Metronomy – Interview – 2016

Metronomy aka Joseph Mount, is a former Brighton resident who went about making music on an old computer in his bedroom whilst a teenager living with his parents in the alternative living utopia that is Totnes in Devon. Seemingly without any ideas of taking his music out on the road, Metronomy has risen the ranks to become a cult star, a maker of extraordinarily bitter-sweet ‘dance’ sounds like no other.

Aided by a clamour to employ his services as a remixer he started to develop a name for himself, shaping his early love of alternative techno, electro, hip hop and new wave into a music all his own. His first album (Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe Me)), released in 2005 while Mount was living in Brighton following a stint at Brighton University, was almost entirely instrumental. But by the time of Nights Out in 2008, and partly thanks to his remixing work where he would sometimes employ his own voice in shaping these remixes, Joseph Mount had discovered his singing voice, and with a new deal with the Because label, the demand for gigging and touring had become so great that music was suddenly becoming a career, and a way of life. And, instead of being a laptop DJ act, he wanted to have a band. “I was doing some shows on my own, which were pretty crap, so I thought it would be better to get a band thing going on,” he has said. With an endearing playfulness on stage (including super cheap push-lights to wear on stage, to dressing up in funky looking suits), Metronomy have over the years gradually developed into a popular act around the globe.

Roll on 2016, and he’s about to release his fifth studio album, Summer 08, the follow-up to the Top 10 album Love Letters, and which included the title song and brilliantly inventive accompanying video, an infectious Motown-soul inspired stomp that helped to raise their profile even further.

It’s only been a couple of years since Love Letters, a relatively short period of time in between albums in this day and age. “It’s still quite a long time in life,” says Joe. “It took some persuading (his label). From an artists’ point of view, it’s simple, really. You want to make music and want to get it out as quickly as possible. The only problem is that now, for record labels, they struggle to make money from selling records, they want as much time as possible to run with it, to promote it. So, yeah, I had to convince the label. It took some convincing that it was a good idea. They, at the same time, appreciate a musician’s desire to keep moving, so I think they do well in normal times to temper the situation. In this case they took a leap of faith in the whole thing. But, it would have been the worst thing, if they had said ‘no’, let’s wait until 2017′. ‘Oh, God!’ I would be bored of it by then.”

Summer 08, whilst sounding very much like a recent Metronomy record, harks back purposefully to 2008 when the Metronomy train got out of the station and started moving briskly along. “Yeah, that was the year that we began touring properly. Immediately after releasing Nights Out I thought it would be a nice idea to do this album about that ‘lost year’, to be about the experience of being a touring group. I thought it would be a brother or a sister album to Nights Out. Now, I understand, when you’re doing music as a living, that’s how it is. But at that time it really felt like a year that had been lost to some things, which I didn’t really understand. I missed certain things that were going on at home. It was going to be a sort of feeling-sorry-for-myself kind of record. Luckily, other thoughts entered my mind. I got interested in this idea of using different studios, did some more records, and now it feels like a nice time to do this same idea I had all that time ago, but to do it with that brain and knowledge of someone eight years older. Summer 08 feels like a closure to a period of time when I was vey much in the thick of things, involved in dance music, people being young and excited. I wanted to make another record to recapture that spirit. This record is supposed to be a pure demonstration of happiness in making music, and listening to music. It’s a party record. That’s what I would like it to be.”

With two very young children now in tow, coupled with his on-going drive to make music, Mount decided to to do things a little differently, and to take some time out of touring this new album, for the time being at least. “We finished touring Love Letters in September last year and had we done a conventional release for this one it would have meant touring straight away. Gbenga (bassist) also has a young baby (Anna Prior, drummer, is apparently training to be a yoga instructor, while his long-time collaborator and cousin Oscar Cash is currently residing in Los Angeles). It just seemed like it would be the only opportunity I would get to do this. In terms of recording on my own, it’s always been the way I have worked, but this time i wanted to be even more self-sufficient. Organising four people’s calendars is way harder that just one,” he laughs.

Metronomy has always been the singular vision of Joseph Mount. 80s and 90s techno, house, electro, hip hop and alternative dance music in general have largely been the flavours he’s brought together, utilising a mix of live instrumentation (he’s a very competent multi-instrumentalist, including his first instrument, the drums), samples and loops, in creating an eclectic sound palette that veers from the melancholy to the uplifting, but always with melody at the forefront, allied to a keen ear for songcraft and arrangements, and his sometimes under-valued voice, an idiosyncratic instrument in its own right. Usually a restrained soulful falsetto.

“There’s a real mix,” says Mount of the new album. “The whole thrust of Love Letters was that it was live – what you were hearing was what was going on – this one is much more relaxed in that approach. This one is a mix of live instruments, little loops of live stuff, and other things I had done here in my house. Much more of a patchwork approach. It’s how I started. It’s a bit of a return to that way of working.”

There are though a couple of guest turns on Summer 08, with singer Robyn on ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ and scratch DJ Mixmaster Mike on ‘Old Skool’. “When I was in my teens I was very much into the idea of being a scratch DJ. He (Mixmaster Mike) was a bit of a childhood hero. That’s a big word to use, he didn’t do anything except scratch records, but I idolised him to some extent.

“I didn’t know him. I just thought this is the first time there may be some value in the name,” he laughs about the Metronomy ‘brand’, “use the name to rope someone into this. I took a chance to see if he was up for it. And luckily he was! I probably would have been a bit upset if he hadn’t; that there wasn’t this reciprocal respect.

“Robyn is someone I know. I’ve known her for a little while, been writing with her a bit. This song had a chorus which I was singing a falsetto kind of fake girl’s voice, and I just thought it deserves more than me. So, I thought why not try and get someone in to do it, someone who was going to get people interested,” he laughs. “The main reason is that she has a wonderful voice, but it also helps she is popular,” he laughs again. “That’s what I’m learning; if you pick the right people to work with it adds something, rather than detracts.”

On other songs, such as the Mick Karn (bassist with legendary new wavers Japan) influenced ‘Mick Slow’, which also, like ‘Old Skool’ and songs such as the drum machine loving ‘16 Beat’, displays his love of 80s music, Mount uses samples to make a song. “Apart from the chorus, the whole song is built around this sample of one of his bass parts. One of the great things about the 80s was the production and effects that people started using on bass guitars and electric guitars. It was quite psychedelic stuff. The sound is something I try to ape.”

But, it looks like bar the odd laptop/DJ gig, Metronomy won’t be touring this album till at least 2017, perhaps a decision aided by the fact he now has these two very young children to deal with. “One is one and a bit, the other three and a bit. One is here with me now. I am at home right now (in Paris, which he has made home for the last few years, with his French partner). He was at the creche until they called to say he was ill, so he’s here with me now. But I’m happy! Until one of them is ill…”
Jeff Hemmings