Interview

Metronomy’s rule: ‘Human error is cool’

Greg Kot
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Electronic composer Joseph Mount — the driving force in Brit electro-pop band Metronomy — never has been associated with raw, rough, dirty-sounding music. So what was he doing messing around last year at Toe Rag studios in London — an analog facility that typically attracts rockers such as Jack White, Electric Wizard and Tame Impala in search of old-school grime?

No one would mistake the product of those sessions — Metronomy’s fourth album, “Love Letters” (Because Music/Elektra) — for punk rock. But it does have a less fussy, less refined feel than Mount’s earlier productions.

“I thought to put someone like Metronomy into that kind of studio, associated with garage rock and more ‘authentic music,’ it would shake up my usual working method,” Mount says. “It makes your decision making process so much more important.”

How so? “The biggest thing I became aware of, there is a point you begin thinking about the intricacy of a song, or how perfect a vocal or a piece of instrumentation is, and you work into it. Then it’s, ‘Oh, hang on, with this level of detail, why aren’t I using a computer?’ Pro Tools gives you this level of accuracy. But we were using analog tape. I had to shift my attitude, and make it more about arrangements, and feel.”

Mount insists that the album doesn’t sound substandard. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect,” he says with a laugh. “But you have to shift the way you think about it. There would’ve been loads of moments to digitize everything, but I thought it would be nicer to keep at this analog thing. We’re not going to sound as loose and raw as the White Stripes, but it will sound different from the way things sound at the moment in most pop music.”

The album brings Mount at least halfway back to where he began. As a teen, he was a rock band drummer. “When I was 15 and joined my school band, I felt this is it — if this is the band I’m in the rest of my life, that would be great,” he says. “I imagined I’d be in that band forever playing drums. Where I ended up has been a happy accident.”

After his band broke up, he was inspired by his then-girlfriend’s Bjork obsession. He bought a cheap sampler and began working out tunes in his bedroom.

“The audacity to think I could release a record doing that — it was 10 years of learning,” he says. “But in the late ‘90s, I started hearing and liking music made by DJ Shadow, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, dudes alone in their bedroom, and I thought that’s the world I belong to, this geeky boys pale-skin club.”

He initially worked exclusively in an introspective, vocal-free brand of electronic music. But when he tentatively started adding vocals (along with drums, guitars and matching outfits for his bandmates) to spice up live performances, he was surprised and encouraged by the positive feedback from audiences.

“Have you ever been to a laptop show? So you know what it’s like — not much going on,” he says. “I’d been in rock bands, that’s what you do: drums, guitars, you play music. I’m a bit more of a traditionalist than you might think. On the first few tours there were three of us playing keyboards with backing tracks. It felt a bit unfulfilling. We added drums, guitars, vocals, and we’ve got a show. It’s the idea that human error is cool, whereas computer error is a miserable thing. You have to go to a shop and get it fixed. But human error, everyone can relate to it. You can have more fun live rather than being tied to a laptop.”

Metronomy’s expanding stature in the U.K. has brought them a Mercury Prize nomination for its 2011 album “The English Riviera” and previously unimaginable opportunities — including an opening gig for Coldplay on the rock quartet’s last arena tour of the U.S.

“I’m not a big fan of Coldplay, but I thought America would be the right place to open for them, because it’s the toughest place to crack,” Mount says. “It made me more confident of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. Coldplay is at home in an arena. It made me feel it must be such a crazy existence to be in a band that big, black sedans waiting after the gig, and we walk out and no one recognizes us. It keeps you down to earth.”

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