Joseph Mount on Metronomy

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music

Metronomy’s front-man talks making music, sci-fi movies, and other priorities.

English band Metronomy have been plying their electronic pop music for over a decade. However in recent years they’ve benefited from/been hampered by considerable hype along with many other electro/indie acts from the UK. Metronomy’s reputation has been built on their incendiary live shows, and their two albums, Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe) (2005) and Nights Out (2008), have been well-received critically. Metronomy return to play two shows in New Zealand, having toured earlier in the year with French/English outfit Teenagers. The band come armed with a new line-up (a Metronomy 2.0), but with an undiminished reputation for a spectacular live show.

Metronomy started off as a side project for Joseph Mount, who was a drummer in a number of bands (Mount, along with future Metronomy members Gabriel Stebbing were in The Upsides and The Customers). However, the side project ended up taking over. Mount says “in honesty it was always the thing I enjoyed doing most. When I was young I was less confident in my own music, so I guess I played it safe by calling it a side project. It wasn’t until other people became seriously interested in the music that I felt it was ok to upgrade the project from ‘side’ to ‘main’.” Side projects often end up being less constrained than the main projects when they start off. Mount says “when Metronomy started it was definitely a bit of a musical playground for me, I had only played drums before so was learning instruments whilst making music, It was very ‘free’. It’s something that still keeps me enjoying making music.”

Mount admits that he’s surprised by being a front-man. “Me being a front-man is (in my mind) a massive and hilarious outcome. I was a drummer and should say that i never had any aspirations to sing in front of people, I was quite happy at the back. Anyway, here I am. I think the drums are probably a great place to start for any musician, they look cool, they are easy to play, you can sit down whilst playing them… and so on.” That said, he doesn’t think his drumming background has had an effect on how he writes or remixes songs. “I am not sure how much of a direct effect they have had on the other things I do. I simply love music and have listened to it enough to have picked up a few tricks and tips.”

The band has had to contend with NME hype, but Mount suggests that their longevity (they were formed in 1999) has helped deal them with it. “It’s very important these days to establish yourself as a career artist, that sounds very cold I know. But, so many groups come and go that quite often people just don’t expect more than one album from a band, let alone one good album. I have every intention of making good records for as long as possible, as soon as they become bad I will stop. So, in a rambling way to answer your question. Yes, if you trust yourself you can happily wait for people to catch up with you. Attention from magazines will come and go, as will the ways people want to define you. As far as I am concerned, I love making music and it is amazing that so many people like the music I make. My priorities are thus:

  1. Make the music Joseph Mount likes to listen to.
  2. Challenge oneself and one’s fans.
  3. Raise enough money to buy a modest sports car.
  4. See the world.
  5. Laundry.
  6. Call Mum.
  7. Zorb.
  8. Deal with hype/NME/Labelling etc.”

Mount is also a well-established re-mixer, and has re-mixed artists as diverse as Franz Ferdinand, Lykke Li, and Roots Manuva. He admits there’s a difference in how he approaches re-mixes to his own work. “I have no real emotional attachment to remixes so I can have a lot more fun with them. Each one is a bit of an experiment.” He’s not too worried about showing due reverence to the artists either. “I think if I revered the artists I remixed then I would have done far too much pussy footing and produced a lot of very wet remixes.” Mount doesn’t differentiate in terms of his artists or reputations either when it comes to who he remixes. “You have struck on it. I suppose that looking through the list of acts I have remixed you might think (at points) ‘this man has no taste!’ In truth I do have taste, but until quite recently I did not have any money.” 

Metronomy’s two albums have been released with some time between them, and Nights Out in particular came out after the band had built a healthy following. However, Mount argues that the process is never going to be easier, even with this extra time spent together as a band. “I think with albums I’m not looking for the process to be easy. Making music isn’t something that should be easy. If you’re dealing with emotions etc. then you want the process to be of some use to you. Some songs came quite quickly, others took longer. With Pip Paine I wasn’t really aware that I was writing an album, I was just making songs and then realised I had enough for a record… I guess that was the easier of the two.” 

Nights Out was described by Mount previously as a “half-arsed concept album about going out and having a crap time”. For a band that’s famous for its live shows, it’s an interesting contrast, but Mount doesn’t see it jarring. “I don’t think so, I could have done an album about going out and having a great time, but it would have sounded like Phats and Small. We like to put on a show and don’t want to bring people down. The album can work both ways I think. You could listen to it alone with a bottle of red wine and perhaps shed a tear, or you could watch it live and dance alone with two bottles of white wine.”

Mount was influenced by dystopian science-fiction films in the making of Nights Out. Mount says “science fiction in cinema is a beautiful thing. I love the way the name of the game is trying to pre-empt what is going to happen in the future (stating the obvious I know). But, the educated guess work trickles down from the plot to costumes to sound track to film poster etc. etc. Sometimes this goes wrong, but quite often an incredible audio visual world is created that will never actually be. It will only ever exist in that particular film. I suppose that is what influenced the record. I wanted to make something that people could get a bit lost in. I wanted/want people to visualise certain songs and to imagine scenarios.” He also mentions some of his favourite sci-fi films. “Contact—the most believable Alien encounter film ever. The space travel scene is incredible. Gatacca—a very sombre story, some people really hate it. I find it touching and will often shed a tear watching. A Clockwork Orange—the most futuristic soundtrack ever. Moon—a newy but a very worthy addition to the genre. 

Long-term member Gabriel Stebbing left the band at the start of the year but that hasn’t seemed to have dented the their live performance reputation—if anything, their performance due to be showcased to New Zealand is even more popular. Metronomy reacted to Stebbing’s departure by totally revamping the band’s live performances, a result which has seen the band raise its profile even more. The show instead utilises all live instruments, which has opened up the performances and allowed the band to keep their unique approach to the live show. Mount says “the new show is a blessing. Everything is live now, we have a girl on drums. It’s really refreshed what has been a long album campaign. No one so far has been disappointed.”