Metronomy interview: “With each record I’m going backwards.”

Talking shelf life, double albums, and devolution with Joseph Mount.

It’s eight weeks before Metronomy release their fourth album, ‘Love Letters’, and the band's mastermind Joseph Mount is sat at the offices of his record label, Because Music. Hanging on the wall behind him are the label’s gold and silver discs, all framed and neatly arranged. 

“They’re very proud of their silver discs,” Mount says, waving his hand dismissively at the display, “But there are no platinum discs. There’s a gold one…” He points to the lone gold record on the wall, Justice’s ‘†’. Above it is his own, silver-embossed third album, ‘The English Riviera’. “It’s gone gold!” Mount cries, “I don’t know why they haven’t changed it. They need to respray it!”

The fact that Metronomy have become the sort of group that make gold records is a remarkable achievement, considering they started out as an experimental electronic side project in the bedroom of an Autechre nerd from Devon. But anybody expecting Mount and co to follow up the Mercury-nominated success of ‘The English Riviera’ with an album of even more pop hooks and even more polish will have to look elsewhere. From its opening bars, ‘Love Letters’ is a much more subdued affair: recorded and produced at Toe Rag, an eight-track analogue studio in London, it’s a far thinner and far more pared-down album than anything they’ve done before. It’s also their most ambitious record from a songwriting and production perspective, and another excellent record from one of the country’s very best pop bands.

So, how does it feel knowing that you’ve got another album due out imminently?

Joseph Mount: "Really good, you know? I guess it helps that I like the record. I feel like it’s... the best one? So I’m quite happy."

You’d be getting off to quite a bad start if you’d said it was the worst.

Joseph Mount: "Yeah, but imagine. There must be people that know that they’re promoting a record that isn’t very good. It must happen a lot – think about all the shit records there are out there!"

When you first listen to ‘Love Letters’, it seems a lot more downbeat than your last album. It reminded me of the ‘Not Made For Love’ EP, which is the forgotten piece of your, um, ‘canon’.

Joseph Mount: "I’ve been trying to work out how to write songs in the same way that you get funk or slow jam songs – they’re literally slower, but they have a kind of swagger and attitude to them, which makes them not sound like The Postal Service. You can inject energy into slower songs.

"When I did the ‘Not Made For Love’ EP, it was the first time that I’d tried to do that sort of thing. That EP was sort of like a stopgap thing – it was maybe gonna lead on to something else, and in the end that thing never happened – so that EP is maybe slightly adrift in the… in the ‘canon’. [laughs] It has the same intention as that EP, but that EP didn’t pull it off. But then again, I was a lot younger then."

"I’ve been trying to work out how to write songs in the same way that you get funk or slow jam songs – they’re literally slower, but they have a kind of swagger and attitude to them, which makes them not sound like The Postal Service." - Joseph Mount, Metronomy

The album is probably your most dense and songwriterly...

Joseph Mount: "Definitely. The thing with this record is that I’m kind of aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and each time I record an album or have the chance to wipe the slate clean, I try to improve myself, and try to address those weaknesses… or whatever. And so with this album, I wanted to make something which I felt completely happy with, and proud of, so I decided to record it in an analogue studio, because it meant I had to be very organised.

"And that’s what I was missing. If you make music on a computer, you can do everything retrospectively – you can record stuff, and arrange things, and re-record. You never have to make any decisions. And a big part of what I was missing was the discipline to make decisions. I think in the end, that has made it the most ‘songwriterly’ record, because you have to think in real-time about what someone’s gonna respond to, and how you should arrange the song. 

"For someone like me, who’s come from making music on a computer, a lazy way of looking at it is that, with each Metronomy record, I’m going backwards. But for someone that began making music on a computer to learning how to write songs in a traditional way has been a very rewarding experiences – it’s what makes the records more interesting. That’s why I feel good about this record – you can hear the hard work that’s gone into it, and I think that’s nice."

"For someone who’s come from making music on a computer, a lazy way of looking at it is that, with each Metronomy record, I’m going backwards. " - Joseph Mount, Metronomy

Were you learning how to use all that analogue gear on the job? Are you a quite a technical guy, or are you quite bad at that sort of stuff?

Joseph Mount: "Hey, I did A Level music technology – I’ve got qualifications! I’m really into production, and that’s as much a thing for me as writing music is. But in the studios, I’m not technically very good. I understand how stuff works, and I’d get there in the end, but I’m not very quick. When you’re using an analogue studio, it should be straightforward, but because of all the idiosyncrasies of that equipment, you need people to help. So my using the studio was very much an aesthetic… well, not aesthetic – but kind of audio-related."

In the past, the step up from album to album has been quite pronounced. From ‘Pip Paine’ to ‘Nights Out’ you’d got a new soundcard, and on ‘Nights Out’ to ‘The English Riviera’ you went into a proper studio with your band. What would you say has been the main step up on ‘Love Letters’?

Joseph Mount: "People think that the difference between each record is some sort of [does jazz hands] ‘woooh’ thing. But up until this point, it really has been about my learning about stuff. Each point that I’m interested in something else has been matched by the number of records.

