Interview Metronomy: ‘We’ll Find Out In The Charts How Alienating We’ve Been’

Gone are the pressures of being a twenty-something in London: Metronomy’s Joseph Mount is taking a more laid back approach.

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,” Mount explains, then sniggers, “but I guess we’ll find out in the charts how alienating we’ve been.”

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’.”

The songs are also linked by the retrograde way in which they were recorded. They were laid down at London’s legendary Toe Rag studios, where The White Stripes recorded ‘Elephant’ ten years before. This in turn impacted on Mount’s song-writing. “The thing was, to record a record like that really changed the way that I had to write songs,” he says. “The main purpose of recording like that was so that it would force me to be a much more organised songwriter and much more well-planned.”

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.”

This oddball overlap can be heard on ‘Love Letters’ itself. That is, after a stripped-back acoustic sing-along in the form of ‘The Upsetter’ gets the album underway, things consequently swerve from trippy wah-wah rock (‘Month Of Sundays’) all the way to brilliant, caterwauling synth-funk (‘Reservoir’). Though some songs hint nostalgically at earlier moments from Metronomy’s career (notably the Tom Tom Club-esque ‘Boy Racers’), this is mainly novel territory for the band.

But 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.”

The song was released for one week only via the Night Sky app, which allows users to identify planets, galaxies, constellations, ad infinitum. All fans had to do was scan the sky in search of the Aquarius constellation, and the single would play automatically.

“The funny thing,” says Mount, “is nowadays you get properly overblown campaigns leading up to records, to the point they can make you so disappointed in the record when it finally arrives. But when they were talking about the Night Sky thing, I was thinking, like, it’s actually pretty cool. When are you ever going to be able to tie in a song with a stargazing app? I guess it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Aside from the intergalactic lead single, another standout comes in the form of gloriously way-out, slightly offhand guitar jam ‘The Most Immaculate Haircut’. But whose ‘do was he actually referring to? “It’s Connan Mockasin’s haircut,” he confirms, “but I think he’s slightly let it go a bit. I think he’s taken his eye off it.” The song was the leftover scrap of a botched collaboration between the pair. Delving deeper, he explains, “It definitely applies more widely than that. I was talking to someone about how there are people who become kind of iconic, people who have something about their image which is often their haircuts which makes them kind of instantly recognisable. You get scenester people like that in London.

“Anyway, I’ve always been slightly upset that I’ve never really cultivated my image to the point where I’m recognisable and people are, like, ‘uhh, it’s the guy with the cool haircut.’ I think when I first started playing in bands, that was always my dream, to be part of a gang that has a look. Do you remember Bromheads Jacket? Anyway, the singer had cut himself an incredible kind of Jerry Ramone haircut and I was like, ‘fuck me, that’s amazing. I wish I could do that.’ But I couldn’t.”

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.”

Since he came off tour in 2012, he’s lived in Paris (in the 18th arrondissement, just above Sacré Coeur), but he finds it all a bit yummy-mummy and “probably a bit too grown-up for me.” However, he does relish the city as a carefree creative space. “I think when you do anything creative in London, you’re really aware of what other people who are doing the same thing are up to,” he expands. “If you’re not succeeding at what your job is or what you want your job to be, then people will just forget about you. I think, by contrast, I’ve got none of that feeling in Paris. It’s a much more kind of relaxed atmosphere. I think there are songs on the record I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t been living there.”

After all, it is where he met all of Metronomy’s recent artistic affiliates. Namely, video directors Edouard Salier (helming ‘I’m Aquarius’) and Michel Gondry (‘Love Letters’), as well as renowned graphic artist Leslie David, who had a baby at the same time as Mount’s girlfriend. His label, Because Music, also has roots in Paris. “They were the first to show interest,” he says. “They were like, ‘We love what you do and we love what you’ve done up until this point. Why don’t you come and make records with us?’ And I think part of the reason that they’re so accepting is because they’re French and the French are much more accepting of interesting instrumental music. World music isn’t called world music there, it’s just music which is very popular. It’s just quite a refreshing attitude that they have. I think they understand different types of music much better than most people.”

With this in mind, the band are bringing their famed live show to equally massive venues both sides of the channel this year (London’s O2 Academy Brixton and Paris’ Zénith). But the date they’re most excited about is headlining Field Day festival in June. “That is going to be a real event for us,” Mount declares. “The first place we played in London was a club called Trash. We’ve played at all kinds of places here, and to end up headlining a festival, you know, it’s an incredibly big deal for us. At Brixton a while ago, we did this NME tour when we were supporting Two Door Cinema Club, and I think at the time we felt a bit like, ‘Oh fuck, I wish it was us on top of the bill’. So, it feels like a real nice thing… And I don’t think it’s going to be the last thing we headline either.”

Metronomy’s new album ‘Love Letters’ will be released on 10th March via Because.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online, download on Android via Googleplay, or download on iPad now.

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