“If you see us looking lost in New York City tomorrow,” said Metronomy lead singer Joseph Mount a few Thursdays ago. “Come and help us out.” After flying across the pond the perform the first of two sold-out nights and NYC’s Irving Plaza, he and the three other members of the English indie pop group felt like fish out of water here in the States. “We've never played the same place two nights in a row out here [in America],” he added.
Maybe that’s because they’ve never been this big. Having released their third album, The English Riviera, last spring, Metronomy was recently tapped to open for Coldplay this summer during the U.S. leg of their world tour. Judging by their Irving Plaza performance, Coldplay fans are in for another UK treat. Each band member wore a glowing bulb on their chest that flickered in time to the beats of electronic grooves like "Heartbreaker" and Riviera’s "The Bay" during their tight hour-long set.
The following day, Complex met up with Joseph Mount and keyboardist Oscar Cash in NYC’s Dream Hotel. Over tea they discussed how their band came together, how some of their ex mates have been hating, and how fresh-faced Harlem rapper Azealia Banks got them their new gig with Chris Martin & co.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
How did the band came together and what were you doing before Metronomy?
Joseph Mount: Before I tried to make music on my own, I was playing drums in a whole other band. Drummers are always kind of the joke of the band. They’re in the back, no one takes them seriously and I started having maybe like ideas about singing and doing my own thing. But I always felt a bit too kind of, I don’t know, like, self-conscious, to say anything to songwriters. So I just started, just for fun really, making music. At the time I was I was kind of going through my teenage Trip Rock phase. I was listening to some DJ Shadow.
I think I never really saw it as any more than just a hobby. Then I suppose I just got more into it. Then I moved to Brighton, which is a bigger city, and I just kind of met people there. So it just kind of rolled on. And Oscar—we’re cousins—Oscar was really my main partner. And we just started doing shows of my music.
As a duo?
JM: No, there was another guy called Gabriel who was in the first line up. And, yeah it’s weird. It just kind of took off in a small way, and we’ve just been touring ever since.
How long did it take you before you felt confident in your own stuff?
JM: Well, from starting to make music, to feeling enough confidence to give it to people that weren’t my friends, that probably took like three or four years. Because where I come from there’s no clubs, there’s no scenes. So when I moved to Brighton, it’s like a city where you can go to rock clubs, or you can go to hip-hop clubs, or electronic. So when you go from that you’re like, “Hold on,” there’s like a whole infrastructure or whatever. So I remember it being pretty nerve racking. And then singing—when I was playing people music, that was when it was completely instrumental. It was another like two years before I started singing.
Were you singing as a part of these other bands, or were you just strictly the drummer?
JM: No. I think I was probably always like, secretly… You know when you’re kind of sitting around and you can hear someone trying to explain something to someone else? And that person doesn’t really get it, but you kind of in your head think, “I get it.” I think I always wanted them to give me the microphone.
OK so Oscar, when Jon came to you saying he was going to branch off, what did you think?
Oscar Cash: It didn’t quite happen like that. I always just sort of knew, or had heard a little of what was on his computer before. I’m trying to think back to the time. I just remember hearing it and thinking like, “Now, if this was a bit more poppy...” [Laughs]. ‘Cause I was thinking of what am I going to do, and I was like, “I’m going to make in between what you do and N.E.R.D.
I just thought of that. I guess that’s the nice thing about the band, really: You hear about UK bands, and they’re kind of presented to you, like, “These guys are incredible,” and you’re like, “I don’t know who they are.” Which is probably the same as what we are. But I guess what happened with us is there wasn’t any point in which we were being pushed in people’s faces, even in England. So it happened really slowly, and I think it just kind gave the whole thing enough time to be quite genuine.
How would you describe what you do musically? I’ve listened to all of your albums and I notice that there’s a simplicity you’ve built upon since your debut.
JM: It’s cool that you listened to all of it. Because that’s the thing, a lot of people haven’t gotten kind of clear about the first one. So I think if you hear them all, you know that it kind of started with me kind of making beats. I guess it’s this idea, instead of sticking to the first thing. I kind of find it much more exciting to try and get back there, to try and like reverse it.
But then I think also it’s good, because Oscar makes music in the same way that I do. When you start making music and you don’t know so much about traditional melody or anything like that, you start using a computer, you end up learning about production at the same times that you’re learning about songwriting. So the one thing that kind of ties the records together, in my mind anyway, is that it’s about the production and the songwriting. So each album is me trying to be a producer as much as anything else. With the new [album] I just thought, “Imagine if a producer came on board.”
Like a real one?
JM: [Laughs] Yeah. They’d say, “OK, you need to like strip everything down, try to make everything simple, and let the song do its own thing, and you need to get a bit more confident.” I think, when you think about it like that, they start to make a bit more sense. But yeah, so I think the idea is just to get back there.
There’s more of a focus on instrumentation on this album and it sounds more like a full band. You became a “real producer,” huh?
JM: I’d like to imagine. [Laughs]
I would say so. So would you say there was a conscious decision to go in this direction, or did it happen naturally?
