For the Love of Pop: Metronomy's Best Year Ever Is Then, Now, and Always
The Parisian-based, English music wiz returns with 'Summer '08'—an LP that doubles up as a time machine, looking back but looking forward too. Genius or what?
Metronomy, a.k.a. Joseph Mount
Echo Park, Los Angeles. The sound of a skateboard swooshes past the parking lot of a local bookshop-cum-coffee house where the internet is shoddy and iPad-users are drowned out by real-life bookworms. Inside, a man in tennis-whites (socks included) and a red Adidas zip-up is mooching about, a British accent travels through the air, weaving between the shelves. With his mop of chocolate brown curls he looks like a cross between Manchester United forward Mark Hughes (circa 1991), and the character of tech start-up mogul Erlich Bachman in Silicon Valley; one of his Lacoste trainers in the past, the other in the future. Nipping over to the States from his current French domicile, it's Joseph Mount—the brainiac behind Metronomy. “Hello,” he says, sunglasses still on. “Today was supposed to be my day off…”
Although he's lived in France for the past seven years with his girlfriend (and their two sons), Mount originally hails from Devon in the UK, a place that's birthed many brilliant individuals, including Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Agatha Christie of Poirot, even Sir Francis Drake of Proper Historical Things. (I've left Matt Bellamy off this list because, in spite of my own reckless affinity with Muse. I understand their brand of “brilliant” is beyond the stomach of many of you internet warriors.) Shamefully, Mount is not yet on the Wikipedia list of “notable” Devonians, but he absolutely should be. As Mike Skinner of The Streets once rapped: “You won't find us on Alta Vista / Cult classic not bestseller.” This seems to be Mount's destiny, too.
This thirty-something’s been intrinsic in taking our best musical artefacts (Bowie disco, Prince funk, even Autechre's IDM—that's Intelligent Dance Music for anyone born post-Deadmau5), then putting a fresh razzle-dazzle on it. “Has the flat white made it over to LA yet?” he asks, taking a seat in the unbearable heat of the city's East side. Today he has to settle for the old-fashioned cappuccino, but when it comes to Metronomy—and his fresh off the presses fifth record Summer '08—he's gone wild, believing this to be the most fun he's had in the studio in ages. Beyond the fun, Summer '08 is also a geometric beast (circles, really), as he's involved the great Bob Clearmountain for mixing andpost-production (his resumé includes Bowie, Tears For Fears, and Toto!), not to mention former Beastie Boy and turntablist Mix Master Mike on lead single “Old Skool.” “These are the people who have influenced me. What Bob does has rubbed off on me over the years. So I'm trying to make a connection, join the dots up and give something back to him,” he says, with maximum “Circle Of Life/Nants ingonyama!”) vibes.
The other circle loops around Metronomy's own history. Metronomy are a four-piece, yes, but every album always starts in the mind of Mount, who's a producer first, an encyclopaedia of discography in human form second, and a frontman third. The '08 in Summer '08 is a throwback to their 2008 album Nights Out, which pre-dates their most critically lauded LP The English Riviera. The record that boasts their all-conquering summer choon “The Bay” complete with that genius, Guy Bourdin-homage of a video (26 million views and rising). Nights Out was the collection that set British scenesters' tongues wagging during an era of new rave (Klaxons, New Young Pony Club, MGMT), landfill indie (The Enemy, The Kooks), sexy-ish muso-academics (Vampire Weekend, Foals), and a debut from someone called Lady Gaga.
“The chip I had on my shoulder was that I thought other people thought we were the also-rans of the time,” he says. “We were always mentioned a few paragraphs away from something buzzy. Sometimes I felt like we were piggy-backing, other times I felt grateful. I wanted people to take me seriously, to realize that this would be going on for longer than whatever they imagined Metronomy was a part of.” Indeed Mount was making music as in this guise when he was still a student living in Brighton by the sea.
In 2014 Metronomy released Love Letters, with a focus on “proper songwriting” and lyrics, not to mention sleek stage attire. Is there a sense of self-satisfaction that comes with out-living many of those early peers? Joe laughs: “There would have been a point where I felt smug. You wish everybody well unless they're shit! There are certain bands who were always, always shit.”
