Lick It presents Metronomy

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  • Although Metronomy’s elliptical, insidious, multi-coloured and richly textured art-pop sounds nothing like Cologne’s legendary purveyors of prog-disco, Can offer some clues to the lineage Metronomy belong to. Add early Brian Eno, Sparks, Devo, Talking Heads, Soft Cell, and then scratch your head for more recent examples of abstract music, full of experiment and risk and individuality, that somehow resolves itself into pop that makes you sing and dance and feel like a big kid, and realise that you can’t think of any because Metronomy are, in the current pop milieu, an utterly unique proposition. Their new album ‘Nights Out’ is a second album that feels like a debut. Its the first Metronomy album for new label Because Music; the first to be vocal-led, with self-effacing founder member Joseph Mount stepping up and grabbing the mic for most of the tracks; and, crucially, the first to introduce Metronomy as a three-piece band, rather than a pseudonym for Joseph‘s solo work. Although Joseph has worked with Gabriel Stebbing (bass, keyboards) and Oscar Cash (sax, keyboards) since their Devon childhoods, its the success of the trio’s live shows that has led to the realisation that the three schoolfriends are a bonafide group. ‘I’ve never liked solo artists and their session musicians. It just always seems totally wrong, particularly live. I write the songs, but Gabriel and Oscar contribute a lot more than just playing them. It just became obvious that we were a band now.’ It’s also a deliberate attempt to defy perceived wisdom about MP3 culture and the wilfully low attention span of those pesky, thieving noughties pop kids. ‘It was an unashamed concept album at the beginning. I keep having conversations with people who keep going on about the industry and how CDs are history, and people just listen to things on shuffle. And I’m like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” This is totally the music industry’s fault! They’re the ones who decided to keep putting two good songs on an album! I guarantee you - if labels started releasing good albums it wouldn’t be a problem. So I wanted to do something where someone would want to sit down and listen to all of it, because it’s threaded together. Then I realised that Bloc Party had already done something similar. Ha! I decided to not be so literal about it. But there’s still a feeling that goes through this album. It originally began as the soundtrack to an evening. But its become more of a soundtrack to a bad weekend.’ ‘Nights Out’ resolutely ignores the current vogue for yelping in a provincial accent about mingers and kebabs, and taps into a more elegant, enduring and truthful pop mood - that feeling of being at your most lost and alone when crushed into a room full of revellers high on drugs and desperation. Musically, Metronomy march to the beat of their own synthetic drum. But Joseph’s recent experiences of touring the nightclubs of the world, finishing his set, and then feeling unable to join in the surrounding debauchery makes ‘Nights Out’ a wonky love-child of Giorgio Moroder, New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Unfinished Sympathy. Indeed, ‘On Dancefloors’ might be the saddest song about partying ever made. ‘Ha! You think so? Good!,’ Joseph agrees, somewhat gleefully. ‘It is sad, yeah. Not that I’m miserable. But I go out all the time and just… never really enjoy myself. The live shows have meant I’ve been thrown into club after club, just walking around seeing everyone off their face, and wondering if they even like music. So it is a bit wistful. But then… I am a bit wistful.’ ‘Nights Out’ also has that quiet refusal to conform; a subversive quality at its core. This is perhaps best represented by ‘Heartbreaker’, a track which is, well, heartbreaking. ‘My lyrics are pretty basic. But the gist of Heartbreaker is having a friend who’s in some awful relationship, and keeps hassling you and talking to you about it. And it ends up ruining your friendship. So, do us both a favour: ditch her. It’s not so much that friends have done this to me. But I’ve definitely done it to friends of mine. It’s a love song between two men but it’s hidden that that’s what it is.’ ‘Back On The Motorway’ injects a bit of ‘50s-style death-drama into the Metronomy mix. It’s about a girl stealing your car and then crashing it and dying. ‘It was my attempt to write a sad pop song in the vein of The Shangri-Las’ ‘Leader Of The Pack’. I basically came up with the line, 'Crying on the shoulder of the motorway', took the idea and ran with it. You don't get many songs about girls dying in road accidents.’ Girl Trouble haunts ‘Nights Out’, particularly in the most recently-written songs. The spooked disco of ‘Holiday’, for example, is no Madonna tribute. ‘I went to a pub quiz one night, came back to the studio drunk and recorded the vocal. It's about a girl wanting to go on holiday with her boyfriend, but being very picky about where they go because she gets jealous easily. He's up for a holiday but says she’ll never really be able to have him properly to herself.’ Its not all divorce and heartbreak, though. Last-minute addition and future single ‘A Thing For Me’ sees Joseph strive to locate the more optimistic side of being separated from the girl of your dreams. ‘It's about meeting a girl one night and getting upset because she has to leave. But she's saying not to worry because she'll be back next week and they have all the time in the world...a bit of a tribute to Louis Armstrong. The saxes at the end? They’re not really a tribute, but they’re definitely inspired by Roxy Music.’ Metronomy began ten years ago in the tiny, bohemian market town of Totnes in Devon, when Joseph’s Dad sold his son a computer so he could sit in his bedroom and make electronic music inspired by the likes of Autechre, LFO and Aphex Twin, more as a creative hobby than a pop masterplan. He even came up with a name for it. ‘It comes from a young boy - me aged 16, 17 - thinking, “Metronomy… that’s a bit like metronome, and its also like the word astronomy!” Ha HA! On that stupid little level. But I’m very happy I’ve stuck with the name. The great thing about it is - and this is something that Gabriel pointed out to me - that it sounds great in every language. French people and Japanese people have a particularly nice way of saying it.’ After decamping to Brighton, Metronomy finally attracted the attention of the Holiphonic label, who released the band’s debut album in June 2006. It was called Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe), and its obtuse but fascinating, largely instrumental electro-pop reflected the eccentricity of its title, and the enduring influence of Totnes. ‘One day this big van appeared on the town’s main road, on this little derelict bit. And on the side of it it said, “Pip Paine Give Me The £5000 That You Owe”. A month later there was a different car, which said, “Pip Paine tree surgeon give me back my money”. And this went on for like, six months. There was even a hearse that said it, and they’d also written “No Surrender” on the bonnet. Totnes is a weird place.’ Joseph admits that he only, finally, saw the commercial possibilities of Metronomy when DJ, producer, Trash founder and electro-punk avatar Erol Alkan began to feature single ‘You Could Easily Have Me’ in his sets, and asked Metronomy to play at his club. Cue the need for a proper live show, and the additions of Gabriel, Oscar, dance routines and clothes that blink. From time to time, the Metronomy live experience is augmented by four-piece female dance troupe, Sparkle Motion. ‘Its Oscar’s girlfriend and her friends. They have the lights on their chests, too, but they’re much more elaborate than us. Proper choreography and everything.’ As Metronomy’s busy touring schedule has slowly built a buzz among kids who instinctively get the dance/art crossover, Joseph has embarked on a series of prestigious remixes for the likes of Klaxons, Franz Ferdinand, Gorillaz and Kate Nash. And 2008 has already been a busy time for the band. ‘We started the year with a bit of time off after the mammoth pre -Christmas tours. Then we went on our first headline tour in February. It was very heart-warming realising that we actually had our own fans and could sell out venues. At the same time as all this I was finishing the album.’ Which leads us back to here, now and ‘Nights Out’, a timely, thrilling pop album born out of ten years of a boy from Devon playing around, mixing it up, taking his time, getting it right, and pleasing himself. ‘I'm happy to have finished it, I'm happy that it's not worse than the first album...I mean that in a very positive way. I can't imagine how upsetting it would be to have finished it and ended up thinking “not as good as the first one” But it's hard to be really objective as it's still so fresh. I might give it a few months and then decide how good it is. Right now I'm in my new studio making lots of disco music, cleansing my palate.’ Joseph’s restless taste buds might be already nibbling at the next palate-cleansing project, but ‘Nights Out’ is where Metronomy are right now. And Mount is well aware that its a leap towards the Big Leagues. ‘Yeah, definitely. But I’m in a lucky position. There’s too much radio time given to songwriting teams and production teams and there’s nothing out there making people realise you don’t need that kind of stuff. You can have your own ideas and execute them.’
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