JM: Yeah, Oscar’s kind of been at the receiving end of everything as much as I have, in terms of like, us being out there and people talking about us. We kind of care. I think probably what I felt like, after the second record, was quite often I’d read that there was a lot of DIY stuff going on, and you’d hear like, “Oh anyone can do this, and anyone can do that.”
OC:It’s not like it was DIY for DIY’s sake.
The one thing I really want [people] to know is not anyone can do this. So part of the reason to record a record in the studio and to make it sound really good, is to take yourself a bit more seriously. Just to kind of prove to people that there is some skill there. - Joseph
Right, you didn’t have the resources and a big production team. You really had to do it yourselves.
OC: Yeah, it’s just the way it was.
JM: So a part of me felt frustrated, ’cause once you’re releasing music, and rightly so, no one really gives a shit about how long it took you to get where you are or anything. The one thing I really want them to know is not anyone can do this. So part of the reason to record a record in the studio and to make it sound really good, is to take yourself a bit more seriously. Just to kind of prove to people that there is some skill there. But then also, to do another record that was produced on a laptop at home would have just been kind of forced, you know? Because by now we are more popular and there is more money involved. So you might as well embrace it, rather than be like, “Ok we’re still going to make a record that sounds a bit shitty.”
Are you already in the beginning stages of some new work?
JM: Yeah. I’m just trying to do demos. I guess what I’d like to do with the next record is to have the studio equipped for a two-month stretch, and go in and know exactly what we’re doing. So I’m trying to do that. But it’s never that easy. I’ve just got a bunch of stuff, like a bunch of little ideas. And then some of them I’m trying to send Oscar’s way or whatever.
So far there’s almost been a two-year window between albums. This feels like a quick turnaround.
JM: Yeah, I mean I say that but it can end up being like another year. [Laughs.]
Don’t get too excited, fans.
JM: But no, it’s weird. I mean like, that’s the other thing. The funny thing is in the UK when it’s first released, it takes about three months before people start asking you about the next record. You’re like, “Oh whoa. Hold on, it’s been three months!” And like, the record’s just about to be released in other countries. And now, especially that you have to work so hard touring, time flies. The album’s already been out a year.
Is it tough trying to make music that addresses real life, regular issues when you don’t have time to live regularly and be in relationships or catch up with family and friends?
JM: Yeah. It’s weird how quickly it becomes regular, though. I guess the thing is you have to be kind of aware of how fragile your existence is. So I think part of our mentality is just to grab everything while you can. Who knows what’s going to happen with the next album or whatever? I think when you’re talking about relationships, at the house I kind of have this understanding of that. And kind of the whole idea of the last album, the idea of being away all the time, and not really having much of a chance to visit my parents or the place I grew up, you kind of end up thinking about that stuff. So in a way, without touring, the last album wouldn’t have been what is was.
JM: And I think also, that kind of thing. Now all of the stuff I’m thinking about writing for the next record is to do with the idea of traveling, because that’s all we do. I think it would be kind of impossible to write about anything else, so it kind of helps. Well, I think it helps if you embrace it, and I think you can tell when bands get a bit confused about what they’re doing. Because you have this, like, really direct connection. Someone’s thinking about something, and then they make some music, and you usually have to get what they’re thinking about.
OC: If you’ve been touring for three years and you try to write a record about your town…
And have you haven’t been there…
OC: Yeah, and how tough it’s been or whatever. It’s not being real, and it all just gets confused.
JM: Or you know, it’s like the rap scene when people are kind of still trying to rap about when it was hard. Then you move on to saying how everyone hates on you. I think that’s the natural progression, isn’t it?
What’s the reaction been from the people who saw you go from being a backing guy in other bands, to now being the lead guy in your own band?
JM: They’re the haters [Laughs]
JM: I think it totally depends. It’s probably because of the place that I grew up. It was a really small amount of people that were involved.
Where was this again?
JM: Southwest England, it’s a place called Devon. Yeah, it’s like a really rural kind of area, so there are not a lot of people that are into music. So in fact, the other guy when we first started playing, this guy Gabriel was the singer and songwriter in pretty much every band I had ever played in. But he’s kind of just really happy for me. And now he’s doing his own thing. I’d say he’s really positive about it.
I get the impression that some people really understand why this is happening. Or like, people who I’ve played music with, I think they might not really get it. But I think in most cases I’m kind of younger than them, and it might be a generational thing, I’m not sure [Laughs].
OC: I’ll tell you personally speaking that all of my friends, my close friends, are just genuinely happy.
JM: You occasionally get the odd sort of like, “Oh yeah?”
OC: Yeah. [Laughs]
JM: Actually before this record came out it was nice, because we obviously weren’t touring much. I was writing and stuff. So Oscar was back in Brighton, where he lives, and he started working again at the kitchen he used to work at just as something to do for fun, in a way.
OC: Well, yeah, kind of, because I like having a little bit of normality, occasionally.
