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October 12, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Metronomy—Interview

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Music released and performed under the name Metronomy often defies conventional explanation: breaking down the barriers between electro and guitar-based indie, solo effort and group project, energetic, upbeat tunes and introspective, melancholic arrangements, often meshing all these and more into a single song. Salienteer Ryan Eyers relaxed in the rare dose of sun (which would prove a great omen for their show later that night) that drenched the SFBH deck with Metronomy’s Joseph Mount and Oscar Cash on the afternoon of their show to talk about the composition process, the otherworldly nature of electronic music, the importance of live performance and the confusing motivations for creating music.

Salient: Being based mostly on computers and keyboards, how does the composition process work for you?

Joseph Mount: There’s not really much of a process… You just kind of muck around and see what happens, although for the next record I’m going to try and demo some things. It’s mostly about mucking around and enjoying spending time working on it.

S: I read that you started off as a drummer in various bands before you “realised you knew a bit more about melody” than you thought. Do you feel that coming from a drumming/rhythmic background changes the way you write stuff?

JM: Kind of… I used to do really complicated beats when I first started, but over the years they’ve become ridiculously simple! But yeah, I think the way it gives you a feel for the song really helps, it’s a good place to start.

S: Most of the music is composed and recorded by you Joseph, and then Oscar, you and the others help him perform it live. How much of an influence do you have on the writing/recording process?

Oscar Cash: I’m just the critic really! Joe will play me things and we’ll talk about them.

S: Do you write parts with them in mind?

JM: Yeah, definitely more now than before, with the new line-up with the live drums and stuff. But I suppose the thing with Metronomy is that it is still my songs… But working with people is so much more fun than I remember it to be back in the day. So I think I’d really like to, I’d love to do things with other people, but I think it’s nice to keep Metronomy, for the time being at least, as my kind of thing really.

S: You sort of straddle the boundary between solo and group project at times, don’t you?

JM: Well yeah, it’s weird because recording is one thing and then touring is another, and we’ve spent so much time touring… So I think it can still be a band thing. It’s not just like they’re session musicians, with the live performance they’re much more involved with the process.

S:Is it then difficult to translate that to a stage where it is able to be performed live?

JM: Oscar’s quite good at that. He picks the best bits!

OC: Yeah, I’d like to think I get first dibs! I suppose, when at the start of the year, when we changed the line-up to four and ditched the backing track, it wasn’t the easiest thing to translate. You can never make it the same as on the record.

S: There’s just so much stuff to bring across, isn’t there?

OC: Yeah, it’s funny because we used to use backing tracks loads, and we’ve just done the Parklife Festival in Australia, and the amount of bands using backing tracks, it was pretty much all of them, except maybe The Rapture… So I’m really happy that we’ve been a part of that and now we’ve gone the other way, like now the drummer doesn’t need a click, etc… And it means that you can’t necessarily carry everything across from the record, because you don’t have enough hands, but I think it’s a much more challenging thing to do than to just run a backing track.

S: So you don’t use them at all now?

JM: No, but it’s not like we’re saying we’re better than that or anything… But the amounts of stories you hear of bands’ backing tracks screwing up… and our computer isn’t the most stable thing in the world, but it’s nice now that we aren’t tied to one so much. And it’s really cool that it’s given our songs a different feel to them now that they are totally live.

S: On Pip Paine especially, it feels like you are going through stages of wild experimentation and exploration, just seeing what you can come up with, while on Nights Out it seems a little more structured and focused. Is there anything you are or were trying to achieve with those albums musically?

JM: Well on the first one, nothing, really! (Laughs) It was just stuff that I’d done and then put together. I was listening to tracks from that record and it’s weird because in the gap in between the two, some people seem to see it as a kind of rebranding or something… but it’s really not. I mean, on the first one it’s all about trying stuff out and getting to know how to do things, and with Nights Out it’s more like “You get a proper record deal, you want to make a proper record,” and you want it to be a concise thing where people understand it as a record. And I think it went down well with people because of that.

S: Nights Out features a lot more vocals, and because of this is more structured in a verse/chorus sort of way. Do you see your music becoming more vocally orientated?

JM: Well, I don’t know really. The only reason the first one doesn’t have vocals is because that wasn’t really what I was up to, and also I didn’t really think I could sing. And with Nights Out it was like I thought I’d give it a go. And I think the fact that people seem to really like the first one and maybe not the second, or really like the second and not the first or whatever… It just means that you can kinda do what you like in a way, and the most important thing for me really is to put as much wide-ranging stuff out there so you can’t really upset anyone. But if you do something like, if I started rapping… I might start rapping!

