Feather, Fur & Singles: MGMT
It's always a shame to see a band you've discovered years ago relegated to the realm of the 'hype band'. If you listen to MGMT's latest album Congratulations, you might notice that there are no stand-out singles. You might also notice that what does stand out is a more fluid transition between songs and a more collected sound. Will the move from single-filled pop album to something more mature alienate fans, or bring a load of new ones on board? We caught up with Andrew of MGMT over a Mad-Mex burrito to find out whether the shift in musical attitude was deliberate, and whether the band was sick of playing 'Kids'. Written by Zac Bayly.
"I was at an Oyster restaurant in New York, and I hadn't seen your magazine before, and I was so hoping it was a magazine about oysters!" Andrew tells us as he wolfs down the spicy burrito his record label assistant has just handed him. "We're actually all pretty obsessed with oysters?" After hearing Chanel [v] presenter Danny Clayton live in action, we ask the frontman if he's tired of hearing clever journalists using the line: 'Congratulations on Congratulations'. "Yeah, but it's actually quite nice!" he admits, as his band mates are each handed completely different meals sourced from different take-out locations around Sydney.
We ask about the new album. Was the shift intentional, or organic, from pop-filled album to something more drawn out and psychedelic? "It wasn't deliberate, I assure you," Andrew answers. "We weren't trying to make an obscure sound and alienate people. We're still making pop music with verses and choruses and stuff." Amidst speculation that the boys won't be releasing any songs off of the album as singles, he tells Oyster: "We would rather have people decide for themselves which songs are radio-friendly if any of them even are. We'll definitely be making some cool videos though." He can barely contain his excitement for the video clip to the album's title track, and for a pleasant moment, puts down his handful of fluffy-corn tortilla and five-bean mix to speak with his hands. "Congratulations is going be this amazing video where we're wandering through the desert and there's a monster and lots of surreal images- it'll have a really cool storyline. It's very graphic."
Unless you've been living in a cave on Mars with your eyes and ears closed, you're probably familiar with the boys' 'Electric Eel' video clip- a video clip that came to define the band's aesthetic style with its signature headbands and psychedelic colours. Sitting next to the boys now, in their plain t-shirts and threadbare jeans, we wondered whether this was something their record label had cooked up to make them more marketable. "With the video clips from the first album, we were really hands on with their direction," Andrew explains. "We kind of did it for that one video- that tribal, beach, post-apocalyptic thing with the headbands and hippie animal furs, and from then on, we kind of got pegged that that was our image, even though we hadn't really done it on stage or anything." With the shift in musical attitude, we wonder if there's a shift in aesthetic style too. "This time, I don't know what the image would be? Maybe sixties dandy meets late seventies pimp, maybe. Like, a little bit - stuffy."
Despite the artistic constrictions of feeling typecast after the success of 2008's Oracular Spectacular, MGMT has decided to make the most of the situation. "With the video clips for this album, we've kind of just given out the songs to different directors so that we can pick our favorite ideas. It's been really nice to let other people interpret the music in their own way, and take a step back so that they can be creative." At this point, Andrew finds it necessary to ask: "Wait? do I sound like a pretentious douche-bag? If it's a 'yes', than that's what we're going for now?" Oyster asks Andrew about the period between the end of their massive year and a half of touring and the recording of Congratulations. "We got maybe a month and a half off before tackling the new album," he tells us. "That's how the mood of the album was set. After all that touring, it was a surprisingly smooth transition into zero activity."
Speaking of 'activity', we point out how ape-shit people went for 'Kids' when MGMT were playing at The Metro earlier this week. "You know, of course we're happy that that song did so well; we like the song. It just got kind of hard when it was the only song that people associated with us," Andrew explains. "We did write that song when we were like, 19 years old, so it's kind of like, eight years ago. That's a little weird to be associated with something you wrote when you were young and in college. It's weird for people to expect you to have enthusiasm for something that you don't really have a close connection with."
The new album seems to herald a new era for MGMT, in which a bitsy, pop-single filled album is followed up with a far more mature effort, but Andrews admits that there wasn't much strategizing involved, even if they "did seem to restrain [themselves] a little more." And the pressure of the new album must have gotten to them eventually, right? "Not really," Andrew laughs. "It was almost like the pressure arrived well into actually making the album. At that point, we'd already made it what it was going to be." "In the last year the anticipation's been building and speculation was happening and it was like 'oh well, we've already made it'. So that made things much easier."
The future for MGMT remains unclear. Will their new album have the sort of marketability that lends to a spate of hit singles, regardless of the less 'pop-y' sound? It doesn't seem like Andrew and the rest of the band have really thought that far ahead. In fact, as he'll tell you, the band has "the kind of relationship where we don't really talk about anything? it's just laughing about stupid stuff that wouldn't make sense to anyone else." "I'm excited though," he tells Oyster. "We've reached a new level of playing and everything's more relaxed? there's no more anxiety, so we can just do what we want."