“At the moment, we’d all have to admit that the place where we make music together is a very uninspiring dungeon, which is really a famous Glasgow nightclub at weekends. It’s really no wonder our music tends to be so miserable, though perhaps it works for us. We’ve been looking for our own place for a long time but there seems to be nowhere affordable where we can both practise AND store our mountains of gear so we’re stuck there for now. However, as we all write separately I’d have to say I’m slightly inspired by my own living room where I write songs with my trusty laptop.
It’s about 4m x 4m, typical Glasgow tenement living room, nice wee fireplace, non-gargantuan TV and nice big bookshelf with many food recipe books. It has a lovely brass chandelier that my architect father-in-law salvaged from a condemned building. My wife and I have only lived here for four or five months and I’ve been away touring a lot but the little square dining table is where I set up my stuff to record demos for the band. The window looks out onto Charing Cross and the M8 motorway so there’s always traffic noise, especially when the roads are wet but that’s the characteristics of the city centre I suppose. I recently moved here from a much bigger house in the countryside, near Stuart’s house, but I have to say that I was never too taken with the music room I had there. No idea why.
A lot of our gear is tucked away in the rehearsal dungeon but I make sure I have my apple laptop with all the portable recording gear that I can get my hands on which is usually my little Edirol FA-66 soundcard, a Rode condenser microphone (that I’ve lost the shockmount and stand for), a tiny Edirol MIDI keyboard, a Philicorda organ from a car boot sale and a beautiful Martin acoustic guitar. A not so beautiful Seagull acoustic guitar is there for weird and dangerous tunings that might damage the Martin. I also have a Roland drum machine but programming it is like trying to three-point-turn a jumbo jet in a pub, so I avoid it mostly.
The most important things for you me to have in the space are probably my little MIDI keyboard and Ableton Live and/or Cubase 5 software on my laptop, all my Native Instruments and Arturia and Ohmforce plugins too. I can’t wait for touring to end so that I can start writing with my Muse Receptor because my little laptop is having a hard time keeping up with the things that I want to do. My receptor (which I use live) is always being freighted somewhere or other during touring so I can’t get it home, which is very frustrating. That will surely be my most important piece of equipment when we get round to writing properly again. It’s amazing.
This year I’ve not had too much time here, and with an impending move to Berlin soon I’m a little upside down. Whenever I feel like sitting down and making something I’ll do it. I’ve promised myself to really get stuck in this year as I want to make this album something that will transcend anything we’ve done before. There’s nothing like putting pressure on yourself to get results. Maybe….
Initially I work alone. I don’t particularly like the first stages of going into the rehearsals with the rest of the band. I always feel that I haven’t formed enough of an idea to jump start it so I get quite frustrated with myself. It’s always nice to just sit on your own and give it time to develop. One thing I should mention is the fact that we’re not a band who can write on the road. I think the last thing we want to do while wallowing through the lethally boring days of badly-lit dressing rooms and soundchecks is to try and be creative. It just doesn’t work for us.
In terms of the creative process, I will either have a little tune I’ve played already on the guitar and just record it into the laptop and work from there with other instruments or more commonly I’ll just load up Cubase or Live and set up some limiting parameters like BPM, time signature and just load up a random plug-in and play some melodies or chords until something happens or not. A lot gets deleted, especially when I start with drum rhythms for some reason. Honestly, it’s extremely difficult to make up very good music and I don’t think we’ve done anything truly excellent yet. Anyway, I’ll take it in to the others and just trust them to make up good parts. When someone else in the band has made up the song I always try my best to make my parts really good, it’s like I owe it to them not to fuck their work up. That, probably misguidedly, is more important to me than the parts I make up for my own songs. And it’s quite contrary to my typically selfish mentality. I think I might be a weirdo.
What I like most about this space is the fact that it’s three strides away from the fridge, which is quite important. Hungry Barry equals Grumpy Barry and nobody likes to be creative when they are grumpy, do they? Actually I bet they do but I don’t. I’m looking forward to getting to Berlin, it’s nice to have a change of scenery, I’m sure it can affect the way you create things.”
Musical Rooms was talking to Barry Burns of Mogwai
Founded in Glasgow, influental post-rockers Mogwai have been making albums since the mid-1990s. Their latest album The Hawk is Howling saw them reunited with producer Andy Miller for the first time in a decade. They play three nights at Dublin’s Academy this weekend, March 20th, 21st and 22nd (the Saturday night is sold out). For more details, visit www.myspace.com/mogwai or www.mogwai.co.uk/.