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Metronomy drive with death in their surreal new video

The English pop band head to the Californian desert in their video for ‘Night Owl’, directed by absurdist filmmaker and musician Mr. Oizo

When Metronomy first appeared in the mid-2000s, it was hard to imagine that, come 2016, they’d be one of the UK’s biggest pop bands. While today they can release Mercury Prize-nominated albums and sell out shows to crowds of 10,000, in 2008 they were still considered something of a gawky electronic group, lumped between the indie, new rave, and blog electro scenes without really fitting into any of them. “At the time I felt like no one was backing Metronomy as a band,” says Joseph Mount, Metronomy’s sole songwriter/vocalist/producer/mastermind, “I remember having a bit of a grudge: ‘Why aren’t people taking us more seriously?’ But that was a ‘younger me’ thing to worry about. I always knew that I could do more and keep going, but you can’t really stop yourself from being young.”

After releasing their breakthrough second album Nights Out in September 2008, people did start to take Metronomy more seriously – a lot more seriously – and they’ve been touring the world, writing new music, and releasing albums pretty much non-stop since then. It’s the moments immediately before this that Mount looks back on for Metronomy’s fifth album, Summer 08. Recorded with the same speed and naivety of Metronomy’s earliest records, it analyses their pre-success period through a present day perspective (Mount now has a wife and a child), trying to make sense of those strange, carefree, pre-financial crisis days while taking a critical look at his younger self.

In the surreal video for the album’s latest single “Night Owl”, Mount heads to the deserts of California and gets into fights with his bandmates and his girlfriend (played here by Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of actress Gena Rowlands and actor/cinéma vérité filmmaker John Cassavetes). It was directed by Quentin Dupieux, best known for creating Flat Eric, directing the bizarre car killer horror Rubber, and for making wonky electronic music as Mr. Oizo. “Working with Mr. Oizo taught me a lot about humility,” says Mount, with Dupieux adding glibly, “I’m not saying I’m a master, but this is a masterpiece.”

Watch the video for “Night Owl” below, and read on for a conversation with Mount when we met up recently to talk about Summer 08.

When I interviewed you a couple of years ago, you said that with Love Letters your main focus was on songwriting. This is obviously a very different record to that – did you approach it with a different mindset?

Joseph Mount: Yeah, absolutely. If you’re lucky enough to be releasing records, to have a record deal and be putting out music, you have to find the time in and amongst all that to improve. When you’re touring full-on, all the stuff that comes with the release of a record and living life, it’s quite difficult to shoehorn learning into what you’re doing. And so Love Letters was a perfectly constructed opportunity for me to get better at writing songs in a very simple way. I guess, to an extent, that I kind of got that out of my system. Even halfway through making Love Letters I knew that the next album I wanted to just to go back to doing something in a very instinctive, thoughtless way.

I’d been pitched it as being the missing link between Nights Out and The English Riviera. Which do you consider it closest to?

Joseph Mount: Probably Nights Out. That’s the spirit of how it was done. The nice thing about the way the Metronomy back catalogue is shaping up is that it’s not actually particularly linear. You can retrospectively create a missing link, and people don’t seem to mind! It wouldn’t have made any sense had it been released in between those albums, but it connects them I think.

“I wanted to just to go back to doing something in a very instinctive, thoughtless way” — Joseph Mount, Metronomy

Is the album basically a collection of memories?

Joseph Mount: They all are, you know. I think it’s something that all people who make music do – you always have these ideas, and you’d be foolish to discard them. I guess the different with this record is that I wanted the whole thing to feel like it has the same spirit as that period, so it acts more like a collection of musical memories.

I remember seeing you at things like Field Day and even Underage Festival around 2008, which doesn’t seem very long ago, and then thinking how much things have changed since then.

Joseph Mount: That’s the other thing that the album touches on, but doesn’t really make a big deal of. Even our youngest fans in 2008 – and let’s say our youngest fans were 14 years old – they’re now in their 20s. Everyone is older. Obviously we still want to attract younger fans, and we do with each record, but there’s this kind of collective acknowledgement that everyone has mellowed a little.

Are you a nostalgic person?

Joseph Mount: I used to be. I think everyone is to an extent. But after having children, you reach this point where it’s like, ‘Wow, everything has started again now.’ And me being nostalgic for a time before children does very little service to the children, you know what I mean? To think that anything was better before them is kind of absurd, really. So I get nostalgic about maybe having a bit more free time. There was a point when I was in my mid-20s, where university felt close, but getting older felt close as well. I used to think, ‘I wish I was four years younger again.’ But now I’m like, ‘Whatever, fuck it! It’s too late.’ But also, I’m very content – I’m lucky that everything’s going well, so there’s nothing to feel nostalgic about.

So how come you wanted to look back on that time?

Joseph Mount: Because it’s doing it with that in mind, acknowledging a point in my life and career that was important. But also, to think like, ‘Oh god, all those things I used to think about were kind of stupid.’

“Me being nostalgic for a time before children does very little service to the children, you know what I mean?” — Joseph Mount, Metronomy

What sort of things?

Joseph Mount: When you’re starting to professionally be in a band, you get jealous of other bands. You worry about where you are in a festival. You worry about bullshit stuff, really. At the time I didn’t have anything more important to worry about, so it was very real. So the songs are slightly mocking the younger me – but also being quite indebted to the younger me.

Did you enjoy looking back? Because people often think about how good things seemed when they were younger, but then they think about it a bit more and a lot of those memories were actually quite sad or traumatic.

Joseph Mount: Yeah, well that’s the thing – I was living in a shared house, it was grotty as fuck, I’d just broken up with someone and it was all really horrible. Everything is rose-tinted. I think it’s fun looking back because everything’s gone quite well, and I think if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t be so much fun. I’ll show you the perfect example of time healing all (Joe pulls out his phone to show an old press photo of Metronomy looking very glittery). When we just started out, and this was probably in 2008, we went to Paris and did these photos, and it was very much in the spirit of new rave. This picture of me, Oscar (Cash, bandmate) and Gabriel (Stebbing, former bandmate), I used to fucking hate. At the time I was just standing there thinking ‘What the fuck is this all about?’ And now I look at them, and I kind of love them, because – because we survived!