"By now, my interest is in songwriting. That side of it is just edging ahead of what I’ve been doing, production-wise. You’ll see things start to settle a bit more. I needed those four records to work out where I am now. I think the sound [of ‘Love Letters’] is more refined, and the production is more delicate. And like you say, it maybe sounds more subdued, whereas the last album had tracks that weren’t perfect, I don’t think. With this album, everything contributes to the overall feel. It’s just refinement that’s happening now."

It’s cool that it’s taken four albums to work out where you’re at, because for most bands, after four albums, they’d be like, ‘Well, now we’re out of ideas…’

Joseph Mount: "Yeah! And this is the fourth album, so maybe on the next one I’ll be out of ideas. I think people start to realise your true intentions and your true potential after that amount of time. It’s always been my career, ever since the first album came out – from that point on, I was never gonna waste the opportunity, because it had been what I was working towards for such a long time. After the first or second album, people can think it’s very of the moment, or that it’s not gonna last, but I’ve always known that these things take time, and that you have to be patient.

"If someone let’s you release four albums, then that’s the point in which you can… Well, you can’t do it forever, but you’ve got about two or three albums grace. And then you’re definitely gonna run out of ideas!"

"This is the fourth album. I think people start to realise your true intentions and potential after that amount of time. It’s always been my career, ever since the first album came out – from that point on, I was never gonna waste the opportunity." - Joseph Mount, Metronomy

Are you looking forward to the moment where you think, ‘Maybe this is that album?’

Joseph Mount: "Yeah, ‘This is a bridge too far; I should call it quits.’ I’m always surprised by how, every time I do a record, I think, ‘Maybe this could be the last record. Maybe I should try and change what Metronomy is.’ But then I found out that I had some really exciting ideas for this album, and I’m already starting to get excited about the next album. So, as long as that happens, you continue doing it.

"[As a band], you have a predetermined shelf life. If you’re very lucky, you’ll keep making good albums, but if you think of modern bands that have gone beyond five albums and are still interesting, it’s difficult to name many. Any? You reach the point where it’s just what happens - and that’s nothing to be ashamed of."

It's healthy, isn't it? Make room for the young bucks?

Joseph Mount: "Yeah, give the kids a chance! I guess, because the proposition with Metronomy is slightly different, there’s more chance for it to get interesting before it gets boring."

There’s an instrumental on the record. You haven’t put one of those on an album in a while.

Joseph Mount: "There was a point with this album where I was adamant that I was gonna make a double album, and adamant that nobody would talk me down from it. In the end, I was the one who talked myself down from it. Trim the fat, get it down to a good single album. Along that thought process, there was a time where I thought I’d do an instrumental record and a normal record, and release them together. 

"For the time being, the instrumental stuff is… well, I’m not as drawn to it as I was. But I still love the idea of instrumental songs, the idea that people can enjoy them without having to latch onto a voice. So I’m happy that there is an instrumental song on there."

"You have a predetermined shelf life. If you think of modern bands that have gone beyond five albums and are still interesting, it’s difficult to name many. Any? You reach the point where it’s just what happens - and that’s nothing to be ashamed of." - Joseph Mount, Metronomy

I’ve always loved your instrumentals, from ‘Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe)’ onwards.

Joseph Mount: "You get people who’ve been into Metronomy from the beginning, and I hope they don’t think that I think of that as some sort of grey area in our history. We’re gonna try and integrate older stuff [into our sets], but it’s difficult when you’ve got a live band. 

"I was listening to that record not too long ago, and I really love it. I think there’s more of ‘Pip Paine’ on this new record than there was on ‘The English Riviera’. It’s what I was saying earlier – you do these four records, and you start to consolidate all your ideas."

What made you decide not to do a double album?

Joseph Mount: "It’s weird. I was convinced, in a mad way, that the only thing I could possibly do after the last record was a really expansive double album. What you’ve got to imagine is that it’d have these 10 tracks on it, and 10 more tracks – and there are 10 more tracks which exist, it’s not that I didn’t have enough ideas. Of those 10 tracks, there are some which are more out there, and some which are more direct. But in the end, it felt like the songs are what’s important. The idea of having a double album should never override the album itself. 

"And that’s what I was actually trying to avoid in the first place, like, ‘No, it’s nonsense, you just put out a double album – it’s crazy, and that’s the whole idea!’ And you know it’s gonna get reviewed badly, but that’s kind of the reason you’re doing it. But I was talking to my dad about it, saying I’ve got to do this crazy, expansive thing, it’s got to be two hours long, and it has to make people… maybe not bored, but think, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’

"And he was like, ‘Well, isn’t it better to be able to do that, but in a shorter sense of time?’ And at that time, I was like, [puts on a stroppy teenager voice] ‘No!’ But I went away and thought about it. This album is 45 minutes long, and it has a quality about it where it doesn’t feel longer than that, but it takes you on more of a journey than you expect to go in that time. And my dad was right – that is more impressive and valuable than filling up an hour and 20 minutes."

Also, how many double albums are actually any good?

Joseph Mount: "When I was a teenager, it was ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’. That record is still pretty phenomenal, and it’s a real double album. But that’s very hard to do – by and large, most double albums go on about an album too long."

Because Music release ‘Love Letters’ on March 10th 2014 (pre-order here). Metronomy will headline Field Day at London's Victoria Park on Saturday June 7th 2014 - buy tickets here.

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