My Heart Rate Rapid: The Past, Present, And Future Of Metronomy
It perhaps shows my age that many of the albums that provided the soundtrack to my formative years are all returning as decade-long anniversary editions. No matter, as is there anything better than having an excuse to feel that rush of nostalgia, listening to records that bottle a feeling, a moment in time?
The trip down a musical memory lane is not only a joy for music fans but for the artists themselves, as Joseph Mount, founding member of British electronic pop group Metronomy, whose current lineup includes his cousin and guitarist Oscar Cash, drummer Anna Prior, and bassist Olugbenga Adelekan, tells me of his return to 2008 second album 'Nights Out' ahead of releasing a vinyl repackage to mark the 10 year anniversary: “You kind of think about how you felt when you made the record, think about the fans and the people you met that heard it and all that can happen in 10 years.”
At first, Mount had been reluctant to expend energy on the re-release. Having been up to his eyeballs in other work, not least with Swedish artist Robyn to produce her album Honey, he also had the next Metronomy album to complete. A revisit of the old material could be an unwelcome distraction: “In honesty, I was thinking, ‘it's gonna throw me off the scent of doing the new record.’ But the more I talked about it the more I found it helpful in a way. Looking back, realizing something's 10 years old and being forced to think about it has actually been really nice.”
The process prompted him to go back and raid an old laptop, untouched since working on 'Nights Out', which emerged as a kind of treasure trove of discarded material from unreleased tracks to pictures and designs that will finally see the light of day in the re-release:
“I’d kind of left it in a state as it was so I could open up it and go back into that year it was all compiled. I had all this old stuff along with photos and artwork. There was a French version of 'Heartbreaker' which I remember really distinctly recording and honestly can't remember why it didn't get released in some way. It had just been sitting there for years. There are other tracks like demos or, or ideas of things that could of made the album in some way or another but didn't. And there's still more for the 20th anniversary!”
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Marking the breakout album that took the Devonshire lad from producing in his Brighton uni bedroom to festival stages, he also looks back fondly on the mix of influences that fed into that record, the follow-up to 2006 debut 'Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe)':
“By that point I'd found a bit of sound and I was using more rough guitars and synthesizers. If I listen to it now though it doesn't sound really polished, it sounds quite peculiar. I’d been listening to lot of R*B or like N*E*R*D*, that kind of quite basic production sound that they were doing. Also Devo and Talking Head would have been quite a big points of reference, the post-punky stuff. And then of course it was the age of ‘nu-rave’ so I was surrounded by all of that. Late of Pier - they were pretty influential to me, I was really taken aback by them. Obviously Klaxons and stuff.”
He looks back almost endearingly on the preoccupations of his angsty younger self that infused the tracks: having rubbish nights out in his hometown Totnes and feeling a combination of giddy excitement and being utterly overwhelmed on moving to London:
“It was the first album with lyrics I ever did and I was in my early 20s, between the ages of 22 and 26. It was kind of a half-arsed concept album about going out and having a bad time. I was writing about those things of youth: going out and meeting girls and feeling kind of lonely at the same time, like, you don't know what life's about at the end of it. I look at it and it feels really touching and kind of naive. At that age and at that time those were the most important things to me. They were quite nice worries!”
From 'The End Of You Too' to 'My Heart Rate Rapid' to 'A Thing For Me', retro-edged electro beats, rocky guitars and drums and quirky ironic vocal flourishes conjure dancefloors, drunken lust, all-out debauched party vibes and the hangover of regret: “When you listen to it, it kind of gets you into that zone, it puts you in that place quite nicely.”
Reflection on that time though is perhaps tinged with a creeping anxiety: “I realised there's this really rare occasion when you're making music when you're young and your listeners are young where you've got this shared experience. It happens with a lot of groups when you when you think about it - their first or second albums there’s this connection they have with their fans. And I think quite often it's because everyone is the same age.”
“Paul McCartney would probably never admit to this but I do think you lose that connection to the people that you really want to listen to your music. I mean, being thirty-six, if I were to write about my life now, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting record or be very relatable - except to people with kids!”
