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MetronomyPhotography Gregoire Alexandre

Metronomy are forever

Joseph Mount discusses how a move to the countryside and his intensive work with Robyn on Honey influenced the band’s forthcoming sixth album

Metronomy’s Joseph Mount has done a few things since the UK band released their last album, Summer 08, in 2016. For starters, he’s left Paris, where he and his wife were previously raising a child in an inner-city apartment. Today, they’re living in a house in the English countryside, a location that granted Mount the freedom to build his own studio in a spare room. Mount knows a thing or two about country living, having grown up around the rural communities of Devon, but experiencing it from an adult perspective sounds refreshing. “There are proper communities,” Mount says. “Neighbours talk and become friends, or at least civil, and then you have the tradition of pubs, and stuff like that. It is unique.” He’s also started working outside of Metronomy more and more, spurred on by his heavy involvement in Robyn’s astounding Honey, a large chunk of which he helped co-write, produce, and perform on (the first inkling of the two artists’ creative relationship came with the Summer 08 track “Hang Me Out to Dry”). More recently, he co-wrote Jessie Ware’s sultry slow-burner “Adore You”, and has been in the studio tentatively writing for other stars, too.

With Metronomy’s new single, “Lately”, Mount has taken up another new job: directing. In its music video, Mount’s directorial debut, the band appear as miniature versions of themselves, performing the song inside a cassette tape they’ve been living in for 30 years. It’s absurd, but that’s kind of the point. “It’s just supposed to be a fun music video, a pop promo,” Mount says of the visual. “There was a time when music videos became more and more like conceptual photography, and you saw less and less of just a band performing.” It’s Metronomy’s first bit of new music since 2016, and the first single from their forthcoming, soon-to-be-announced sixth album, but fans may have heard some more new songs at festivals like London’s All Points East. There, they aired anthems like “Wedding Bells” and “Salted Caramel Ice Cream”, which will appear on the album alongside a raft of instrumental songs that hark back to the band’s earliest days, when Metronomy was still a strictly solo project from Mount. “People respond to voices in a totally different way to music on its own,” Mount says, catching up after their All Points East performance, “but for me, personally, when you hear instrumental music, and it has this emotional weight or quality to it, it really is unparalleled.”

Do you think you were always destined to end up back in the countryside? 

Joseph Mount: Definitely. I grew up excited about things that happened in the city, the ‘city’ being this fictitious idea of a city: record shops, live music, that kind of thing. Then you realise that if you want to be involved in music, you need to go to London – or Manchester, I dunno, but you have to go to a city. That’s what I did, and I did that because I wanted to become a musician. Then I lived in France and Paris for a bit, and that kind of city is just busy. There’s no green space in the city, and I think after that, living with children in an apartment, there’s no argument that this is somehow nicer than living in the countryside. I mean, it’s quite an unusual position to be in, to be parents in our thirties and being able to live, and work, in the country. Most people can’t.

You have the ultimate bedroom studio now, too, by the looks of things. How has that helped your workflow?

Joseph Mount: It’s weird, because a lot of the album was kind of done before the studio was finished. In my head, the album was done, but then there was a lot of back-and-forth with the label – nobody was particularly geed up about the music that I’d given them. I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna take the music, and make an album that want to listen to,” which seems weird, because obviously that’s what I was always trying to do. I reapproached it in a way where I indulged myself, and what I was listening to, and tried to put that in my record. That was the time where I was able to go into my studio, redo certain songs, and just listen to everything in a different way. Even though I only had the studio for probably the last quarter of making the album, it ended up being a pretty big part of the record.

The album has this theme of eternity to it. It’s also your longest album so far.