S: Your music has a bit of a synthetic feel at times, due to the instruments and technology it is composed on, yet retains a visceral and emotive sound to it as well. Do you find that there are challenges to your music being based on electronics and it still expressing what you want to fully?

JM: I think, me and Oscar both, in our own pieces, use a lot of old Yamaha keyboards or whatever, and I think in those sorts of instruments you can find a lot more emotional stuff than you’d think in a way. I mean when you think of all the electronic music that’s ever been, some of the most emotional songs are the ones which have this weird, disembodied, otherworldly feel to them, and there’s this sound where you can’t quite tell what it is. And I think that can often do more than say a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar, perhaps. Except for Newton Faulkner, he nails it every time!

S: Do you think then that the endless options for sounds that electronics provides actually makes it easier?

JM: Yeah! Well I think, especially the kind of music that I’ve come from, it’s a lot more electronic, and well, not ambient, but the stuff that is using those electronics, I think the strength of it is that it’s much better at creating a bit of a world which you can get lost in. There’s nothing that I like more than records which you put on and get transported. I remember growing up, certain records where you used to hear sounds, and you’d start imagining little scenarios to go along with them, and imagine certain characters.

S: There is a huge difference in tempo, feel and sound between songs on your albums, especially on Pip Paine

JM: Well especially with that record, the way it was compiled in that songs didn’t seem to flow that well, and they took you by surprise, but with Nights Out it was far more thought about in terms of how songs would flow into each other, and so I suppose it was a bit more ‘cack-handed’ on Pip Paine.

S: What sorts of feelings/thoughts are you trying to express on your albums?

JM: Well not necessarily with the first record, except on a song-by-song basis yeah, there’s a lot of teen angst in there. In fact, a large proportion of the songs on Pip Paine were written to impress girls, which was probably the main motivation there! But with Nights Out, the idea there is that it all exists in the same strange place.

S: You mentioned earlier that a lot of people think your music is really fun, which I think is definitely there, but there also seems to be an undercurrent of darkness, a sort of gleeful malice going on…

JM: Yeah, there’s a difficulty with what people take from your music. What annoys me more than anything is when people say “Oh, your music’s really funny”—that’s an annoying one, because it’s like well yeah, there are bits of humour, but it’s not novelty music.

S: You guys are known for an energetic live show complete with synchronised chest light shows and dance routines. How much do you feel that live shows should go beyond the music, that they are as much about the actual performance as the music being played?

JM: They’re getting steadily less energetic! Although now I feel like, coming from a drumming background where you’re just sitting down, to now where we’re trying to make a show isn’t really something I thought I’d spend a lot of time thinking about and doing. But I think ultimately people are coming out and paying to see you play, so I think either they want to hear exactly the same thing as the record, where you might as well just put the CD on and play along, or you’ve got to make a definite line between the two. I think if you’re going to watch a band and be entertained, that’s what you’re after, and that’s what we want to give.

OC: I think you should always be creative with whatever you do. I hate it when you really like a band and you go to their show and there’s kind of a lazy vibe to it, it seems like you should put the same effort into every aspect. That’s not to say that bands who do that are lazy, some are totally great like that.

S: You’ve toured with some pretty big names: Justice, Bloc Party, Klaxons, CSS, which has probably led you to play some pretty large venues. What kind of venue do you feel most suited to/prefer?

OC: Well we did quite a big venue in London before we came out here, and I can enjoy it now and feel like it was a bit of an achievement, but at the time it was really nervewracking. That’s not to say that we don’t care about every gig, but I suppose it’s the small ones that can be the really fun ones for a band, maybe.

JM: Yeah, like last night (Auckland) felt like a proper kind of return to… something. Because we’d just done these two really great shows in Paris and London which were pretty big, and then Parklife, and that was cool but I’m not really sure what’s going on with us in Australia, because the crowds were good but it seemed like there were a lot of people who were there because we’ve maybe become a little bit hyped there or something? So last night was brilliant because everyone was just going crazy… and I think you definitely get more of that. But in that London show we just did, when you’re suddenly playing what seems like a massive venue, you get really nervous, because you start to think “Oh my god, this is real, we can’t really faff around”…

OC: Yeah, and I think when you’re supporting people in a big venue it kind of feels a little bit like you’ve got nothing to lose… and you can hopefully just win some people over.

