Avoiding 'The Dark Ages of Britain Part Two' & Stepping Up After Guitarist John Cummings' Exit

27 February 2018 | 4:01 pm | Anthony Carew

"A lot of people, now, wish that it had happened, even those who didn't vote for it, because [Brexit] is an unmitigated disaster about to happen."

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The ninth album for Scottish post-rock legends Mogwai is named Every Country's Sun. It comes from a conversation guitarist Barry Burns had with a friend, who somehow thought the Earth didn't rotate around a singular sun. "She thought that if you got on a plane, there was a different sun in Spain, because it was so much warmer there," Burns says, with due disbelief. "This is what she said, when I spoke to her about it. She was 35 years old and a school teacher, literally teaching kids about the world, and she didn't know this. Incredible, isn't it?" 

From her ignorance, though, came a title evoking contemporary global politics, the division of nations and fear of immigrants flying in the face of our singularity as a species. Burns is feeling the full force of such dire politics: he's spent the past eight years split between Glasgow and Berlin, a life that's suddenly under threat. "I actually just did my German history test, yesterday," Burns offers. "I'm going to get a German passport, hopefully, next year, so we can ignore The Dark Ages of Britain Part Two." Having been hopeful - "possibly deluded," he admits - that the Scottish independence vote would pass in 2014, Burns is now one of many Scots lamenting that turn of fate. "A lot of people, now, wish that it had happened, even those who didn't vote for it, because [Brexit] is an unmitigated disaster about to happen."

The origin story behind the title of Every Country's Sun means it comes in a long lineage of in-joking Mogwai titles. From Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist to Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the band have long brought the lolz, able to give their instrumental songs whatever titles they please. "We've had a right good laugh on the tour bus, making up these titles," Burns admits. "Then, people will repeat them back to us, like, 'Who plays what on Golden Porsche?', and we'll just start laughing, and they won't understand why. In-jokes can be a bit shit for others, but they make us laugh and, because of the titles, they'll last for years."

Every Country's Sun found Mogwai working, again, with producer Dave Fridmann (best known for his work with The Flaming Lips) and making their first album since the departure of guitarist John Cummings after 20 years in the band. "Not having John in the band anymore, I think we tried to step up and work even harder than before," Burns says. "Because, when someone leaves a band, and then they make an album that doesn't do very well, it doesn't look good. So, there was a bit of an element where we didn't want that to happen."

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As per usual, Mogwai didn't have any grand concepts, or even conversations, about the recordings. "We don't ever sit down and talk about an album, or the music itself. Maybe as close as we get, is, 'You should probably try that again, Stuart!'" Burns laughs. "There was a lot of drunkenness at night-time, and we'd both be sitting there drinking, and Stuart [Braithwaite] hadn't bothered to learn his part properly, so I'd be shouting out the chords he had to play. It was so much fun, maybe the most we've had as a band."

Two decades into the band, Burns is enjoying recording more than ever ("I love being in the studio now"), but, he says, "The live thing is the best part of the job. Always. It gives us the instant gratification that us children need." While most Mogwai audiences are "very quiet and attentive", the band love those random few who dance. "There's always one guy or girl doing that hippy, David-Bowie-in-Labyrinth-with-the-metal-balls type dance. That's a good laugh," Burns says.

The most notable thing about a Mogwai show, though, is the volume. Well, at least for the crowd; for the band on stage, it's a different experience. "It's not actually that loud at all for us on stage," offers Burns. "I wear in-ear monitors so I can hear what my kids are going to say to me when I'm 60. All that volume is coming out of the PA, which I'm behind. So, it's much scarier for you in the audience, standing in front of that PA."