Joseph Mount: When I went back to the label with the album, it was like 24 tracks long, or something – just like, forever. It’s this long theme for this long record. When you’re about to release your sixth record, and when you feel like you have had a career in music, you’re slightly aware of having a ‘legacy’. I liked the idea that with Metronomy, maybe I can create this mythology that we’ve been around since the dawn of creation, and we’ll be around long after you die. I was having this weird conversation about celebrities – people who are huge celebrities, but their entire celebrity is reliant on them doing stuff continually, and also on the demographic that made them a celebrity. Once that demographic has disappeared, then you’re not really a celebrity anymore, you know?

I feel like the whole idea of being ‘relevant’, of being important in any field, is so transient. I can just say Metronomy exists, and has existed forever. It doesn’t matter if we’re not super celebrities in this incarnation, we can wait. Maybe in another hundred years. I’m talking bullshit, but you know what I mean. It’s this idea that none of it really matters. You can put a record out with quite a lot of tracks on, and it won’t really matter. That’s the gist of it.

I guess you’re at the level of celebrity where you can be confident that your audience will go along with a 20-track album.

Joseph Mount: At the same time, you can look at your phone and it’ll tell you that you’ve averaged, like, five hours a day on it. Is it too much to ask that people might listen to 20 tracks? Especially now, people have got this insane tolerance for listening to endless playlists. I think that the way people listen to music has become this great place for musicians to be able to make interesting music. There is just this totally passive way of listening to music. It’s almost like ambient music. Now, basically all music is ambient music, or can be. I think it gives musicians a load of freedom. In a way, the good thing that stems from people devaluing music as a commodity is that, as a listener, you have to accept that you’re devaluing music. You just have to be open to some of it not being so good, because you’re forcing musicians to cut corners. I mean that in a good way. Lots of really incredible stuff can come from trying things out, and expanding things. I think that whether the listening public know it or not, or like it or not, that’s what they’re making musicians do. Drake records are, like, one hundred tracks long? And half of it’s awful – but it’s wicked.

All the algorithms, the way stuff works (right now), I think it’s gonna change and it’s gonna get worse. I think that this period isn’t going to last forever.

The first single from the album is “Lately”. What can you tell me about the song?

Joseph Mount: It started with this guitar idea. You don’t really hear guitar much anymore, or in the same way (that you did years ago). I was thinking of Billy Bragg and these electric/folk songs, which I remember I didn’t like when I was younger, listening in my parents’ car. I was so obsessed with drums, and it used to really wind me up when people didn’t use drums. And of course, Spotify being the thing it is, it kept throwing these Billy Bragg songs at me, and I was listening to it, and I was like, “Oh my God, it sounds totally unusual.” It’s this very lonely guitar, which is really cool! So I just started doing a song like that. Obviously, it ended up having different instrumentation, but at its heart, I wanted to make it a chuggy guitar-and-vocal song.

You’ve been playing some other big pop songs in your live sets, like this new one, “Salted Caramel Ice Cream”, which has a very Lipps, Inc. feel to it.

Joseph Mount: It sounds like loads of stuff, really. My intention was to make a song to be played at a wedding. The music at weddings, what it is and what it does, made me want to do a wedding song. In an era where people are suing people for stealing musical ideas, I thought it would be fun that it was a bit of a 12-bar blues song. It’s this format for making a song that has existed for so long, and in using it, you’re begging for people to say your song sounds like something else, but it’s a classic formula.

“I came out thinking as though I almost needed this trauma to make a record. And I don’t have that – I’m just happy, I’m enjoying myself, I’m enjoying my family. So maybe this is it, maybe I don’t need to make anything anymore?” – Joseph Mount, Metronomy

Speaking of weddings, there was another new song called “Wedding Bells”. Are you the main character in these songs?

Joseph Mount: They always start with some kind of idea which is to do with me. I haven’t been invited to many weddings – all my friends go to literally hundreds a year, and I’ve been to like, two weddings in the last five years. Why am I not getting invited to any of these weddings? Maybe I don’t have many friends? Maybe I don’t have any proper close friends? Or, maybe all my friends are in just failing relationships? That idea was partly why I wanted to do a song that would get played at weddings, and partly (why I wrote “Wedding Bells”). Nothing’s ended up being literal literal, but they are always kind of about me.

