Can you believe it’s been twenty ear-splitting years since seminal post-rock, five piece Mogwai burst onto the Glaswegian music scene? Have their titanic chord sequences and evocative sweeping soundscapes really been bringing the house down at festivals for so long?! Camilla Jones momentarily pauses from grappling with the passage of time and her own mortality, to natter with Mogwai’s Barry Burns.
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Belters is an apt inclusion in the title of this 20 year anniversary, 3CD and 6LP boxed set of rarities and highlights from Scottish rock legends Mogwai. It’s a fittingly winding monument to their inspirational career, as opposed to a ‘practical, ticks all the boxes, retrospective’. Yes, diehard devotees will likely bemoan the omission of the obscurest of obscurities, while those new to the band will receive a weighty, handpicked, 34 track gallimaufry of an introduction to their back catalogue.
In reality, it’s the unexpectedness of the band’s selection that makes this release so interesting. Plenty of well known tracks don’t make the cut, so the chance for a quick Q&A with the band’s guitar, piano, synthesiser and vocal impresario, Barry Burns, delivered a fascinating insight into how the fivesome went about self-curating something more intimate than your standard ‘best of’ box set.
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The idea of selecting tracks for a 20 year retrospective, might have been a little overwhelming. What was the process?
It feels like so long ago that I can barely remember the process (been a busy year I suppose). I think we had some sort list that we voted on – regarding what songs would be best for a sort of overview of our work to date.
Central Belters refers to the Central Belt of Scotland – how does the title have significance for this release?
It does refer to the area from where we were all born, but it’s also (hopefully) a humorous reference to the quality of the songs – a ‘belter’ being a good song. Given that we have zero actual hits, we thought it was amusing.
You said in an interview with Time Out in 2014, that it gets harder and harder to remain original as time goes on. What are some rituals or habits you have – or any processes you do to try and keep things fresh?
I did and I still think that, obviously. But as long as you sort of change the way you go about composing songs, be it with different instruments or just a different computer application from the last time, you seem to be able to come out with stuff that’s unlike previous music.
20 years is an impressive chunk of time in any career. What do you think has enabled you all to stay together as a band this long?
Personally, I’ve enjoyed the company of the rest the band from the start. It’s been so hilarious tons of times in the studio, the bus or even when out in bars or whatever when we’re not actually working. Very good fun.
As you look back over the last 20 years, what’s one highlight that epitomises what it’s been like to be one fifth of Mogwai?
We had a show on a TV station in Canada and they asked us if we would like a background projection while playing and what exactly would we like to project. I said, for a laugh, “cats and explosions”. We sent them that and when we got to the TV station, there it was, nuclear explosions and a cat on a treadmill.
Have the dynamics of being in the band changed over time?
It’s been a bit different since I moved to Berlin 6 years ago and there’s definitely a desire to work outside of the band for quite a few of us. That’s helped me discover different ways of working and hopefully that will be reflected in the new album, whenever that is.
Are there plans for elaborate vinyl box set reissues of all studio albums? (The Young team and Cody reissues were both amazing.)
There’s a good chance as people are still after vinyl copies of our stuff.
Finally, at a time of nostalgic looking forwards and back, what do you hope Mogwai will be remembered for in another 20 years time?
I just thought about this for a good three of four minutes. I don’t think I really care, I’m just happy to have been part of something that I enjoy.
Central Belters is out now via the band’s own label Rock Action, as a 3CD or 6LP set.