Care to name names? “I could probably name a name, couldn't I? OK, The Holloways!” The Holloways are long since deceased, ever made it Stateside, thank Camden. However, there are still graduates of 2008, going strong like James Righton of Klaxons with his solo project Shock Machine. “I see [bassist] Jamie Reynolds still, he's the Klaxon I'd say I'm closest to, and James [Righton] would be the second,” says Mount. “James has been lucky enough to get a record deal again. I'm not saying it's because of his wife [hello Keira Knightley] but I feel bad for Jamie. He's yet to find something.”
Leaving the past behind, let's fast-forward to April 2015. Mount has just become a dad for the second time, and Love Letters has taken them around the festivals again. With a two-week window, he decides to book a studio outside Paris and start doing what he loves to do most: invent kitsch-y electronica. He describes his overriding feeling at the time as simply “psyched.” The studio, however, threw a spanner in the experimental works: turns out the space wasn’t exactly child-friendly. “They had these two massive dogs, my boys were terrified of them so… Stockport.” Huh? Metronomy anchored itself just outside of Manchester in Stockport, which while you're scratching your head is actually home to Strawberry Studios, part-owned by 10cc, and used by Joy Division, Stone Roses, The Smiths, even Paul McCartney.
But that's not the studio Mount chose as his recording HQ. “We were in this old vicarage, which has since been turned into a studio,” he explains. “Really, it was cool—a bit student accommodation-y/youth hostel-y, but cool. In England, everything's so London-centric and it's expensive to record there. Not that I went to Stockport because it was cheap!”
Point taken, though. Mount would like to think there are future opportunities for musicians to get the tools they need in regions outside of the Big Smoke, so that Britain can continue to represent its nuanced styles. “Like in America with the New York cost of living, you're not going to find young creative people there because they can't afford it, which is why LA has become exciting.” So different cities actually have a fighting chance? “Basically,” Joe concludes, “you're an idiot to move to London now.”
Beyond the cost of studios, Mount has further observations to share about the problems surrounding today's music industry. There's a business model (read: death sentence) that sees too many signed artists accepting a financial pressure to tour a record for two-and-a-half years at a time. Mount, on the other hand, has no intention of touring Summer 08 at all, preferring to just relish the process of making the album, which is his favorite part anyway. “Look if I'd have had to organize everyone else [the rest of the band] to do this record after tour it would have been a nightmare. We all have stuff going on. So selfishly I went ahead and did it myself.”
I wonder why he thinks other bands aren't taking a similar stance. “It's curious,” he notes. “In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the record industry had everyone by the balls and you had to buy CDs. That wasn't good either, but at least you could release a record every year. Now it's one every three years. As a musician, you're aware you want some kind of legacy. Ultimately if you're successful for 10 years and you only managed to put out three records that doesn't look very good, does it!” Joe likes to discuss this when he hangs out with old pal, guitarist Nick McCarthy, who told him: “It's been 15 years of Franz Ferdinand and we've released four fucking records!”
“It's true,” says Mount. “Franz Ferdinand should have seven albums by now.”
Given Summer '08 is such a dancefloor treat, it's somewhat sad that Metronomy won't be taking it to the spaces it was intended to fill. Given the reported decline of clubs in the UK, you can't guarantee that DJs will be spinning it either. In 2008, Metronomy saw Rome fall with their own eyes, playing the likes of London's Turnmills and Fabric during the descent of these mega-clubs. Suddenly promoters were booking bands to get people in again. “I remember playing Fabric at 2 AM thinking 'What the fuck is going on?' People were dancing like crazy and the music stopped and they'd just be looking around!” Formerly a DJ back in his university days in Brighton, Mount's not crying over it. “There are all kinds of problems with clubs: They're expensive once you're in, young people aren't as into E, so if they go to a club there needs to be something to keep them there. It's a shame to think they're suffering but I'm not surprised.”
