Metronomy feature at #54 in The DIY List 2014, a look back at the year’s best albums, one-off shows, festival performances and achievements outside of the norm. This interview was originally published on DIY this March 2014.
Gazing out of his record label’s office window down onto an oddly sunlit Shoreditch street, Joseph Mount is giggling. Giggling hard. “When you’re doing a fourth album, there are clichéd things which you, like, have to do, or avoid doing, depending on your perspective,” he reflects on Metronomy’s new single, ‘Love Letters’, which is just about to be unveiled to the world. “One is adding horns, another is adding backing vocalists to make you sound better. And I got them both.”
The biggest shock is when a trumpet solo enters the fray courtesy of Parisian jazz musician Airelle Besson. “It’s funny because originally there were a lot of horns over ‘Love Letters’,” he reveals. “There were horns in the main part of the song, but in the end it was like, this feels too kind of, this feels too far. But like, to do a song with a Motowny rhythm like that seemed kind of, ‘Why would I do that?’ But then I ended up thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I do that?’ A trumpet solo seemed perfectly normal.”
As all four of their albums (and the contrasts between them) show, Metronomy are constantly changing, nay radicalising their sound. This time, they’ve metamorphosed from the massively accessible synth-pop act we all knew from ‘The Look’ and ‘The Bay’ into a brilliantly weird, 60s-influenced funk-psych crossbreed. The outcome is the band’s career-high masterstroke, and it features some of the bravest tunes they’ve ever cut. “It’s one of those things that if you like us as a band and if you like the music, then part of what you like is the fact that it’s not predictable and that it’s not supposed to be predictable.”
“It’s just quite a nice leveller, having a child. I’d recommend everyone do it.”
On this record, he felt more confident as a songwriter, and more comfortable in his own skin. Tellingly, with the intention of releasing a double record, he laid down twenty tracks but ended up streamlining it to ten. “I was really convinced it was a good idea. But then, I guess what happens is that when you’re compiling a record like that, a kind of feel emerges out of, like, quite disparate things, and out of the ten tracks which I felt should end up on the record, I mainly tried to write about being away, or travelling, stuff like that. Quite a lot of these songs have got this theme of being out of touch, being away from something, hence ‘Love Letters’.”
Taking a step back in time, he and his bandmates (Oscar Cash, Anna Prior and Gbenga Adelekan) had to totally rethink their creative process. As he explains, “In a very old-fashioned way, I did lots of demos and tried to arrange all the songs and have the songs finished. So, when I went into the studio I could just record and not have to write too much at the same time.”
Appropriately enough, Mount became absorbed in 60s hippiedom and that era’s dichotomous relationship between funk and psychedelia. “For a long time now, I’ve enjoyed listening to Sly & The Family Stone, The Zombies, and obviously The Beatles, The Kinks, people like that,” he says enthusiastically. Using these as ‘reference material’, he dissected the classics bit by bit, seeing what the masters did in a quest to imitate the quirks of the period. “I guess, on each record, I feel like I kind of open up,” he states.
“I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I always have. And each time I do a record, I feel like I open up a little gate to a different part of the music I like. Or at least, allow it to influence the song I’m writing more than previously. On the one hand you had people like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Byrds making this kind of guitary, psychedelic music in the late 60s. But at the same time, you had the beginnings of funk music and there are nice points where those genres cross each other.”
It remains divisive. Despite claims from fans that it seemed too simple and understated, Mount still believes groundbreaking lead single ‘I’m Aquarius’ is “genuinely the best thing” he’s ever done. In fact, he says, “I’ve kind of always wanted to release a song like that, and I’ve always wanted to write one. Before, I’ve tried and tried and I’ve never quite done it.”
It soon transpires that getting old and growing up are having their impact on Mount. Having a child, making a proper livelihood from music, living in a foreign country… this has all exerted influence on Metronomy the band. “When I started playing music, and certainly the first band I was in, I was under the impression that you had to get shit done before you were, like, 20. Before 20 probably, and certainly before you were 25. And if you still hadn’t done anything by the time you were 30, you were fucked. You best start doing something else.
“In my personal life, the more I realise is that the opposite is true. Like, I think there is a point when you’re too old for people to really get on board, or whatever, but I’ve really enjoyed not feeling the same attachment to what is going on. Any of the kind of competition I would have had, or felt in the level of band I’m in, versus other people, it’s just kind of drifted away.”
How come? “Having a baby is a good thing to take your mind off the less important things,” he laughs. “But the weird thing that that does is that having a baby, in a much more positive way than I imagined, has made me think about what I do in a very different way and be able to just look at it from a third person point of view. I think about it as a job. It’s like, OK, well, I have to make an album and it has to be really good. It’s just quite a nice leveller, having a child. I’d recommend everyone do it.”
Excerpts of this interview are taken from a piece in March 2014. Following everything on The DIY List 2014 here.