For a man that spends his time fervently rejecting the archetype of guitar and synth capabilities, writing songs called “The Sun Smells Too Loud” or “I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School” and now scoring a documentary about the impact of atomic bombs, Mogwai’s Barry Burns is strikingly down to earth. His band’s latest soundtrack record Atomic is perhaps their most captivating and effecting yet. Although the poignancy of its subject matter didn’t leave the band much room for toying around with absurd titles, the arresting sonic narratives and overbearing emotion that Mogwai are equally as synonymous with are absolutely present. Here, we talk to Barry about soundtrack culture, David Bowie and of course, his relationship with vinyl.
VMP: There seems to be a sort of transitional period at the moment, wherein bands are turning more and more to film scores, and soundtrack composers (such as John Carpenter) are beginning to play live and compose non-Soundtrack music. Why do you think that is?
BB: I honestly think that the people who watch and make films have tired of the usual big orchestra or chamber music approach to making scores. They have their place in film too but it’s just the same old same old all the time with the same 6 or 7 composers and it’s generic sounding.
Atomic is your third score to date, and the second that you’ve released on Rock Action, how important do you think it is that good scores are released physically and isolated as an artwork in their own right? For me, the tracks on the record have innate narratives of their own, completely separable from the documentary.
There are quite a few soundtracks that stand up in their own as an album and we felt that we had achieved this with ours. I might even go as far as to say some of our best songs have been on soundtracks so it’s important for us that they get a release.
The record is coming out as a double gatefold LP, do you feel like being able to present your music in a more elaborate way helps to communicate more to anybody who buys the album?
I think it’s important that a physical release has some substance to it, but the reason it’s a gatefold is really just because of how lengthy the album is.
Linking back to that last question for a second, is there anything you ever hope to receive when buying an LP? For example, I really appreciate it when bands with heavily distorted vocals have lyric sheets with their releases.
I suppose reading the lyrics could be interesting for people. I often like to see some photos of the band in the studio mucking about. I’m not sure why....I suppose it gives it a tiny bit of insight into the thinking of the band at that point. I also cannot stand when they don’t put a download code in there, it’s indefensible.
Can you remember the first record you bought on vinyl?
I was a tape teenager for a long time and mostly inherited my first vinyl from my dad but I think the first vinyl I actually bought was a Chapterhouse EP. (I’ve) still got it somewhere. It was maybe called Mesmerise.
Do you own any soundtracks or scores on vinyl yourselves? If so, what is your favourite and did any specific scores make you want to venture into that area yourself?
Quite a few. I bought pretty much all of the Death Waltz John Carpenter stuff. Assault on Precinct 13 is my favourite and greatly influenced the way I play and write music.
You’ve spoken highly of vinyl as a format in the past, what is its main appeal to you?
It’s just, big (laughs). I dunno. I remember loving all the old Funkadelic covers drawn by Pedro Bell and hating seeing that beautiful/funny artwork on a tiny CD case. They are just as nice as books in your house.
I’m really looking forward to any shows that might follow the release of the record. Could you talk a little about the places you’ve travelled to, their record stores, and any particularly great deals you may have found over the years?
I got the best Johnny Cash box set in Liverpool one time in between soundcheck and the concert, so many tunes on that for a fiver. I’d say Stuart and Dom are the big buyers of vinyl though. They come in with tonnes of it to the dressing rooms. It’s also the source of amusement when we’ll buy each other the shittiest records we can find, like songs about Princess Diana or something like that and secretly put it on the stage next to whoever is the unlucky band member is that day.
Which record had the biggest impact on you growing up, and why?
Probably Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan, though I think Forever Changes by Love has a big influence on the way I make up parts for Mogwai. I just liked the weirdness of the Love album’s chords and melodies and I loved the arrangements on Blood On The Tracks.
You’ve spoken highly of David Bowie since his passing last month (and rightly so). What impact did he have on the band?
He was more of an influence on Stuart and me than the others, and the two of us saw his last ever European concert together in the photo pit. We are constantly talking to each other in really bad Bowie impersonations and singing in Stuart’s car when we go home from rehearsal. I’m still reeling from it and we were all lucky to have been alive when he was on the planet too.
Are there any records that you can’t seem to find, and would love to repress or any that you own that are rare?
I have a signed Iggy Pop "The Idiot" record that I got in Berlin and he has drawn a little Hitler moustache on his own face. I got it for a steal.
One record that everybody should hear before they die is…
One song you should hear 3 seconds before you die is “Dead” by The Pixies. It’s all a big laugh anyway.
‘Atomic’ is out on the 1st of April on Rock Action Records and is available from http://www.mogwai.co.uk/.
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