Joe Mount, the brain behind METRONOMY’s glittering output, puts much of his success down to luck; something that seems at odds with the act’s glossy exterior. Listen to any Metronomy track and hear that each beat is placed, watch any video and see that it’s choreographed expertly. But chance, he explains, factors heavily: “We were lucky that when people started hearing about me or Metronomy, it was at the end of the old music industry, so the record deal that I had was like an old fashioned one – it wasn’t too compromising.”
Mount takes pop success on his own terms. After experimental debut, 2006’s Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), 2008’s Nights Out propelled Metronomy into the pages of the NME and beyond, clustered in with the nu-rave du jour. Not content that Nights Out was receiving the kind of appreciation it deserved, Mount returned all guns blazing with the sophisticated synth pop of 2011’s Mercury Prize-nominated The English Riviera. After its blaring critical acclaim, its successor, 2014’s Love Letters, took a spin in the opposite direction down the analogue route, brimming with inflections of Motown, Stax and psychedelia. Most recent output Summer 08, released at the beginning of summer ‘16, is a seductive return to synth; an exploration of weirdo dance pop that thrums like the Giorgio Moroder songbook. The outfit does all this and still sounds wholly contemporary, yet utterly, inescapably like themselves too. It’s chameleon in the Bowie sense; the genre may alter (and the look – gone are the off-white linens of 2011 big hitter The Bay) but there are motifs that don’t let you forget who you’re listening to. Where Bowie has his sherbert baritone, Mount has his distinguishable falsetto and clean production. Metronomy have their untouchable rhythm section.
Mount also has his modesty: “There are certain things you can control, like you can control the quality of the music and you can control when it’s released, but there are so many other things that are completely out of your grasp. I remember when [The English Riviera] came out and I was just saying ‘oh well, the weather’s really nice’, so I think that might have something to do with why it’s popular’.”
This deprecation is typical. Over the phone, Mount is honest, warm and chatty, frequently laughing at himself (particularly his past self). It’s a world away from the über-cool and calculated exterior that Metronomy unfailingly exude – nowhere more so than on latest offering Summer 08. Recorded by Mount alone, it plays like a kind of homage to how his life has been swept up in a Metronomy wave for the last ten years or so: in his own words, it’s “a bit of a realisation that I’m not the man I once was.”
Lead single Old Skool, however, has existed, in one form or other, since the days of The English Riviera: “I think the way I make music – and I think it’s the same with everybody – you have these ideas where some are easy to finish and kind of resonate with what you’re doing and where you’re at, and then, with others, it’s harder to find a home for them. And I think that, with Old Skool, what had been around for a long time was the bassline and the rhythm. There was never any lyrics or chorus and [making Summer 08], I think it was the first time since I’d come up with an idea and I thought ‘oh this song fits now’.” In its final incarnation, it features scratches from Beastie Boys’ turntablist Mix Master Mike, a Daft Punk space-age sensibility and some gorgeous glock percussion. Somehow, in spite of its name and components, it avoids sounding regressive.
The whole album is unbelievably inviting. After a teasing intro, Night Owl leads with “Don’t need your number babe / But I’ll take it anyway,” before a killer chorus sets up home in your head. Elsewhere, Hang Me Out To Dry is the most polished and danceable diamond on the record. Featuring vocals from electropop star Robyn, it arrives in washes of synth, with cool liquid vocals and, naturally, is propelled by that trademark Metronomy rhythm section. Mount has been working with Robyn on her next release, co-writing and producing some of her tracks, which he says he hopes will make it onto her album. Writing for other artists is something he envisions himself doing in the future: “I really enjoy working with people and I’ve always been intrigued by pop music and how big pop music is made. I’m gonna try and go to LA at some point this year and really experience the 20-songwriters-in-a-room [thing], trying to perfect the perfect piece of music.”
Process is part and parcel with Mount; you can sense the boy-wonder enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing how the contemporary Carole Kings of this world work. But, for the next release under the Metronomy guise, he’s putting his own desires to one side. “With the last three records, the process was as much the concept as the music was, but with this new one I’m trying to just make something that’s more for the people than just for me. I think I’ve been selfish – I wanna be more generous!
“The English Riviera was the first time I’d worked in a real, traditional recording studio; Love Letters was made entirely on analogue equipment – it didn’t even see a computer, and that was something I wanted to do because of how music is now and how you don’t need to work like that. I just wanted to do it before it’s too late.” Summer 08 was all about “blowing off the cobwebs… wanting to make a record in a really kind of blinkered way.” He chuckles at his pedanticism: “Basically, every time I make music or a record, I’m trying to tend to these different desires; I think the last three [records] were as much about me learning to make music as they were about just making music. Like, what I’m doing now is just about making music, not about how it’s recorded. Which is maybe insignificant in a way but can be quite liberating when you disregard an entire aspect of what you do. I guess now I’m thinking more about lyrics, you know, that kind of stuff.”
Metronomy’s career spans the life of Sound City; they played the festival in 2009, when it was in its second year, pitching up in Alma de Cuba. Mount is equal parts excited and astonished to return as headliners. “The idea of headlining is always nice but you see people headlining festivals and you think, ‘can we do that?’ I just hope we can pull it off! It will probably be our first festival headline set of the summer so you can expect a slightly frightened-looking band,” he laughs before quickly correcting himself: “Nah, it’s gonna be amazing. We’re starting rehearsing in a couple of weeks and I think we’re gonna do a proper festival headline set and the plan is to also play a few ‘new new’ tracks too, which is exciting.”
For Metronomy to return as Sound City headliners is the perfect fit and utterly deserved. Mount’s visionary off-kilter pop has produced some of the best records and most danceable alt. floor fillers of the past decade. We can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Metronomy headline the Atlantic Stage on Saturday 27th May.