"It feels like how I imagine Elton John might feel": DiS meets Metronomy
With the release of their fourth album Love Letters, it really feels like Metronomy have arrived, in a tidal wave of broadsheet newspaper interviews and ticket sales. Like Wild Beasts, Biffy Clyro and Elbow before them, they’ve secured a place as one of the few credible alternative bands that might actually make the sort of decent living from music that they deserve.
The record went top ten as Metronomy were on tour, playing venues bigger than ever before. Now they’re getting ready to play their final UK shows until summer, so we spoke to frontman Joe Mount about being onstage with what’s looking like a pretty successful band.
DiS: Whereabouts in the world are you today?
Joe Mount: I… am… in… Leeds!
How’s it treating you so far?
But it’s very nice. It’s always very nice to be in Leeds.
Are you getting much chance to see much of the places you’re visiting on this tour?
We’re popping out. I went to M&S this morning. I saw a little bit of Leeds.
It is the home of Marks and Spencer, so if you’re going to go to it anywhere, I suppose.
Is that right?
Yeah, it started as a penny bazaar on Leeds [Kirkstall] Market. You can impress your bandmates with that later.
So how’s the tour going so far?
It’s amazing, brilliant. It’s fantastic, really. It’s very nice. I’m having a great time.
And the rest of the band?
Yeah. It’s the biggest tour we’ve done in terms of the size of the venues and it’s the first time we’ve felt we’re properly being ushered from place to place. We’re not really having to think about anything which feels very decadent. It’s great.
Sounds like the way to go. What’s the reaction to the new material been like?
It’s brilliant. I guess people are still getting used to the songs and finding their way around them, but I guess the singles – everyone knows the singles, man. To us it adds a whole different possibility of range in the set. I think it’s going really well.
Are you finding it’s the material from The English Riviera that’s where the hits are? It was such a big album, and I went to the show in Manchester and for me ‘Heartbreaker’ still sounds like a massive hit because I was dancing to that every week in indie discos in the mid-to-late noughties. But a lot more people have heard The English Riviera.
The thing is, that’s the album that most people are familiar with. But there’s always a bunch of people at the front in the middle who go more crazy for stuff from Nights Out, which is always heartwarming. The people who have never really come to the gigs before are the people that read Mojo magazine and getting a good review from them suddenly brought a different kind of [crowd]. I hope, anyhow, that we’re representing all of those people enough.
Because four albums when you’ve only got an hour and a quarter to work with – it must be quite a task to put together the setlist these days.
You could go on for longer, I guess, but in England no one really likes a long gig. We’re feeling our way around the set a bit as we go on.
The production on the new album is kind of small, in a way, and yet you’re playing quite big rooms. Did you have to do a lot of work to translate the new songs to the Manchester Ritz, or wherever it is?
No… I guess the new stuff, we’re just playing it as we did on the record. Once you’re playing it in a room where there’s ambience and reverb, there’s natural stuff going on, it has a different feel to it. The record sounds like it does as a production decision but I don’t think the songs are small and I don’t think they can’t work in bigger rooms. You just play ‘em, that’s all. Done.
Everything that’s been written about the album is going, 'Oh, it’s quite sad' and it definitely wasn’t a sad, sombre experience, that gig in Manchester. It was a big Friday night gig. Do you try and make the songs happier? Or do you feel an obligation to make sure everyone has fun rather than going away humbled by the stuff you’re talking about in the music?
Gigs are gigs. No one wants to go to a gig and leave a gig more miserable than they went to the gig. There’s maybe melancholy in some of the new stuff, but it’s not sad. Or it’s not supposed to be like Smog or something like that. It’s not supposed to be something proper thoughtful or… not necessarily that Smog is sad. We play those songs live and they have a different feel to them, and if you’re playing them in amongst older material as well it means that their context is different as well, and they work in different ways. Basically, for us, people have always thought of us as more on the party band side of things and I think I’d rather be on that side of the fence than the other side.
Another thing that struck me was the visuals, or the aesthetic. There’s a lot of different elements that come together – everything from where you and the rest of the band sit onstage, to all the lights and the outfits. How important is the aesthetic to the show or to Metronomy as a band?
It’s always been something we’ve tried to take care of. Sadly these things come down to money quite often and this is the first tour where I’ve felt like we’re going to have more people watching us than ever before, and we could maybe afford to be a bit more extravagant than before. And I think that is really important to me now, that we take that show on the road and make it something which visually… I don’t think the visual stuff should be more attractive than the music or anything like that but I think it should always be there. You should always try and put yourself across as professional and competent people.
