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Metronomy: I was desperately trying to make something that felt like the summer

Metronomy: I was desperately trying to make something that felt like the summer
Photo By Gregoire Alexandre

The U.K. electro-pop outfit Metronomy has already charmed much of the music world. Their sun-drenched ode to a leisurely life, The English Riviera, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2011. Those shimmering numbers -- along with an impressive array of popular remixes by founder Joseph Mount -- helped the group make quite a name for themselves within their native England and well beyond.

Metronomy are back with a new album, Love Letters, and return to Minneapolis for the first time since the band's highly enjoyable dance party in the Entry in 2012. Ahead of their show at First Avenue tonight, we had an amiable chat with Mount from a tour stop in Lille, France, where he shared how the new songs came together initially, what it was like recording in London's legendary Toe Rag Studios, and what first led the band to wear LED lights while performing on stage and why they have given that up on their current tour.

Gimme Noise: You recorded Love Letters at Toe Rag Studios. What was that experience like, and how did that opportunity present itself?

Joseph Mount: Quite early on, when I was thinking about this record, I decided that I wanted to do something in an analog studio. I've always felt that I've been very reliant on computers for recording and making music, and I felt that it would be nice to get away from that. I imagined the sense of achievement that I would get from recording onto tape would be different than how it felt before. I knew that it would change how I was writing the songs, and it would change how I would approach everything.

I just thought it would be interesting, really -- and it WAS interesting [laughs]. I think nowadays, in every kind of creative endeavor, computers are now really vital. And, of course, all of these things used to happen before computers. So, I just wanted to experience what it was like for, like, my granddad. He never recorded an album, but if he had, he would've used a tape.

How did the surroundings, the setup, and the studio itself influence the sound of the new record?

The studio is really one guy's homage to the old-time studios, so the most modern piece of technology in there is like a CD-burner. I found it really calming, and you have to be very methodical when you're working there. The whole pace of the recording process slows down, and it gives you more time to really listen. I think you can definitely hear the studio on this record, and you can hear how I used the studio on this record.

Yeah, the new songs really have this spacious, unhurried quality to them. They slowly reveal their charms to the listener.

Well, thank you very much!

How did the songs on Love Letters come together initially? Do they start as your own sketches and evolve from there with the help of the band?

I'm still quite a solitary songwriter. And with this record, I made myself sit down with a guitar or a keyboard, and try and write them in that type of way, and demo them in a very simple way. There were tracks on the album that were really fully formed demos that I brought with me into the studio, then others -- like "The Most Immaculate Haircut" -- that we rehearsed quite a bit as a band leading up to recording. But yeah, there's all kinds of different approaches, and a whole lot more was recorded than obviously ended up on the record. So, there were lots of different things that we tried.

Did you produce all of the new record as well?

Yeah, I worked with a guy called Ash Workman, and he also worked on the previous Metronomy album, The English Riviera. I think, with this record, because Toe Rag is such a kind of technical nightmare for someone that doesn't really know what's going on, Ash had more of a production role than he did on the previous album because of that technical skill that he has that I don't possess.

Your songs are quite evocative of both specific places and times -- is that a goal for you as a songwriter to capture and describe these fleeting moments or feelings before they fade from memory?

If you look at it really broadly, I think there are two types of songwriters and musicians -- You get people who are more lured toward the technical, mechanical side of music, then there are people who are more focused on the feel and the atmosphere of songs. And I definitely am more inclined to make songs that have some kind of resonance with people, in terms of where they are and where they are at. And I try and write songs that reflect where I am in the same way.

With The English Riviera, for me as a listener, it just had this sense of being on a long holiday. It conjured up images of vacation and leisurely holidays. Was that your intention with that record at all?

I was desperately trying to make something that felt like the summer, so yeah, I guess just like a holiday. With that record, I was talking about the English Riviera, which is a part of England where I grew up. And it's a part of the world that I strangely associate with sunshine and good times, which is I guess what all holidays should be like in a way.

 

On the new record, there is a nice balance between melancholy and happiness layered throughout the songs -- which fits in perfectly with the Love Letters theme. Did you set out to write an album that focuses on both sides of love and relationships -- the light and the dark?

It's always funny when you make a record, because there's so many plans that you take in to the studio with you. But ultimately, it's the music and the songs that loosely dictate where the album goes. I had a whole bunch of songs, and in the end, the ones that worked best together were the songs that kind of lived in that same place. And I think, they are probably the ones about relationships that you referred to. I'm in a very happy relationship, so a lot of the songs aren't necessarily about me in the end.

Let's go back to the group's early days. How and when did Metronomy first evolve from your own bedroom music project to a full-fledged band?

Around 2005, I think. We had our very first show around then. That's when our very first album came out called Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), and at that point, there were three of us. And I don't think I really knew what was going to happen. So, we started in a pretty lighthearted way, and from that point on, until Anna [Prior, drums] and Gbenga [Adelekan, bass] joined the group in 2010, I think -- At that point the venues were getting bigger and I felt that we should all starting taking things a bit more seriously [laughs]. So, from that point on, it's become a full-fledged band, until now, which is the most fully-fledged band that it has ever been.

Why did you first bring in the LED lights that you wore on your chests during your live shows?

We started that when we first started playing back in 2005, because we used a lot of backing tracks and stuff, so it felt like we needed to do something to liven things up. I've always liked bands that have a visual performance side to what they do, so that was our small way of trying to do that. Then that kind of stayed with us for quite a long time. Now, we don't have the lights on our chests. We've got a more specific stage set with professional lighting and all that. So, the focus has now shifted away from our chests, which is a good thing. The performance and the live show is now what we're focused on -- we want to put on a show, and if people are paying money to come and see us, it's only right that we put on a great show, or a good show, or a fantastic show [laughs].

We're all really excited that you're playing Minneapolis. That Entry show a few years back was great -- a nonstop dance party that was one of my favorite shows of the year.

Thanks! Yeah, some of the best times on our American trips have been up in Minneapolis. It's a great city. The last time we were there, we ended up at this place -- I can never remember the name of it -- like a strange karaoke piano bar.

Oh yeah -- Nye's.

That sounds good. What's it called? Nye's? Yeah, I just remember that there was this old piano man doing karaoke. We had a great time there -- we'll have to go back. And we're looking forward to playing for you guys again.

So, the afterparty is going to be at Nye's, then?

[Laughs] Yeah, we already know.

Metronomy play First Avenue on Thursday, May 22, with Cloud Control. Doors for this 18+ show open at 8, and tickets are $16 advance/$18 at the door.

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