fun, and they change a lot more than the old songs, so there’s a lot more scope for… improvisation. There. I said the word. The bad jazz word. A lot of opportunities for mistakes too, but no-one ever fucking notices these things anyway! Only us!”
Earth Division EP is available now through Rock Action Records.