Interview: Metronomy

Electro adventurers Metronomy have a shiny new record to show off and head out on their biggest tour to date this month. Frontman Joseph Mount tells us why it’ll be a bit like the Royal Variety Performance…

“After the last record and talking about it in terms of a concept, I kind of didn’t want to do that again,” says Joseph Mount, discussing the band’s new and fourth album, Love Letters. “So there is a bit of a feel, it’s about distance and communicating at a distance, but there’s nothing much more to the name than that Love Letters is quite a nice title and nicely summarises some of the songs and feelings on the album.”

That “last record” in question was the band’s third, 2011’s gold-selling, Mercury-nominated The English Riviera, which was set around reimagining the place where the Metronomy main man grew up, Totnes in Devon. Released on influential French label Because Music, the artwork paid homage to Surrey-born graphic designer John Gorham who had created the iconic palm tree motif to promote the South Devon coastline in 1982, and the sounds within the grooves explored a sun-drenched narrative delivered in a quintessentially English channel (no pun intended), set against sounds with an altogether wider feel. It, in itself, was a work of art.

Fundamentally the brainchild of Mount, Metronomy the concept was born in 1999 in Devon. Relocating to Brighton and joined for live performances by bassist Gabriel Stebbing and Oscar Cash on keys, they accrued modest success through their first two records before Stebbing moved to Liverpool with his girlfriend (“It’s all very amicable and he’s assured me he doesn’t think he’s fleeing a sinking ship,” Joe wrote on the band’s Myspace page at the time). The band’s current guise with Anna Prior on drums and Olugbenga Adelekan on bass took shape surrounding the third record. Having built a name for creating forward-thinking electronic music which follows no blueprint, the back catalogue is awash with intriguing and voyeuristic instrumentals, moments of stripped bare taciturn beauty and electronic pop explorations which venture into disco so catchy it’s no wonder their forthcoming tour calls into some of the biggest venues they’ve ever played. Putting it bluntly, in a time where it’s nigh on impossible to create anything even vaguely unique-sounding, Metronomy have continued to evolve and currently stand almost alone in their impressive singularity.

The band released I’m Aquarius, the first single from Love Letters and a slinky lament to incompatibility, via The Night Sky App in which fans were invited to hold their phones up to the Aquarius constellation to download it. Dismissed by some as a tad pretentious, it was still a novel exploration of the technology of the release.

“I didn’t want the release to happen in any particular way,” explains Joe, “but when we knew that I’m Aquarius was going to be the first single, the label asked us what we thought about releasing it on this app where people had to find it in the sky. I thought it was funny and when else are you going to be able to do that kind of thing? When is anyone else going to be able to do that kind of thing – surely we’ve exhausted the only opportunity? I didn’t really think much about it but people see it in the wider context of how bands are releasing music these days. Really I just thought it was a funny idea. If you’re cynical, you see it as a slightly desperate way to get people interested in what you’re doing, but if you’re not, it’s just a bit of fun.”

Love Letters was recorded at Liam Watson’s analogue Toe Rag studio. Celebrated for their digital explorations, it was an interesting move for a band like Metronomy. “It wasn’t because I don’t like digital things or anything like that,” Joe says, “but I had a deadline – my girlfriend was expecting our first child. The problem with doing stuff digitally is that you can muck around with it forever and I really needed the opposite of that – I needed to be focussed and to finish the record. If you record in an analogue way, you have to be very prepared and make sure that when it comes to recording the four minutes of the song, you know exactly what’s going on. It was more to make me write stuff a bit differently than for any other reason.”

The title single from the record is an Abba disco stomp. It also has a wonderful accompanying video for which the band worked with French film director, producer and video maker Michel Gondry. Responsible for iconic music videos including Daft Punk’s Around the World, The White Stripes’ Fell in Love With a Girl and multiple Bjork masterpieces, it was filmed in a single take (of which they did about 12) and sees the band once again dabbling with impressively creative visuals.

Ostensibly, Metronomy always have been and are today, fundamentally, Joseph Mount. Irrespective of whatever it says on paper, the rest of the band do not give interviews and play on less than 10 per cent of the new record – Metronomy is Joseph Mount’s futuristic and maverick machine. That said, keyboardist Oscar Cash is Mount’s long term musical collaborator and each player has contributed more this time around than last. “I started playing in bands and I love bands. I love the idea of it and I love what they are,” Joe said in a recent interview with NME and, live, they’ve all become pretty integral to the Metronomy aesthetic.

The release of the Love Letters album is accompanied by a European tour, a “greatest hits kind of thing” during which the band will also be modulating their live performance. Throughout their various infancies and even alongside The English Riviera, the band performed adorned with electronics and flashing LED lights. Never ones to stand still, this time around they’re experimenting more with live instrumentation and leaving the illuminations on their bedside tables. “We have a new stage set, we’re trying to make it a bit more…” Joe begins. “At Christmas there were a lot of programmes on about the Royal Variety Performance and I really like those kind of set ups where it looks a bit like TV, so I think we’re going to try and be a bit classic!”

And so what’s in store in Birmingham?

“I’ve been to Birmingham a few times but – I’ve never had a night out there because every time I’ve been recently it’s been playing gigs. We’ve always had fun though, because all those venues that we’ve played have been around the Digbeth area. I’ve walked to the Bullring and I went to meet my cousin in The Irish Centre. I always enjoy the gigs in Birmingham but the one thing I’m missing is a proper Birmingham experience…”

Any offers anyone?

Metronomy are live at The Institute, Birmingham, on March 21. Their new album Love Letters is out now.

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