Joseph Mount in 2008
Nevertheless, the dance-ier moves of Metronomy's pre-English Riviera days was the vibe Mount wanted to return to. Where Clearmountain and Mix Master Mike were relationships struck up via the internet, the one with Robyn who sings on Mount's favorite track “Hang Me Out to Dry” involved a face-to-face encounter with the Swedish Pop Queen. Despite recognizing that Robyn is responsible for “everything from Taylor Swift to Katy Perry” Mount had no qualms about playing producer. “Oh I told her what to do!” he says. “We've become friends. She's wicked. Such a confident pop singer, in control of her image, making music that's technical and futuristic. What an institution! A very small one at that, but culturally very significant in terms of, well, all pop music in the past 20 years.” Following the circular theme, it's worth noting she had her break courtesy of producer hero Max Martin on “Show Me Love” back in the bubblegum pop 90s. “Totally, and he's in charge of pop music now! How interesting.”
Summer 08 takes the 'R.A.M'-era disco of Daft Punk, Sebastien Tellier (on “Back Together”), Talking Heads, Bowie, even OutKast and Anglicizes it. On “16 Beat”—a jazzy drums mix with wonky Yamaha chords— Mount, ever the geek, sings about a lover with the same affection he has for that particular drumbeat. On the melancholic, bass-driven “Night Owl” there’s the lyric “And on the breakfast shows / All the FM radio hosts keep playing 'Paparazzi'.” Is it a Lady Gaga diss, considering “Paparazzi” was an inescapable ’08 earworm?
“It's not meant as a diss. Is it rude? I can't even remember the lyrics! Please note: this is not a thoughtful record,” says Mount, quick to impress that's he doesn't think there's anything wrong with today's pop music. In fact, it's quite the opposite. “I can only be honest. When people talk to me they want me to be interesting, but if you ask me what I think I'll say that I love that Justin Bieber song ‘Sorry.' Isn't it funny how that's mainstream pop? The bedroom producers of 2008 [Skrillex, Diplo, James Blake] are now in charge—along with Max Martin.”
Mount insists there's really little intention behind the exoticism of esoteric bangers like “Miami Logic” and “Back Together,” or the warped comedown of 'Mick Slow,' “I always leave words till late in the day and think, 'Shit I don't know what to sing about!' I get very jealous of people who are able to write such…” he flicks through for a fitting example to pull from his catalogue-like brain. “To have a song with a chorus like 'Who Let The Dogs Out,' right? It's such a brilliant idea! I could never sit down and write something like that. I'd like to try and re-write 'Who Let The Dogs Out.'”
And speaking of blasts from the past, Mount's here in Southern California to shoot their next music video in Palm Desert. “It's with Mr Oizo,” he says. Sadly, Flat Eric is not involved. Having made many records inspired by geographical locations, Mount says that a mad Hunter S. Thompson-like California adventure record is not beyond the realms of possibility—“If ever I got to the point when I was super wealthy!” Old British chart rivals Alex Turner and Miles Kane of The Last Shadow Puppets have made the ex-pat transition, I suggest. “They don't have any children though, do they?” he adds. “Not that we know of! Wa-hey!”
Ever the European, we meet the week before the Referendum; we talk in a world pre-Brexit devastation. “I don't feel that engaged with it all,” says Mount. “Some people were trying to get in touch with me to ask me about the impact it has upon a musician. I don't even need to think about it as a musician. The only voices you hear about wanting to leave are those of bigots and racists. So my reason for wanting to stay is because I haven't heard a decent reason to not to. Every single argument ends with someone talking about immigration. For fuck's sake. I don't want to be aligned to such a basic idiotic reason.”
Every time Metronomy release a record, Mount typically says it'll be the last, and you really hope it won't be. “To be honest, the nice thing about doing Metronomy is how surprised I am every time I finish a record as to how much immediate enthusiasm I have to do another one,” he admits. Phew! “People are putting out very thoughtful records at the moment, they're not carefree records. As luck would have it this really isn't a thoughtful album at all.” During a time when the world seems grasped by very deep thoughts about very sincere goings-on, what's wrong with a little night music, eh?
Eve Barlow is a Scot living way over in LA and you can follow her on Twitter.