An interview with the band MGMT I did for psychopedia.com:
MGMT dig Berlin Bowie.
The record industry is in a state of flux. Its direction and how this direction will be reached unclear in the nascent dawn of the digital natives. The standard precedents and operating systems have become irrelevant in a world where bands can be lauded as the next potential ‘most important act of….’ off the back of three MySpace demos (Black Kids), sell out venues that established acts struggle to fill without having released a record (Enter Shikari) and give away new work for free (Radiohead). The majors, like stumbling reactionary behemoths, have failed to recognize the changing nature of musical acquisition and consumption.
In a panicked state they have resorted to offering huge advances to entice the acts spawned by this new wave into creating a reciprocal process of ‘re-branding’: the acts get the cash they need to create and the labels gain the kudos and potential success of a credible act whose artistic merit and integrity remain unassailable. Of course for every great ‘indie’ band who have made the transition to major label money worth their salt (The Klaxons, Hot Chip) there are dozens, hundreds, even thousands of acts they get horribly wrong (Hard Fi, Razorlight etc ad nauseum).
MGMT fall safely into the first bracket. Two bright, young, savvy kids whose melodic indie pop references the sonic adventures Olivia Tremor Control or Circulatory System, Of Montreal or Architecture in Helsinki’s manic joy, the wry bittersweet observation of Stephen Merrit’s Magnetic Fields and the warm orchestrated melody of Broken Social Scene or Wolf Parade all packaged into three-minute parcels. The key remains their grasp of such tightly and carefully crafted pop edifice that they cannot, and will not, fail to be hugely popular by the end of the year. They are, to some extent, a perfect example of the, widely referential and highly astute kids that the new digital age has created. There is a sense of knowing, meta-musicality MGMT carry with them that, were they not so good, would make them insanely irritating. Like a little brother who knows more than you about pretty much everything.
The band were signed by Columbia straight from demo after CMJ last year and their David Fridman produced debut album ‘Oracular Spectacular’, due later in 2008 offers ten tracks brimming with hooks, melodies, catchy choruses and great lyrics. While their touring band consists of up to three friends helping out on various instruments to bring their songs to life the creative core of the band consists of Conneticut born, New York based, childhood friends Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser
What made you decide to sign to a major in a climate where many of your contemporaries, say Of Montreal or Yeasyer, are happily signed to resolutely independent labels?
Ben: We basically just felt that Columbia offered us the greatest artistic freedom. Sorry if that’s boring but it’s true.
Andrew: We walked in there and just said look, we wanna do this and this and they were like sure, whatever you like. We even tried to test them by throwing really outlandish song title and art ideas at them but whatever we suggested they would always be cool with so we decided to just go with it.
Ben: If we can be in a position where we can tour and make music without having to worry about paying the rent what’s wrong with that?
Andrew: Also, it was never really like a big decision to try and sign to a major, it just sort of happened and made sense to us.
Did your name come about from spending so much time dealing with management?
Andrew: It was just a stupid idea we had to try and make Googling us hard. It worked for a while when no one knew who we were but now if you type in ‘MGMT band’ or whatever it comes straight up so we kinda failed there.
How long have the two of you been playing together?
Andrew: Way too long. Since college. We have played with lots of different people but what we make now has settled as just the two of us.
Ben: It was only when we moved to New York from Conneticut that MGMT kind of turned into what it has become.
New York seems to be kicking out some good, interesting young bands again: Yeasayer, Apache Beat, Telepathe, Effi Briest. Do you feel at all part of any sense of scene?
Ben: Well, we are friends with some of those bands and we have played with them but what makes New York interesting is that everyone is doing their own thing. Everyone digs on each others bands but no one is watching and ripping stuff off. No two bands really sound alike. I guess we are part of a scene in terms of newish bands coming though but a scene in terms of sound? No not really.
Andrew: It is good right now because you can play on a bill and each band will sound totally different. That’s healthy.
Your lyrical themes seem pretty divergent, what do you tend to find yourselves writing about?
Andrew: Nothing too oblique but really I wouldn’t want to say this is about this or whatever. It’s up to the person listening to make of it what they will. It’s mostly just day to day shit that you find yourself writing about.
Similarly your sound is pretty wide ranging, how would you describe what you play?
Andrew: Along with the label thing I can only really give you the answer you will have heard a million times before and that is that above anything else we aim to make great pop music. Making a pop song that is both is interesting and well produced is a challenge in itself.
Ben: ‘The Perfect Pop Song’: a worthy quest.
Who has influenced you on your pop path?
Ben: So many things but the one that always comes up and that we both agree on heavily is Bowie.
Who would win in a big fight between all of Bowie’s incarnations?
Andrew: ‘Low’ era Bowie for sure.
Ben: He was a dark dude in those days.