Mercury rises for Metronomy
Frontman Joseph Mount had much humbler expectations than a top 10 album, festival headline slots and sold-out gigs at major venues
It feels like Metronomy’s year. In March, the electro-pop band scored their first Top 10 album with Love Letters; this summer they headline their first UK festivals, Field Day and Wilderness.
“First top seven, actually,” their frontman and creative mastermind Joseph Mount states as he drinks tea at his Paris flat. “I was so excited. Even though you don’t need to sell as many records as you once did, it still feels quite significant for me that a Metronomy album got into the Top 10.”
After all, when Mount, 31, started writing experimental, instrumental electronica tracks from his bedroom computer at his parents’ Devon home back in 1999, he had no expectations for the project that would go on to earn a Mercury nomination, a Top 10 and sell out gigs at the 6,000-capacity Zénith in Paris where I watch them later that day.
“My expectations were that I would become a niche artist,” Mount says. “My ambition would have been to at least be mentioned in Wire magazine – that was the kind of world I was aiming for. It wasn’t until people started showing an interest. In the days of MySpace, I would be like ‘Oh my God, I got a message from Philippe from Cassius!’, and then Erol Alkan invited us to play at Trash, and at that point I thought ‘oh hang on, maybe I’m dumbing it down’.”
He has been living here for a year with his French girlfriend Marianne, who works for hip fashion brand APC and whom he met through the band’s label. (The headquarters are in Paris.) When they embarked on their hunt for a two-bed flat it was so that the second bedroom could house a studio. But not long after, they discovered that Marianne was pregnant with their son and baby things took over. “I used to have a studio in that room,” he says wistfully. “I still do, but it’s covered in sheets now. And there’s a cot.” We survey the living room – half-drunk baby beakers, a sofa strewn with toys, piles of folded laundry, everyday cookery books; nothing resembling the home of a multi-instrumentalist musician and producer.
Since moving to Paris, Mount’s taken a month-long intensive course in French, learnt to pour civilised-size glasses of wine and has shifted from preferring his steak well done to blue. “It is much nicer! And I dress slightly differently. I probably look more French than I used to.” As a producer, he’s also been recording tracks with Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard.
If there was one thing Mount never envisaged, it was being frontman and songwriter in a band. “I thought I would be drumming,” he says. To fulfil his long-standing love of drumming, he offered himself as a touring drummer to a friend in indie band Veronica Falls. “I think I look better being a drummer than a frontman,” he says, laughing.
Does he feel more comfortable in the role of frontman? “It’s fine…,” he says with pained hesitancy that suggests otherwise. Fortunately, his band members, bassist Olugbenga Adelekan, drummer Anna Prior and keyboardist Oscar Cash, are happy to share the responsibility. “I don’t feel as much of a frontman as I have done before, so it’s all right now,” he says. “And I think people who like Metronomy don’t like it because of the frontman. It’s not like The Killers; people aren’t obsessed. I’m not that kind of frontman. Yet.”
Mount sometimes gives off the modest air of a guy to whom life just happens. “It’s just statistically likely,” he says of his band’s ascent. And, later, “Everything I’ve done has either been a mild reaction or me gaining a bit of confidence, so it’s kind of accidental that we’re here and playing somewhere like the Zénith tonight.” But with every album Mount has developed his songwriting in impressive directions, from the off-kilter bedroom-produced laptop pop of 2006 debut Pip Paine (Pay the £5,000 You Owe) to the club-friendly indie dance of Nights Out, and to the sheen of melancholy-streaked dance pop on The English Riviera. Instead of making the follow-up to that Mercury-nominated album, Mount took The Zombies and Sly and the Family Stone as influences and recorded at London’s all-analogue Toe Rag studios.
“I always want to slightly nudge fans into a place where they’re not completely comfortable,” he explains. “As someone who really loves listening to music, I love being surprised and I’ve had it in my head that that’s what you should do if you’re making music.” It’s what prompted BBC DJ Marc Riley to hail him a “natural pop genius”, and “the most talented pop music writer of his generation”.
Mount is already thinking about the next album – the next records are shaped soon after the last release which helps explain the shifts in sound – so don’t expect a repeat of Love Letters.
“It seems some people think that I’m obsessed with the past. I’m not trying to make a pastiche record or some retro thing. I have lots of music that I’ve been working on and I’m much more drawn to contemporary beats.” He’s thinking about following Kanye West, employing young musicians such as Hudson Mohawke and Evian Christ. “I like the idea of working with people that are the equivalent of me when I did the first album, exciting or excitable 20-year-olds who are technically with it, and more ballsy than I am.”
‘Love Letters’ is out now on Because Music. Metronomy headline Field Day in Victoria Park, London (fielddaylondon.com) on 7 June
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