JM: I think people who were working with him were thinking, “Oh, I guess things aren’t going really well then.”
OC: The guy I used to work for, Cap, now works at the pub around the corner from me. He treats me really differently now. It’s weird. He’s just like, “Oh yeah?” I don’t think he was really aware of what we were doing before. So when I went back to work…
JM: Going back being a kitchen hand…
OC: Yeah. So I think he just thinks it went “Pow!” But that hasn’t been the case.
What’s the name of the place where you were working last?
OC: It’s called The Hop Poles. It’s…
JM: It’s closed now.
OC:I don’t know, it’s like a pub, yeah. Just working in the kitchen.
We once had this hypothetical conversation about what would happen if we were asked to [tour with Coldplay]. And then sure enough, we get this email that’s says like, 'You’ve been offered the Coldplay slot.' - Joseph
Speaking or your rise, you guys will be opening for Coldplay. What was your reaction when you heard that news, and what’s that process like? Does someone from your management petition to make it happen or how does that work?
JM: It’s funny because I’m not really a big fan of Coldplay. Gbenga, who plays in the band is a massive fan. So we once had this hypothetical conversation about what would happen if we were asked to do it, and the conclusion we came to was, if it happened in America, that would be amazing, because, we’re still not very known in the United States. And then sure enough, we get this email that’s says like, “You’ve been offered the Coldplay slot.” [Laughs]
JM: And yeah, it’s amazing. We decided like we’re going to do it. And then, like I was saying to other people, there’s a couple of people trying to claim the reason it happened. But I think the most compelling…
OC: The one we’d like to believe.
JM: The one we’d like to believe is, you know Azealia Banks?
Yeah, the “212” girl.
JM: Yeah. She supported us in Paris not so long ago. Then we did this whole tour in England with her, and she was saying like, “Oh that Coldplay tour. I got you on that tour.” I’m not sure if it’s like public knowledge, but I know she’s friends with their manager or something. So I think she might have just like thrown our name in.
JM: She’s really into us, which is quite a nice surprise. So anyway yeah, apparently it’s down to her.
So as far as how you prepared for that, can you expect the same type of show? What are your plans for the dynamic going into it when it starts?
OC: It’s a funny one ‘cause, in a way, kind of supporting someone like that almost feels like the pressures off. Like, in a weird way. Because you’re literally going to play and people can like it or not. But I guess it all depends on how long we actually have.
Jon: I think it’s like 45 minutes.
OC: 45 minutes. Just try and structure things a little different.
Jon: Yeah I’m curious to see. I kind half expect the label to be a bit like, “You have to do this kind of production show.” But I also kind of feel like you can’t really fight fire with fire. If you’re up against Coldplay, you’re just kind of like, “Well jeez, it’s Coldplay.” Like, we’re not going to be able to out Coldplay Coldplay. So I kind of feel like we should just kind of stick to what we do. I mean obviously it will be more on a kind of bigger level. But I do think there’s something to be said for just being memorable for that fact that you’re different. But then I guess they may be expecting something huge. We’ll watch Coldplay and see what they do.
How comfortable or happy are you with the level of fame, attention, and popularity you have right now? You kind of have the recognition from your true fans. But you can also walk outside without paparazzi hounding you. So how do you feel about where you are now, in comparison to where you might be by summers end?
JM: Yeah, I guess it’s a bit of a paradox isn’t it—this tour we’re doing with Coldplay with arenas and stuff like that? I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to be the band that’s headlining a stadium. You know what I mean? But, obviously you want people to hear your music. There are more people who should hear it in America. In England and in France where we’re kind of more popular, we don’t feel famous or anything like that. I can’t really imagine we’ll ever get to the point where we’re getting mobs. And it’s fine. It’s fine if you’re in bars and people give you some stuff for free. That’s never a problem. [Laughs]
OC: I think, for me anyway, I just want everyone to continue being happy. You kind of have the opportunity to carry on. That’s the kind of thing with this Coldplay thing I guess. You kind of get offered something like that, and maybe you might want to sort of think, “Well no actually, lets just continue doing our own thing in our word. But the thing is no one would understand if you turned down something like that. [Laughs] You know we’ll just have to keep it going.
JM: See what happens.
How much satisfaction do you take in the people that have been with you since day onek? You played a song from your first album and I heard one woman scream for joy.
JM: Oh, “You Could Easily Have Me.” It’s cool.
OC: Some people were like, when that song came out they were 15, and now they’re like 21.
JM: I mean it happens quite a lot in England. They’ll be people who saw us at our first London shows or whatever and it’s just nice. It’s just nice that we haven’t been dropped, you know what I mean? We’re still here. For your fans not to be embarrassed of you is kind of really cool. And when we were first doing those shows, there were lots of bands who probably didn’t grow with there fans, or like…So I think that’s like, the massive thing for us. And yeah, like Oscar was saying, there’s people we recognize now, like fans in England, who we’ve kind of known since they were 15. So that’s nice, it’s great. It’s worth it just for that one scream of recognition.