MOGWAI : THE SOUNDS AND THE PROCESS
27th October 2010
Mogwai have recently put the finishing touches to their seventh studio album, 'Hardcore will never die, but you will ' - which will be released on 14th February 2011 (St.Valentines day - nothing says "I love you" like Post-Rock).
Curious about their working methods and instrumentation, we chatted with Barry Burns from the band about what goes into their creative production process, from a sonic point of view.
Can you tell us how a Mogwai track gets underway? Do the band all generate ideas separately then come together to develop them, or do they develop more in the studio?
"We have 4 writers in the band and we all sit at home and try to come up with something that we can all work on then send to each other over the lovely internet before meeting to rehearse (for many hours) then we get into the studio and bash things into shape a little more. I think it develops at different stages in different ways for different songs so it's impossible to say we have a set way of realising ideas, music is too abstract and fickle for that."
Mogwais' music is abstract and textural - do sounds and timbres lead the creation process or is the starting point always musical?
"Personally I think a great starting point are the sounds that I find. I rarely have a set melody in my head to begin a song until i find a sound i like and then it's just trying things out on a keyboard or sometimes a guitar with some effects pedals."
"We've used a lot of piano on most of our albums before now and often we'd plucked the strings or hit them with glockenspiel beaters but I had in the past wondered about what it would sound like to bow notes and chords on the piano. Our producer Paul Savage told me about the Bowed Piano at the beginning of the recording of our new record and we heard some samples of it. We are big fans of long drones so obviously the bowed piano fits in perfectly with our style of music. We mostly used it for the drones on a few tracks, hopefully it'll be clear enough to hear which ones when the songs are released next year."
Do you use the Bowed Piano instruments' synthesis functions to shape and integrate the sounds into the mix, or do you prefer to preserve the original timbre?
"A bit of both. I like it "as-is" but I also liked the way I could use the filter to take away the high end and scratchiness. The controls were very useful and it makes your sound different to anyone else's."
Novachord also features on the new album - could you expand a little on how it was used, and what aspects of its sonic character appealed to the band?
"It was weird with Novachord ; I hadn't heard of the original being such a luddite. Usually, I have to spend a little time, sometimes a minute or two, other times far too long to try and get a sound that fits a song but this actually has loads of great presets without going into "preset-hell"......the rest of the band tend not to like me flicking through too many.....so I get less daggers. I'm really into Italo-Disco and film music from Dario Argento films and this sounded like a lot of those soundtracks."
The Novachord - ancient and venerable synthesiser
What pieces of gear are creative essentials to Mogwai and you personally?
"Well, my little studio has a Dave Smith Polyevolver, Juno 60, Logic with Kontakt and a fairly modest sample library including all my SonicCouture plug-ins, a guitar with Guitar Rig (which I put so many of my keyboard stuff through) and my Midi Controller. I've never been a great programmer of all things MIDI so it's nice when I can just turn something on and start playing. Looking forward to the Xtended Piano for the next album. For live concerts I have my Muse Receptors which I use Kontakt on and loads of other plug-ins.....one of my favourite's being Applied Acoustics Ultra Analog."
Which other Soniccouture products have found their way into your work and in what way were they used?
"We used the Skiddaw Stones on one song; It's been used as an ambient effect, i think through a spring reverb from the 70's. I think we used the bowed gamelan for a similar effect. It's the little noises in the background that can make a song, sometimes more than the main melody or chords. That's always been something extremely important to us and those sounds should never be underestimated.
We also used the free Music Boxes which are just amazing. That was a great idea to sample them. We actually had Mogwai music boxes made for us in China once that played one of our melodies. That's how much we like them."