JM: I think the kind of small, small but energetic crowd is kind of what we like.

S: You’re a pretty prolific remixer, remixing the likes of Klaxons, Gorillaz, Franz Ferdinand, U2, Kate Nash, Goldfrapp, etc. What motivates you to remix something? How is that process different from composing your own material?

JM: Well you can relax a bit more I think, because they’re someone else’s songs, and you don’t have an emotional connection as much. They’re a really good way of testing out ideas. But the motivation, at least in the first place with the first few I did was just money, really. We were touring and didn’t have any money and they basically supported us. So I think as time goes on the motivation becomes a bit less, because after you’ve done a whole load you realise that after you do them and you give them to the (respective) people, and that’s the last you see of your creative effort. So I think now I prefer to do less, I haven’t done any for a long time, because I like to hold on to the ideas.

S: I guess as well as the money aspect early on, they were also good at getting your name out there?

JM: Yeah! And I think with all of them I did make a proper effort doing them, as opposed to the way a lot of remixes are just banged out, and so I think they’ve been great for my own music. The more effort you put in the more you get out, really.

S: Why do you make music? Is there any particular motivation?

JM: I was talking to someone about this the other day, and they said “How long do you think you’ll be doing this for?” And I was like “Woah, I haven’t really thought about this, that’s a bit of a heavy question!” But I think probably you do it because you love it, in the first place, and then I think after that your reasons for doing it became more confused. I think I definitely do it for myself, it’s kind of the only thing in my life where I’m good at expressing myself. It’s kind of the best thing out there where you’re doing some kind of ‘self-therapy’. And I don’t think there’s anything out there that any of us (Metronomy) do in a way that that’s of a similar equivalent. But then after that you get more confused about why you’re doing it anyway, because it’s an incredibly selfish pursuit! But then you come out to places like here, like Australia and New Zealand, and you play to people who are really into it, and love it, you kind of feel like you’re responsible for these people now as well, and that’s kind of an incredible situation.

S: Is there a particular audience you aim for?

JM: You mean like an age group? Girls in their late teens. (Laughs) It’s funny because I think when I started out I wanted to be liked by people who were into intelligent dance music, and then when we started touring, we found out that the type of fans we have, they’re different everywhere. And I mean we courted the scenesters for a while, but then we found out the people who stuck with it, they seemed really nice and genuine people. But I mean, whoever likes it is definitely welcome to it!

OC: Yeah, it’s strange, because we’ve had mothers and daughters travelling hundreds of miles to see us!

S: This is your second visit to New Zealand this year, after being here in January with Teenagers, we are very grateful for that! Is there anything in particular that makes you keep coming back?

J: From what I’ve gathered it’s pretty unusual for you to get two trips in a year. Shortly after we came down here the first time we were offered the Parklife festival in Australia, and so luckily we’re kind of wanted around here! But I mean coming to New Zealand is great, in Auckland last night it was fucking great! But there are these little parts around the world where we’ve had unexpected success, and we’ll try and make the effort to come back to them as often as possible, as long as we’re wanted. Coming back here twice in a year, to New Zealand, is great, and the people here are so much more grateful that you’ve come this far than say, those in Europe.

S: Top 5 albums for a desert album?

JM: Five albums? Wow, I would choose… I dunno, probably some standards. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Which Beatles record is ‘This Boy’ on? I think it’s Please Please Me

OC: I dunno, I like the red one.

JM: I’d take probably Outkast, The Love Below. I’d leave Speakerboxx.

OC: Poor old Big Boi!

JM: Hmm, and then I guess a soundtrack or something. The Christmas album that we wrote together, with some Christmas Carols on it, it’s quite good actually.

OC: Definitely, because you still want to celebrate Christmas on a desert island!

JM: Okay, so we’ve got Pet Sounds, Please Please Me, The Love Below, mine and Oscar’s Christmas album, and a fifth one? Which one do you want, Oscar?

OC: Maybe ‘Songs in the Key of Life’….Stevie Wonder, I quite like it. But I don’t like all of it! No….hmmm.

JM: Just choose one! What’s that Panic at the Disco one you like?

OM: Oh, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out? Yeah, I like that one…

JM: That’d be good, yeah, you could just slot it in!

Metronomy played the SFBH on 7 October.

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