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MOGWAI The X-Press Interview

Beloved for their towering, instrumental soundscapes, post rock veterans Mogwai have just released their first ever feature film soundtrack for the sci-fi thriller
Kin starring James Franco and Dennis Quaid. ZACK YUSOF caught up with Barry Burns, the band’s multi instrumentalist, to get the lowdown on the band’s motion picture soundtrack debut and more.

How did Mogwai come to work on the soundtrack for Kin?

Josh and John Baker got in touch with us and gave us part of a script and told us all about the film. We met them in Los Angeles and they explained about (the project) a bit more. They really like the band, which is always a good thing from the directors, and they just asked us to do it. We had time in between albums so yeah, we got stuck in, sent them a bunch of music and they seemed to like it so I think everyone was pretty happy in the end.

The Kin soundtrack is your first feature film score. Was it different process working on this type of soundtrack – a sci fi motion picture – compared to the other scoring work that you’ve done for television and documentaries, things like Les Revenants, Before The Flood, Atomic and the Zidane documentary?

Yeah and we are doing another one just now and to be honest, they are all completely different in the way that the people either want you to work or how you end up working. Some of them, you have images to work to and other times they’ll say, just write us a bunch of music and we’ll pick parts of it. With Kin, (the process) was much more precise. We would write music and then they would change the cut all the time. You know, It was quite laborious but eventually it all comes together and you’ve got this really sort of tailored music to what’s happening on the screen. But yeah, they are all different. I can’t even compare one to the other to be honest.

Your music is very suited to soundtrack work and you guys must gets plenty of offers coming in all the time…

Less than you would think man, less than you would think! (laughs)

So what’s a dream soundtrack gig for Mogwai?

Er, everyone says Blade Runner, that sort of thing, but I don’t know. God, it’s a tough one isn’t it? Stuart (Braithwaite, Mogwai’s guitarist and de facto band leader) used to say Batman and we thought that would be funny but then we started to think about how come we don’t do any comedies (laughs). That’s probably a bad idea! Maybe Planes, Trains and Automobiles 2? I don’t know, any film that I like the soundtrack to are the ones I watch the most and I always feel that they are perfect already so I don’t know. It’s a good question but a terrible answer (laughs).

What about film directors? Are there any filmmakers on Mogwai’s wishlist that you’d like to work with?

Yeah. I watched Prisoners last night by Denis Villeneuve and I’d really like to do one of his films as well. I really enjoyed that film and I think Johann Johannsson did the music for that. Obviously he passed away (this) year. So yeah, I’d love to do something with him, something really dark. The darkness! (laughs)

With Kin, was there any particular soundtrack or composer that you guys were drawing inspiration from when you were coming with music for the film?

Well, we were told by Josh and John, don’t make it sound like Blade Runner, and we were like, alright, we won’t. We would sneak in some sort of Blade Runner-esque synthesizer sounds to see if they’d notice and sometimes they noticed and sometime they didn’t so we got away a little bit. But yeah, in the main, we tried to do our own thing. You know, it’s hard not to take previous soundtrack stuff for sci fi and draw on that – or to use a better word, steal – but we tried to avoid it. I think we managed to do so hopefully.

Has working on film scores made Mogwai a better band?

I think so. It just shows you a different way of working with other people because we never really liked to do collaborations musically with other people and it took a while after doing the first soundtrack to get used to that situation where we are not in control. You have to sort of surrender your control to producers and directors and stuff so it was a little bit hard at first but once you get there, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Last year, Mogwai put out Every Country’s Sun, your ninth album. Was it a fun record to make, getting out of Glasgow and heading to over America to work with David Fridmann again at his Tarbox studios in secluded Cassadaga, New York?

Yeah, it was amazing. I think that was the most productive album session we’ve ever done. Mostly because… well, Dave tends to get the best out of you but also because it’s in the middle of nowhere and we knew that if we did another record in Glasgow, it’s just like five minutes away from some of our houses so we tend to get lazy and you can’t get lazy there. You are staying there and there is nothing around for 10km. Like literally nothing. And it was the winter as well so you couldn’t really drive anywhere some days because you were snowed in. So yeah, it was really productive. There was a lot of drinking but that was in the night time. (laughs)

Were you pleased with the reaction that Every Country’s Sun has gotten from the public? For me, it’s the most accessible record that Mogwai have put out in ages…

Yeah, it probably is. We’re always surprised… I think we are constantly surprised that people want to come and see us and listen to us. I mean, I don’t know if there is a secret to having a very mediocre career (laughs) but we’ve managed to keep it extremely mediocre for 23 years. But yeah, we are really pleased about it and I think we want to go work with Dave again. We’d love to go and do another record with him.

You guys are super busy as usual and are currently out on tour. Have you guys been having fun on the road?  

Yeah we’ve been having fun but I think… we were just talking about this recently. We haven’t really stopped for four and a half years. It’s been constant soundtrack-album-soundtrack-album and I think It sort of affects the family life because we all have kids and stuff so we were thinking about, not having a big break, but maybe just toning it down a little and not doing quite as much. But it’s that thing where you think you want to have a rest and then someone asks you to do something and it sounds really fun and then you can’t say no so it’s like, we’re trapped, trapped in business! I mean trapped in busy-ness, not business! (laughs)

You live in Berlin now and you own a bar there called Das Gift where you can be spied tending bar sometimes. What’s it like having your own wee Scottish pub in Germany? Owning a bar, that’s like my dream…

Don’t do it man, don’t do it! Never have a bar of your own, take my advice. Ah, it’s just a nightmare. It’s fun to start with because you meet a lot of people in a foreign place or whatever but man, it just sort of… my wife runs it now and she’s completely… it just takes over your life and for what it’s worth, there’s not much money in it that’s for sure.

You must have a killer jukebox in there…

It’s a weird one. We have CD mixes by bunch of artists, musicians, writers and comedians. Robert Smith from The Cure has done a mix; David Cross and Edie Mirman, the actors and comedians have done one; Iain Rankin and John Niven, the writers have done one. We got the usual stuff in there too but tons of people have done these little mixes and it’s really interesting.

Now that you have first your first feature film soundtrack in the bag, have you guys got another scoring project lined up?

Yeah, we are doing another one just now. We’re not allowed to talk about it but it looks like a really good TV show. That’s going to keep us busy. After that, we’ve got a few more shows in the UK and then we’ll have some time off and write the next album.

After 23 years, what lies ahead for Mogwai? The shows are getting bigger, the records more refined, the soundtrack offers coming in…

Politics! Nah, only joking! (laughs) If we fuck it up, it’d be politics (more laughs). I don’t know. I think just more of the same would be good for us because it’s something we really enjoy and we’re all good friends as well so long may it continue.

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