But you can do that just wearing jeans and tee-shirt.
I had a change of attitude. I thought to myself, if doing gigs is the closest thing that we have to a day job, I feel like we should dress up. If we turned up to work – I guess it’s different for different people in different jobs – if we turned up to work in jeans and a tee-shirt, people that had paid money to come to gigs, they’d feel a bit fobbed off. If I go see bands in the size venues that we’re playing now, I feel a bit like, ‘Oh, come on. You might as well make an effort.’ We’re making an effort.
And the aesthetic cuts through to every aspect of the band, from the live show to the press shots to the music videos. The ‘Love Letters’ video, for example – it really taps into that whole world you create with the music on the new album, I think.
There is part of that – trying to make it all fit together and make sense. I guess there’s something of the live show which is inspired by those kind of ’60s TV sets. That old kind of variety performance, that kind of thing.
How settled are you into your role as the centre stage, lead singer, frontman kind of guy? Is that something you’ve always been comfortable with? Did you set out wanting to be that person?
I didn’t set out to be that person but I’m comfortable enough with it now. I’m not the most charismatic frontman but then luckily everyone else in the band is quite charismatic so it takes the heat off me a bit. I think I’m beginning to understand why certain frontmen do what they do, or why they become frontmen. It’s interesting. I guess I’m not that much of an exhibitionist in the flesh – that’s probably the one thing that’s missing.
There’s points in the show where the other band members assemble behind the keyboards and you’re there on your own in the middle of the stage. I was wondering how that feels?
I was thinking about it the other day. That’s the thing – visually, that looks better than everyone dotted about the place because that’s when we’re playing the more electronic ones. It feels a little bit lonely. It feels a bit like how I imagine Elton John might feel. I guess on those ones I don’t think about it, although now you’ve said it, tonight I’ll probably think about it and I’ll fuck up.
I’ve ruined it for the people of Leeds! But then by contrast, there’s the bit where you do ‘Boy Racers’, and you go off stage altogether.
There’s a few other things that might get added to the set. There’s no need, basically, for me to be on stage in that song and we thought it would be quite cool as a band jam or whatever. But basically I don’t need to be there and as we continue that will be our ethos: if anyone can afford to take a few minutes off then take it. Unfortunately, everyone is needed in the other songs.
So do you have any pre-show rituals?
Well, no… I guess putting on the suits on is becoming a bit of a ritual. But nothing that crazy. None of us is religious or anything like that so we don’t feel the need to have a huddle.
Well, maybe not rituals… What do you do for the hour for the hour before we go on stage?
It’s more like the 10 hours, isn’t it, in reality? I go to Marks and Spencer’s, I go have a cup of coffee, do some emails. Hang around. Being in each other’s company is quite good for an hour or so before the gig. Everyone dicks around singing the chorus to ‘Love Letters’, just to get in the mood, and then probably make a few vodka, lime and sodas. Something like that. It’s like being at your mate’s house before you go out for a party or something. Before you go out to a fancy dress party.
Obviously this, as a promotional escapade, [Love Letters] is quite a big release in the indie world. At the start of the year when you’re releasing it you have a big massive list of tour dates presented to you – do you get daunted by that, ‘This is it, 18 months of playing gigs now’? Or does that excite you?
A mixture of the two. To be honest, my situation is slightly different now because I’ve got a child. That makes it more difficult to be away for a long amount of time. But I think generally everyone still really enjoys touring and travelling and stuff. It’s daunting because you know you’re not going to be able to do things very spontaneously for 18 months or whatever but I think the enjoyment you get out of people coming to your gigs and things going really well outweighs that completely.
When you’re not on tour, do you still get to see a lot of live music?
It’s weird, I do. I suppose, because you end up getting to the point where you have friends who are in bands, or you have friends who are in road crew who might be about, you end up spending more time at concerts than you might even like to. But I guess I don’t do what I used to do in London which was go to gigs to watch bands I’d never heard of before, which is a shame I suppose.
Well, your show was really amazing in Manchester. It was my first time seeing you and it didn’t disappoint.
Oh, that’s good. That’s all we care about, is not disappointing, so that’s good.
Enjoy the rest of your time in Leeds.
Nice one. I’ll go and tell everyone that this was where Marks and Spencer was imagined.
Metronomy play the following shows before heading out to see the rest of Europe:
March 24th – Bristol Academy
March 25th – Oxford Academy
March 26th – Norwic UEA
March 28th – London Brixton Academy