You’ve also been working with Robyn and Jessie Ware. Has it been liberating, being able to write outside of Metronomy?

Joseph Mount: Yeah, it has. It’s a different sort of gratification you get from doing it. The best thing is when you realise that what you’re doing is encouraging someone to do stuff, and that from your help, they do something good. That’s really fun. 

Have you been doing anything else with other people that’s going be coming out? 

Joseph Mount: I’m being asked at the moment to do lots of bits and bobs. I went and did some writing with this guy Klas (Åhlund), who worked on Robyn record, and we were trying to do some stuff for Dua Lipa, but I’m not sure if that’s (going to happen or not). I’m always up for it if I’ve got the time to do it. I’ve always felt like ‘hot’ pop music has this nice connection between the most accessible pop and the most experimental producers. There’s a really nice relationship between these two completely opposite things.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about. How do you feel about the idea of having a ‘narrative’ around your albums? Like, to me, you’re mostly just someone who writes great songs, so do you feel like you’re having to invent these themes or stories for each record?

Joseph Mount: With this one, the interesting thing is that there is actually a reason for it being what it is, and for it being the sort of length that it is. The story is basically how my relationship with music has changed quite drastically over the last three years. Over the period of making this record, the way that I listen to music, and the job that I think that music has, has changed. Also, the joy of feeling a bit like, for the first time, “What do I wanna do with my music? What am I trying to do?”

I did this thing that was so emotionally involved with Robyn for her record, and I came out thinking as though I almost needed this trauma to make a record. And I don’t have that – I’m just happy, I’m enjoying myself, I’m enjoying my family. So maybe this is it, maybe I don’t need to make anything anymore? I realised that I don’t need that (trauma). You don’t ever wanna wish that you have some kind of bullshit going on that makes you write a record. It’s horrible! At the same time, you can be a super happy person and still have these moments where you think, “God, life’s a headfuck.” You can still feel that human condition. I feel like that’s interesting as well. You can make poppy songs, the songs you want to be played at a wedding, and at the same time, you can enjoy making a mournful instrumental. It doesn’t have to be about anything specific, but it is about emotion. I guess that’s how I made the record, really. It’s a mess, emotionally. It’s a bit all over the place, and I feel that can be totally relatable.

This is what I mean, really. It’s almost expected that an artist will have some kind of narrative around their album, but then that narrative is almost always to do with some kind of trauma...

Joseph Mount: If you have emotional trauma and you make some music about it, and that helps you feel better, or does something that is good for you, that’s brilliant. I just think that it’s troublesome when that emotional thing becomes, like, units that you sell. Because then it’s like, “Ah, damn. My emotional trauma didn’t sell as much as I thought it would.” It’s like the Beyoncé record about her incredibly public life and her husband cheating on her. I don’t want to hear about that! I’m really not interested.

Earlier this year, you reissued your 2008 album Nights Out. Watching you play at All Points East, I was thinking about how many other artists from that 2008 heyday are still going, and haven’t rebranded, and are able to play to audiences like that. It’s not many. Did you ever think you’d last this long?

Joseph Mount: Yeah! Absolutely. I really did. I knew what music can mean to people. I felt so impressed by bands that kept going, and were good consistently, and how pissed off you’d get when a band you liked disappointed you. I felt like I placed such a huge amount of importance on that idea – you can never dip, you just have to stop. From the moment Nights Out was released and I got a proper record deal, I thought, “I’m not gonna fuck this up.” I remember when we were touring, supporting Kate Nash, and after the gig we’d get these 13-year-old girls who were Kate Nash fans coming up like, “Oh, I really love your band!” And I remember thinking, “This 13-year-old girl has made the best decision of her life. We will never let her down.”

Metronomy’s new album is out this autumn