The Insider: Metronomy
I've never seen a crowd so excited for tales about heartbreak and lost love as when Joseph Mount, Metronomy's white-tuxedoed frontman, digs in to his latest album's titular track "Love Letters." The crowd explodes into a mass of jumping and flailing limbs. Although "Love Letters" is quite a sad song—it's inspired by the pain of a long-distance relationship—Mount sings it with the boldness and suavity of a Motown ballad. And each track, no matter the number of tears or dissolved relationships mentioned, is accompanied by the crowd's sing-a-longs, clap-beats, and an ample amount of screaming.
But off-stage, Mount reveals that he isn't actually that unlucky in love. In fact, he's just as inspired by R&B songs about heartbreak as heartbreak itself, citing Motown and '70s astrology as touchstones for the album. Here, we catch up with him about relationships, Mexican food, and the future of Metronomy.
I noticed that in a lot of your songs you're arguing, breaking up, or mourning a relationship. It sounds like you're pretty down on your love luck.
Not really! I’m more inspired by R&B songs that start at that point of a relationship. It's sort of a tradition to write about people breaking up or having trouble, mostly because it's so relatable, rather than me being like, "Wow, my relationship is so amazing!". But Love Letters is really about being away from somebody that you care about. When you're in a band, you're always traveling and missing people. The word “love” seems to work in music, too [laughs].
What was the inspiration behind “I’m Aquarius”, in which you're incompatible with a girl because she's a Taurus?
I was inspired by old Motown songs about astrology—it’s a whole sub-genre, songs about star signs.
Are you really an Aquarius?
I’m actually a Virgo! Not all of the songs are personal. Plus, “I’m a Virgo” didn’t sound as good as “I’m Aquarius” [laughs]. I'm not very into astrology, but I like how self-centered it is. You get to imagine that everything happening in the universe is somehow related to your personal life.
Or that all Virgos are the same—“According to today’s horoscope, all Virgos will find the love of their life today.”
Have you ever really dated somebody that was a bad sign for you?
I mean… I’ve never really looked it up, but I bet they would be. There was this one girl that I think was a Leo, that was definitely a bad match.
Yeah, my boyfriend is a Cancer but I’m a Sagittarius. Everyone keeps telling me that we’re destined to fail.
You should send your names to one of those text-able astrologers to really see if you’re compatible.
I really should. Speaking of romance, what is your favorite pick-up line?
I’m kind of a sleazy romantic, but I don’t really [use pick-up lines]. Like once, I was drunk at a party and noticed that K.T. Tunstall was next to me, and I just yelled “TUNSTALL!” She was so surprised. I followed up with “Where do you live?” and she didn't want to tell me.
Haha, oh man. So I really loved the '70s vibe of the Love Letters album art. Who designed it?
On the previous records, I used art that already existed. For this one I wanted to use somebody contemporary, so I worked with Leslie David. She's a graphic designer that works in fashion and has done stuff with Colette and A.P.C. She has this very simple way that she works with shade, and I wanted something [from her that was] very '60s or '70s, very in your face. She’s also a friend and we worked very well together.
I know that you guys have worked with Michel Gondry, too. How was that?
He directed the video for “Love Letters”. It was great, he really knows what he’s doing. He was so relaxed and experienced and I never imagined I’d get to work with him.
Did you come to him with a vision for the video, or did you give him the reins?
He’s the kind of person that’s always full of ideas, always waiting to do one of them. So he had a technique that he wanted to do: we were all playing inside a little room and the camera went around the outside. It’s all one shot. We chose some outfits and instruments, but otherwise, we weren’t going to tell him how to make the video.
I would be pretty intimidated to work with somebody so visionary.
That’s the thing though, he doesn’t have an attitude about it. He’s just so natural. You just allow him to do his thing.
Who else would you love to direct a music video?
Probably Spike Jonze.
Speaking of dream collaborators, I saw that you guys did a tour with Azealia Banks in 2012.
Ahh, she was great. She was on the NME tour with us in the UK and we really clicked. She’s so funny and cool. We’d go out clubbing with her and she’d hassle the DJ’s to play our songs.
Haha. Would you ever collaborate with an R&B or rap artist?
R&B is one of my biggest inspirations, but I don’t know if it’d be right. That kind of collaboration is such a hit with bloggers though… like, next up is St. Vincent and A$AP Rocky.
Wait, is that really happening??
No. But you’re interested! Right? And that’s whats kind of cool, when you’re touring there are a lot of indie, pop, and R&B artists mashed up. Like one night we were all backstage watching Nicki Minaj's video with The Game, and then we realized The Game was right outside of our dressing room! I mean, I’d love to collaborate with him.
I can see the R&B vibes in your music now, in some of the beats.
Yea, it's subtle. But sometimes I feel like I don’t have much of an authority on the subject. I’m just a guy from England.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever gone on tour?
My favorite place to combine everything, food, atmosphere, people— it’s probably Mexico.
Mexico is amazing! And Mexican food… I grew up in Southern California, and I miss the food so much.
Yeah, we were eating cactus and this cheese, cotija, so simple and delicious.
Better than Taco Bell?
[laughs] Yes! But the best Mexican food I ever had was actually in Japan. We like to go to countries and experience how the locals really live, and I mean, people in Japan don’t always eat Japanese food. We went to this Mexican restaurant that was full of locals, but when we asked for some chips to share, they only gave us seven chips.
Were they at least big chips??
No, they were little! Just seven chips, and only enough guacamole for seven chips. But it was fucking delicious, such good Mexican food.
So lastly, I’m curious about future of Metronomy. I loved the new lo-fi sound on Love Letters—are you moving more towards that aesthetic?
We made Love Letters in an all-analogue studio, just like they did back in the '60s. If you record like that and then make it perfect on a computer, you might as well be using computers. So with the vocals, I didn’t want them to be completely perfect. I was trying to be honest and not gloss them over with crazy production. But the next record won’t be lo-fi, it’ll probably be completely different! I'm working on demos and stuff when I can.
How do you think the sound will change?
Love Letters is the least technical album I’ve ever done, so I want to go back to the technical stuff. If this one was minimalist, I’d love to go maximalist. I like to alternate— I made The English Riviera polished because the Nights Out was so crazy. I was actually listening to Nights Out earlier, and it’s probably my favorite work [of mine].
It’s great that you can look back on your music so positively. I feel like everybody looks back and says Ugg, I can’t believe I did that.
No, that album was so of its time! It sounds like 2008 to me. I want the new record to sound like 2015.
So you’ll be predicting the future of music!