- Mon, 2011-04-11 01:00
The brainchild of Joseph Mount, Metronomy began ten years ago in the tiny, bohemian market town of Totnes in Devon, when Joseph’s Dad sold his son a computer so he could sit in his bedroom and make electronic music inspired by the likes of Autechre, LFO and Aphex Twin, more as a creative hobby than a pop masterplan. Fast forward to 2011 and Metronomy are now getting set for the release of their third album, The English Riviera.
We caught up with Joseph to chat about recording the album with a full studio set up, what it’s like to be signed to a French label, the state of the UK music scene and more…
“I Like Music because…I’m not very good at anything else.” Joseph Mount, Metronomy
ILM: What was the vision behind The English Riviera?
Joseph: There were a few different factors. I knew I was going to be doing it in a studio...so I knew I wanted it to sound like I’d used a studio...! I knew I wanted it to be different to Nights Out. I knew that I wanted to surprise people in a way. The first track recorded was We Broke Free. After that was finished it felt like I knew what was going on. The most important ideas for me at the start were to do something interesting. I didn't want to confirm what I think some people might have thought, that maybe we were just going to disappear, like “oh, so that was new-rave.” I don’t know. For the people that really understood Nights Out and Metronomy, I think there was probably an equal amount of people who were just expecting us to be a bit of a cop out this time around.
ILM: How would you describe your process of working in the studio?
Joseph: It really depends. I'm kind of lazy when it comes to the studio. I think there’s a critical point at which you can’t continue working anyway, but...the whole experience is really new for me.
ILM: This time around?
Joseph: Yeah. I was finding it all out as I went along. So some tracks came very easily - I’d arrive at the demo and it would just be a matter of recording it well. And then other things... I tried to give myself a bit of time to come up with ideas in the studio, I thought that would be nice, but it’s so different to what I did before. For the next record I’ll be much more comfortable with it. Now I’ve kind of done it enough to know that certain things come easy and certain things take fucking hours.
ILM: Yes, I can see the romantic vision behind pondering in the studio for hours amidst a creative haze...
Joseph: Well yeah, I think you’ve got to… I dunno, the whole thing which got me excited about doing the record in the studio are exactly that, these stories that you hear of bands getting lost in them – not literally getting lost, but losing themselves and spending months and months in studios. I guess coming from a very basic bedroom set up I wanted to indulge myself a little bit.
ILM: How many musicians did you invite in?
Joseph: On the previous albums Gabriel’s played all of them, but only little bits, so it was kind of a concerted effort to get people playing. On the record it’s me, Oscar, Gabriel’s on it as well, and Anna and Gbenga obviously. And I don’t think anyone else turned up... I got a few people to do stuff, like I got Anita – CocknBullKid – to come and sing some stuff, but it wasn’t good enough! Haha! No it was, but it just didn’t end up on the record.
ILM: Your vocals have a very human element to them, it feels as if you're being spoken to directly. How would you describe your approach to vocals in the studio?
Joseph: Nights Out was the first time I was singing so I really was not very confident! I think that probably gives it what you’re talking about – like it sounds like someone’s talking to you because...well, I pretty much am just talking! Haha! But it’s funny, I kind of realised that part of the reason I was singing like I was, was because I had this lack of confidence. So the way to do it is to not open yourself up to criticism. If you just do it exactly as it comes naturally then people can’t think it’s bad because it’s just very honest. But then, having said that, more recently I’ve realised that it’s nice to have a bit of emotion in there, it’s nice to give something away. I try to act a bit like a producer and kick my own arse into being a bit more confident, basically. And that’s what it is. I’m still getting used to the idea of singing so maybe by the next album I’ll be wailing.
ILM: Kate Bush...?
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely! Well....maybe more Mariah Carey.
ILM: How do you approach the transition from finished studio recordings to live?
Joseph: It’s funny, there’s always this time where you have to re-learn the songs. We spend quite a lot of time working out what we’re actually playing, usually it was so long ago that it was recorded.
ILM: How long ago was the album recorded?
Joseph: Oh no, I mean like song by song. So We Broke Free was the first thing that was recorded so I didn’t have to play it again till recently. But I guess the new record was actually much more straight forward because it was kind of written during us touring as a four piece and me also knowing that “as soon as you’ve done the album, you’re touring for ages.” So I was writing stuff knowing that there was a bass player, a drummer and blah blah blah. So actually transferring it has been more straight forward than it has been before. But the interesting thing is it gives it this – they almost sound more – well....the album is obviously a bit more minimal than Nights Out...when we started playing it live it was suddenly even more minimal. That’s kind of interesting, getting your head used to the sound of it as something a bit different from the recording.
ILM: What are your plans for the record on tour; what can people expect in terms of the live show?
Joseph: Well obviously the new record has this kind of different feel, it's maybe more restrained and a bit more laid back than Nights Out. I dunno, maybe some people were expecting a dance record. But we’re not suddenly stepping to a different place. We're still trying to keep the live show as a kind of performance and we’re obviously still playing all the old stuff as well, so… The new album has really just given the set a massive dynamic shift, and it means we can build it in a different way. But I think people can just expect more of the same!
ILM: Good live shows, good musicians...
Joseph: Well yeah. Some good musicians, some not so good – I’m talking about myself being not so good! It’s very nice for us, because before this album we had this very up tempo, party set. It’s so nice having these new songs that just give us space. So I think people can just maybe expect more of a dynamic set than before.
