The Upsetters: An Interview with Metronomy

They're the electronic group that looked for a challenge, tried tape analogue tape recording, and made their most acclaimed disc yet.


Love Letters

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2014-03-11
UK Release Date: 2014-03-10

Going to a Metronomy show during their recent "Love Letters Tour" was akin to finding yourself trapped in a '70s prom.

During their show in Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg, a bright pink background with psychedelic shapes provided band members with the right mood to deliver songs from their latest album Love Letters; melodies that seem to be messages in bottles carried away down the ocean of the English Riviera that commanded over their previous record. Couples could be seen swaying from side to side, as band frontman Joseph Mount lovingly sang "I'm always writing love letters," accompanied by the coos of his backup singers and the melancholy notes of a synthesizer.

"We wanted to recreate those television shows we grew up with" explained Mount over the phone, "which made the shows a lot of fun." All dressed in white, the band looked like the love child of ABBA and Kraftwerk, with Mount disappearing towards the sides every now and then to give his bandmates a chance to shine under the spotlight. In the record we hear Oscar Cash perform "Monstrous", which he sings during the show with unabashed gusto. Similarly every time, Mount returned to stage you could tell he was thrilled to be playing. "The tour was all about having fun," he said.

The album seems to be perpetuating the maritime themes of The English Riviera, the opening track "The Upsetter" (which Mount wrote with the intention of coming up with a "campfire sing along" of his own) even mentions the idyllic version of Devon, Mount is so in love with. "Each record is part of a continuous theme, they're all telling a little story," he said, "and it's funny because I thought that's happened before, with the records, some people say they always sound so different but in reality we're telling the same stories."

"It doesn't happen too much in music for people to refer to things they talked about before. It's a striking thing to do" he continued. Love Letters came after the huge success of The English Riviera, which led people to believe that Metronomy had turned into a full-on dance band, but the nostalgia-infused songs in the album seem to be reaching towards the extreme opposite, they're hungover songs after partying in the riviera. Reviews for the album often mention how "sad" it is which came as a surprise to Mount. "People just respond differently [to music], I find the record generally uplifting to be honest, but it comes down to how you listen to it," he pauses for a moment and then continues, "I guess it just depends on what you want to find in the music, once you give it to people, the will love it or hate it and there's nothing we can do about it.

"When you put on your headphones, [the album] should create this little world for you, it's all about the places you allow the music to take you," he adds mystified about the lack of agreement between his intentions and what people extracted from the album. Explaining how the album came to be, Mount becomes suddenly excited, "in the record we used tape machines and I wanted to play around with them," he explains. The band -- which has become synonymous with electronica -- approached Love Letters from a place they'd never explored before, as "when you work with analog it's not easy to realize that at one point you have to let go," continued Mount. "[Working like this] it's easy to realize that a song is finished. I'm a perfectionist and working with computers I spend more time mixing, playing around, tweaking, but with analog it's just done.

"One of the things you can take from working like this, is that it puts an emphasis on what you can do with your ability," he added. In the album Mount's voice lacks the digital filters and precise tuning he's used before, leading the frontman to sound completely vulnerable in tracks like "I'm Aquarius". "I was trying to sing in a very powerful way," he said, "the more I sing the more I learn about what sounds good and I like to surprise people."

Listening to the band live, it was obvious that Mount was bringing something extra to this tour, in the time between his last two albums he became a father, "my girlfriend was pregnant when we recorded [this album]," he said, and in several tracks he lets female backup singers infuse the tunes with maternal coos and hums. "I like female voices and tried to use them more in this album" he said. It makes sense, after all, as Mount has produced records for some of England's most unique female artists like Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Nicola Roberts, and Kate Nash.

Love Letters might be Metronomy's best album to date, and that is something that comes across in both its relaxed production and sparse but potent lyrical content. "Psychedelic melodies [like the ones in the album] make people feel like they're on drugs whether they like it or not," he said, a quality that can be found in the superb remixes the band has done throughout the years and which they haven't been doing recently. When asked if he'll be working on any remixes soon, he laughs and exclaims "never again!" But then he goes quiet, thinks for a few seconds and realizes "I don't think I've been asked ..."

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