Music & clubs

Expecting disasters: Barry Burns

Mogwai multi-instrumentalist and Berlin barman Barry Burns on Brexit angst, his band’s legacy and the dreaded G-word. We caught up with Burns ahead of one of Mogwai’s biggest tours, which sees them play Columbiahalle on October 14.

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Photo by Brian Sweeney

Mogwai multi-instrumentalist and Berlin barman Barry Burns on Brexit angst, his band’s legacy and the dreaded G-word.

The Glasgow instrumental post-rockers recently released their ninth and best-selling studio record, Every Country’s Sun, on the back of film soundtracks Atomic and Before the Flood. We caught up with Burns ahead of one of Mogwai’s biggest tours, which sees them play Columbiahalle on October 14.

How’s the reception been for Every Country’s Sun?

Generally, everyone has been really positive about it and it’s our best selling record so far – but what is most important is that we were really happy with it. We’ve completed another soundtrack since then [for upcoming James Franco vehicle Kin] so for us, it is mostly in the past. It’s just time to play it live.

How was recording it – did you do anything different?

Not really, as we are used to living in separate places at this point. Stuart [Braithwaite], Dom [Aitchison] and I will all write songs individually and share them over Dropbox, and we generally won’t get together to collaborate on them before we get to the studio. We recorded with Dave Fridmann [who produced Come On Die Young and Rock Action] for the first time in 15 years, and it felt strangely familiar to be back at his isolated studio in upstate New York. It was like we had never been away. It was eerie, all the same smells of timber from the house and routines like where and when to sleep just came flooding back to us. It helped us focus on the album, I think.

You’re an outspoken critic of Brexit – are you worried about how it will aff ect you personally?

It’s gonna be a disaster, let’s be honest. I don’t think many people are going to emerge from it unscathed. It’s going to be terrible for young bands. We already have to pay for visas to countries like Switzerland, the States and Japan, which cost about £1000 per country. We’re potentially going to have to do it every single tour now, which most likely will mean we have to slow down our touring. That said, I’m 41 now so that maybe would have happened anyway.

What about you as a Berliner? Do you plan on staying here?

Yeah, my wife and I are currently applying for citizenship as we’ve lived here over eight years. Our daughter was born in Berlin; it is our home. Obviously, my bar Das Gift imports a lot of stuff over from the UK, mostly Scotland, but we won’t feel the brunt of that until it goes through. More people in Berlin have money now, though, so perhaps they will still be able to afford it. I hope to see Scotland break away from the UK and rejoin the EU, but I fear the orange-coloured human toilet brush in the White House will press the red button first.

So you feel Berlin’s gotten richer since you moved here?

It’s changed loads since we first moved here. It basically means that the food is better and the people are a bit more polite to you in shops than before, when no one really cared about “service”. I think it’s just going to keep growing, I don’t really see it stopping yet, anyway. I can’t afford to buy a place here anymore. We bought one when we first moved, when it was cheap, but have since sold it and just rent now. We bought a flat in Glasgow instead, because the prices here are just crazy.

How’s the future of Mogwai looking?

Well, we have a couple more big soundtracks lined up in the near future: a TV series and another Hollywood film. I’m quite happy for us to go down that route and chuck in a studio album every three years or so. The only major stress that comes from composing soundtracks is that we are writing to please someone else rather than ourselves, so there can be quite a lot of pressure there, but it is rewarding once it’s finished.

Your band is over 20 years old, and it seems you’re more popular now than ever – how do you feel about that? Is there a “legacy” attached to Mogwai?

 I almost wish we were around during the 1960s because we’d probably be driving Rolls Royces about now. Perhaps if we do more Hollywood soundtracks we might get there! I’ve noticed we’ve been getting younger audiences in with every tour who seem to appreciate that we’re trying to do something different with each record. We also have an older crowd who moan that we don’t sound like we used to, but they still come anyway. I couldn’t imagine just churning out the same thing over and over again. Either way, after 20 years it’s still something we enjoy doing and can regularly surprise us still.

Sat, Oct 14, 20:00 | Columbiahalle. Tempelhof

Burns, the keyboardist/flautist/guitarist/vocalist, joined Mogwai in 1998, three years after the band’s founding, while recording sophomore effort Come On Die Young. Since then, they have recorded seven studio albums and various soundtracks. He moved from Glasgow to Berlin with his wife in 2009; the couple opened the Scottish themed Neukölln pub Das Gift in late 2010.