ILM: Where have been some of the venues that you think Metronomy have worked best live?
Joseph: We’re not a huge band, we’ve not gone from doing tiny venues to doing massive venues, we’ve kind of stayed in this middle ground which is really nice. We’ve not lost touch with the idea of playing an intimate gig and I think we probably really enjoy playing unusually small places. It was kind of funny actually, we did this thing in Paris not so long ago which was 250 people, but they were all industry people so it was fucking boring. I was really excited about that gig beforehand because it felt like it was a really small room and that maybe people would go crazy.
ILM: But they didn’t.
Joseph: No, they were kind of dull. We had the same kind of thing in King Tuts in Glasgow, it’s quite a small place. So I would say – to answer the question! – either a very small, kind of sweaty room or the kind of places where we’ve travelled a long way to play and the people just end up being ridiculously appreciative. Like Mexico. I always remember it being the most ridiculous feeling, they knew about us for one and then we went there and they were just so appreciative of the fact that we did, it made a very good atmosphere. But yeah, I dunno. It’s nice that as a band you have these different seasons – like you have the festival thing and then when students are back you play these much more energetic shows, it’s nice to have that range of stuff. But I think probably a small, sweaty room! Ultimate answer!
ILM: You’re releasing on French label Because Music; what’s it like to be part of that family?
Joseph: It doesn’t feel like a family. Well no, no, no, it’s great! They have a very different outlook. Instead of being in London and being incredibly London centric you’re in the middle and looking out to England and Germany and Spain and Italy… It’s much healthier! Their roster has people like Manu Chao, who I’m not necessarily a fan of, but world music for them isn’t a dirty word like it is here. Then there’s Charlotte Gainsbourg and Justice and old French acts who no-one here would necessarily have heard of like Les Rita Mitsouko, this old French electronic duo. It’s given me a much healthier outlook – it’s made me understand the English music industry a lot better.
ILM: In what ways?
Joseph: I think you can just tell… It’s difficult to understand until you’ve spent a lot of time in somewhere like France or Germany how completely bizarre a prospect like The Enemy or The Pigeon Detectives are to a German or French audience. It’s like “I can’t understand what they’re saying, they’re talking about this city and I’ve got no fucking idea where it is” – it doesn’t translate. I think these bands can be so important here and just disappear elsewhere, so I think to have this French base is really nice. It’s like you’re exporting the music back to England as well, that’s kind of nice.
ILM: What do you think about the current UK music scene?
Joseph: Nothing’s really caught my imagination.
ILM: The charts are pretty much dominated…
Joseph: The charts are fucking horrible! Obviously there’s things like the dub-steppy things which are maybe quite… um....they make you feel like English dance music has still got something to offer. And obviously all the Jamies, the Blakes and the Woons – are good. That’s something which English musicians are good at! Recently people have obviously been trying to resurrect the idea that England is producing really great guitar music and it just isn’t! It’s like...don’t lie! Don’t use The Vaccines, for example, to push this point! You could pick better bands to say that it’s alive! And I dunno, everyone’s quite preoccupied with the idea that there is this history of great guitar music in England, and it’s like well, there kind of is, there kind of isn’t, whatever. It doesn’t really matter. I think the dub-steppy stuff is much more relevant at the moment.
ILM: And feels much more organic in its history and where it’s come from.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. I’m not totally amazed by it, but I think that’s where the interesting stuff’s happening.
ILM: And yes...the UK Charts are in no way representitive of the best new music. Which I suppose is nothing new.
Joseph: That’s the other thing! You know if you visit Germany or France and turn on the music television, and you end up looking at the music thinking “haha, this is so shit, what the fuck is this?” You get this feeling watching European music that it just seems so bad… Well, the one interesting thing about spending a bit of time in France and then, after having paid no attention to UK music or charts or radio – it has exactly the same feel when you come back. You’re just looking at it thinking “haha, what the fuck is this, this is ridiculous!” So the idea that English music is somehow elevated above other music is just a myth. When you’re watching that having not watched anything for a while it’s like watching some weird German rapper; it has the same feel, everyone’s in the same boat.
ILM: Nights Out reached number 106 in the UK charts...and the album scored some high positions in 2008 end of year lists. Do you hope The English Riviera will have similar success?
Joseph: Haha! 106? Really?! Haha! Well, it would be lovely if it happened. But it’d only be nice just to go into Asda and see the album. It’d be lovely, ‘cause that’s what you probably dream of when you’re young. But if it happens, it’ll happen. There’s not pressure from me or from the label to become that kind of charting concern. But it would be a lovely thought that somehow everyone’s opinions would shift and Radio One would start playing everything....but really, it’s not a concern of mine.
ILM: What’s the vision for the future of Metronomy?
Joseph: I guess now, ‘cause the album’s out, there’s not much time for much else. But I’m quite excited to do another record in the studio. It’s funny I suppose – when you start touring stuff your mind drifts. I’m so excited about the potential for the next thing that I would quite like to get back in and do another record as soon as possible really. In fact, end of this month, in a couple of weeks I’m doing a week in the studio, so there you go! Just to get back into it really. I’m getting the impression from doing these things that there’s people still interested, which is so nice. I'm lucky to be in a band that people are interested in. Well, relatively interested, I don’t know. So yeah, I’ll just capitalise on that, whilst people still give a shit. Try to make a bit more music.
Guest Edit #34: Metronomy Take a look here