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- Posted on Feb 11th 2011 7:10AM by Julian Marszalek
The last thing that anybody expects seven albums into a band's career is the element of surprise, especially when that band is one that's as powerful and as uncompromising as Glasgow's post-rock titans Mogwai. Possessed of a sonic ferocity that can cause as much pain as it does pleasure, their reputation as one of Britain's most creative bands is one that's likely to increase with the release of the splendidly named, 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.'
Employing a newly-found sense of subtlety, Mogwai's new music is characterised by stealth as much as it is by a degree of light and shade and the result is an album that will satisfy the purist as much as the tourist. Compact and direct, this is the sound of a band moving onwards with confidence and vigour. Spinner spoke with guitarist-keyboardist Barry Burns about the album's creation and how the internet helped it along.
Just weeks after sections of the press declare the death of rock, Mogwai return with 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.' Fighting talk or a happy coincidence?
An unhappy coincidence! We've always been at the back of the queue. We've never been cool. We're the most uncool band ever. But in terms of longevity we're cool. We've never avoided anything like that but it's quite easy not be cool when you're not very cool people. We didn't make that choice. The album title isn't fighting talk. We never attach any meaning to our album titles or our song titles. Sometimes we have the titles before the songs are even recorded. With this album we were really running out of time and someone told us this story about some drunk teenagers who couldn't get served in a corner shop in Glasgow and the guy just threw them out of the shop and one of the kids started throwing stones at the window and shouted out the album title.
You're known for your great song titles as much as your music with 'You're Lionel Richie' and 'George Square Thatcher Death Party' being great favourites. Are these the results of heavy drug sessions or are you simply having a laugh?
Most times it's down to two or four of us and someone will write something down on their iPhone or whatever and we'll try to remember it. But it's also a great way to remember our [largely instrumental] songs. Someone once suggested that we call them after numbers, like we'd have song called 'One,' then 'Two' and 'Three' and so on and I though that's so pretentious. And I'd never remember which song it was. Can you imagine the setlist? "Oh, we're gonna play song 'Three' from album 'Four.'" There's just no way!
This is your most diverse collection to date. Were you conscious that this is your seventh album and did that make an impact on the making of the album?
We did worry about it a little bit but if you dwell on stuff like that you'll never get anything done. We just got on with it and it's the first time we've written stuff living on different continents. I'm in Berlin and [guitarist] John [Cummings] lives in New York and we were just sending each other MP3s of ideas but it was nice to have some time to be in the rehearsal rooms together talking about football and gossip. I think that because there are four songwriters in the band and we were closer together musically in the beginning then we are now and that's why it's so different and diverse but it still sounds like us. We've all developed as songwriters separately but we love to make music together.
Was there ever a fear that, by living apart, the spark at the heart of Mogwai would disappear?
No, because I think that the internet has helped out. It's so much easier to stay in touch with people and it's so quick to send each other ideas and I think that living apart has helped rather than hindered this band. One person might have an idea like a few bars of music and send it on and then other people will add things on to it or one person will have the idea and put all the parts on it and then send it to the band and get them to play it; that doesn't happen that often but it's been known to happen.
The album paints from a very broad palette that moves away from what you think Mogwai might and should sound like. Was there ever point were it created a clash and ideas were discarded for not being Mogwai-like?
Yeah, we've had that for most of the songs on the new record but we thought, f--- it! We loved playing the songs and we don't actually argue with each other because the band is totally democratic. If three people want something and two don't then the three carry it. I'm glad that there's five of us! We're really good at tracking each other and writing parts for each in our songs and it's quite an unusual approach. It probably is harder to work like but it's really lucky that we really like each other. It's best when you all pull in one direction. I guess most bands have a Napoleanic figure in their ranks but we split everything up equally and so there's no opportunity for prima donna like behaviour. It's really nice and something that all bands should realise that.
You're putting the album out on your own label. Is that a fun or pressurised thing to do?
It's a terrifying nightmare [Laughs]! There's a lot at stake but we've been in this business for so long that we know how to put a record out. We know the mistakes that people make and how to avoid them. It's good that we've got three people working for us and it's good to have all the control instead of leaving it up to someone else. All bands should do it! The obvious benefit is that you don't have to give all your money to the record label.