Though he’s been able to experiment with, explore and hone the eccentrically left-of-centre Metronomy sound through the wonky electronica of 'The English Riviera' (2011), Motown-inspired analogue-recorded 'Love Letters' (2014) and the funk-infused 'Summer 08' (2016), he’s had to face something of a moment of reckoning with his forthcoming one:
“It's been an interesting gestation period. For me, it feels like the next album is quite a significant one in terms of my career. I felt the pressure of making it in a slightly different way than I have before. I think it’s ended up being about creativity because I sometimes see that what really satisfies by me creatively isn't necessarily what I should be doing. It's very curious, like a midlife crisis record.”
A music version of a red sports car? “Actually that's a really good idea, to do a proper red sports car of an album that’s just full of me rapping...”
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Another experience that prompted some musical-soul searching was his intense period of working with Robyn on her critically-lauded 'Honey', released after a eight year hiatus and influenced by events in her life, including the death of a mentor and the breakdown of a relationship:
“I think the Robyn thing became a huge chapter in my life. She had such a vision, such a particular idea. She had this experience that she wanted to write a record about. Taking someone's hand and helping them go from imagining an album to releasing it, that's not nothing, that quite a serious thing to do for the first time.”
Mount is no stranger to working with others through collaborations - including Robyn herself on the brilliant 2016 banger 'Hang Me Out To Dry' - and has remixed artists from Gorillaz, to Franz Ferdinand, Goldfrapp to Lady Gaga. But the process of making Honey was a unique one that did mark Joe in some ways:
“It was a very positive experience in terms of actually doing it but not necessarily in the way it affected other stuff because you become used to making music that is supposed to a remedy for someone's life, someone who's had a problem and you're trying to help them get over. And I think you become really locked into that way of writing so you start thinking that is the only way of creating music, that you have to have some kind of trauma and then to write about it and that equals a successful record.”
“I think it made me feel differently about where I was and how I didn't really have any traumatic thing I had to get out of my system. Going through her with that left me thinking, ‘what's my experience? What have I got?’ But in a strange way it all fed and is feeding into my new record.”
Certainly for Joe, he’s looking forward to a summer of shows - including All Points East, End of the Road, France’s We Love Green and Sea Change (“which is a like a hometown gig for me”) plus an extensive tour taking in cities like Newcastle, Leicester (“places we hardly ever go”) - not least as his creative process remains a very individual one: “And when we perform there’s this kind of great pleasure that we get from hanging out with each other and playing. I think we’re quite lucky to enjoy it as we much as do.”
For him playing live, “is arguably a bigger part of it: you release the record and then you go and tour it,” and their gigs featuring flamboyant lights strapped to their chests were something that drew attention them as an emerging band.
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In the past, they’ve played with acts from such as Coldplay, Bloc Party, Klaxons, and Justice as well as their own headline tours but they never got round to touring 2016’s 'Summer 08'. It meant Joe could spend quality time with his kids but has left him craving the stage even more: “I got to spend like probably the most memorable years at home with the children. I feel like I've seen them enough, I can go away now.”
Though he admits that probably their tours are a bit more grown up these days. “When 'Nights Out' was released we were a proper party band, we'd be playing until 3am... we're like a responsible party band now.”
Self-deprecation aside, the time to reflect on where it all started has given Joe a sense of optimism and achievement: “You realise like, ‘oh, I've had a career,’ like, that's how long the Beatles were around for! And I'm still worrying about making new records and looking forward. You can feel kind of comfortable, like you've achieved because you're still working. In the most simple way I still exist, the band still exists.”
And given him renewed vigour to tackle the new album: “I'm on the home straight. I think it's a case of editing what's there a bit. There's some subtracting going on and then there's probably a final bit of creative stuff. And then I think it's done really. So I’m pretty close.”
Ultimately, he feels, “we still haven't reached our potential, the amount of people that could like us - and I don't mean that in a cynical way - I just mean I think there's a lot of people that could still really be into the band that haven't heard of Metronomy.”
“I'd like to make a record that reaches those people in a way it hasn't before, that has that kind of appeal. We’ve been around for a while now and you know we're national treasures and they don't even realise, the establishment…” he finishes with a deadpan pause before breaking into a self-aware laugh.
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'Nights Out' 10th Anniversary edition is out now.
Words: Sarah Bradbury
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