Summer 17: Metronomy Interviewed
We chat to Metronomy's Joseph Mount about latest album Summer 08, working with Robyn and Mix Master Mike, and not touring as we interrupt rehearsals ahead of their, um, upcoming tour dates
Originally formed by Joseph Mount in 1999, it’s hard to believe Metronomy have been active for almost 20 years – at 18, the band itself is now old enough to drink. However, they didn’t release their debut album Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe Me) until 2006, and it wasn’t until the release of 2008’s Nights Out when they really came into their own.
In the same year, they toured the album, playing an intimate 250-capacity show at Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire – Two Door Cinema Club were the tour support – and the whole night was bloody brilliant. Metronomy played as a three-piece, Mount accompanied by Oscar Cash, who still plays in the band now, and ex-bandmate Gabriel Stebbing. They wore all black, had Iron Man-esque IKEA touch lamps mounted to their chests, and did ridiculous dance moves. Postcards of the local area were on their rider. It was fun. There was no pressure.
Since their 2006 debut, the path leading to 2014’s Love Letters (via Nights Out and 2011’s The English Riviera) felt like a very natural stream of consciousness, but 2016’s Summer 08 saw Mount almost take a step back to “the good old days.” As he puts it: “I suppose it was the first record that I’d done after having children and finding the time to make music had become a different type of thing. I wanted to basically just make a very thoughtless record.
“It wasn’t exactly how I used to make music but [I was] definitely trying to have the same attitude I did when I was 22, consciously trying to put myself in the same position I was in then." The result was an album reminiscent of the band's 2008 breakthrough: "It’s quite a difficult thing to do, but I wanted to make something very relaxed, and I think that’s what the sound of Nights Out is – just me not really thinking much about it.”
Summer 08 was the first Metronomy record since Pip Paine... to be recorded without any contribution from Mount’s bandmates. “Part of the reason why I did it in the way that I did,” he explains, "[is that] English Riviera and Love Letters; the processes of recording each one were quite thoughtful. So in a way Summer 08 was the first record that I did without wanting to learn anything, it was just very simple – 'this is the song, this is how it should sound. Do it'.
“It was done in a studio with Ash [Workman], the same engineer who’s done the last three albums now, but I guess it’s really subtle differences; subtle changes in approach that can end up making quite big differences. I did demos at home and then I just took what I liked. I didn’t redo them for the sake of it. It was a very self-proficient process. It’s those little things which just take away a level of self-analysis.”
The fifth Metronomy record was also the first since Pip Paine… to feature a guest vocalist – so how did Robyn end up on Hang Me Out To Dry? “I’ve known her for three or four years and we’ve been writing together for her music, and then it got to the point of that song and I wanted to have a female vocal on it.
“I was thinking about people I could ask, and although she was the most accessible for me, and probably the most famous, I just didn’t really think about it. Then in the end I was like ‘of course, I should just ask her’ and she was happy to do it. Once we’d done it I was like ‘Oh god! It should’ve always been her.' I don’t know why I didn’t immediately think of her.”
Mix Master Mike, aka the Beastie Boys’ DJ, also features on the album, popping up for scratch duty towards the end of lead single Old Skool. “When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the Beastie Boys, and obsessed with him, and I wanted there to be scratching on the song. I just thought ‘Ah, well fuck it let’s just see what he says’ so it was lucky really – I’ve still not met him, it was all done over the internet – the teenage me was very happy about it.
For Summer 08, Metronomy chose not to follow the usual template for putting out a new record: release album, tour album. In this day and age, touring in a way is a band’s bread and butter so not touring Summer 08 was a risk, and Mount admits it “was kind of a self-indulgent thing.” He goes on to tell us “the main [reason] was that I wanted to release the record but I wanted to spend a decent amount of time with my family. I’ve got two quite young children so I didn’t want to just disappear, but I wanted to keep working.”
The other reason, Mount emphatically tells us, is “the music world has changed insanely since I started being involved in it and there’s always this pressure to release records and tour records, and to do it in this tried and tested way, and I guess I just felt like ‘Do you have to tour a record with that intensity, is it something that you have to do?’ Or is it something that a record label has to get you to do for them to have success for the record?
“I was just thinking, 'Well I wonder how important it is really' and I guess now I’ve learned...” he pauses, concluding through laughter, “...how important it is. I guess what you learn is that while the music industry is still changing, the world of press still operates [but] they need a reason to write about you, and if you’re not touring, the press slows up much quicker because there’s not this continued presence, but in a way that’s what I wanted.
“When you do release a record and you tour it, you feel saturated a bit, or you feel a bit too omnipresent. So now when we come back in May – and then we’re doing these festivals – I think we will be genuinely refreshing rather than tired and ubiquitous.”
It’s been almost two years since the Metronomy bus has been on the road and beyond their very brief four-date UK tour this May, summer ’17 is looking good for the four-piece. But what can we expect from their upcoming live shows? Will the staging be as elaborate as when they toured Love Letters, which saw a more refined, retro look from the band, all members dressed from head-to-toe in white? Or will it reflect the more laid-back processes of Summer 08?
“It’s going to have an equally strong aesthetic [as Love Letters], but part of the aesthetic is that it’s supposed to look relaxed,” Mount explains. “It’s always, for us, as important as anything else – I think the way that you present yourself gives so many people a subconscious, or incredibly obvious, intention, and I think to set up the mood, or to help set up people’s expectations of how a show’s going to be [is] incredibly important.
“It’s the first time that we’ll have played a show [together] for almost two years so we’re genuinely going to be very excited and happy to be doing it again, so I think fans can expect to have a really good time,” he laughs, “and I’m hoping we’ll be able to play a few new songs as well so there’s that to look forward to.”
What about the classics? Will you play Radio Ladio? “Oh yeah yeah, it’s going to be a greatest hits kind of set,” he says excitedly.
Do you still request postcards on your rider? “Yeah, we’ve still got postcards on there,” he tells us, “but the interesting thing we try and get is socks, because it’s quite nice to have some fresh socks. And then the best addition was scratch cards.”
Have you won anything yet? “Yeah, I think the most is a tenner, but the dream is to win half a million then cancel the gig,” he laughs mischievously, “that’s the dream!” After a couple of years out of the live limelight, let’s hope they don’t win big this summer.