When Joseph Mount of Metronomy began working on the band's new album, he knew two things: he was going to make it primarily by himself (with guest spots from Mix Master Mike and Robyn) and he wouldn't be touring extensively on the record. With the benefit of relative isolation and no pressure to think ahead about how to recreate the songs live, he delivered Summer 08, which Heather Phares gave four stars, hailing the album for its "exuberance and sophistication," and called it "one of Metronomy's most enjoyable albums yet."
We got Mount on the phone from France to discuss how he reverted to some of his earlier songwriting techniques on Summer 08, how he decided which singing voices to use on which songs, and the bands he pretended to like as an adolescent.
AllMusic: You went into this record with the knowledge that you weren't going to be touring much on it. Did that impact the songs you were writing?
Joseph Mount: Definitely. I started getting a plan together at the beginning of last year for the record, and I said to the guys that I thought it would be nice to have a break from touring. We’ve been solidly touring since 2008, so it seemed like a good time to have a little break, and I did it knowing that would change how I did the record, since even if you try to be as free as possible in the studio, even if you have the idea that you’re going to perform a song live, it shouldn’t be entering into your thoughts when you make a record, but it does. It meant that I just didn’t care or even think about how it would be done live.
AllMusic: When you're working alone like this, do you get more protective of the material?
Mount: I’ve produced all the records so far, so I’ve been very protective. When I have other people playing on them, I want them to do quite a specific thing, but having said that, it makes more of a feature of the features. I’m not a scratch DJ, so I can’t tell Mix Master Mike what to do, but when it came to Robyn, I was giving her parts to sing, so I was probably as controlling as normal.
AllMusic: Do you think you're an easy guy to collaborate with?
Mount: It depends, if it’s on Metronomy stuff, I have such an attachment to it and such a specific feel for it that I think I’m not probably very good, you wouldn’t feel like you’d collaborated with me. But with everything else, if I’m writing something with someone without any real idea of what it would be, then yeah, I’m a very good collaborator. I think I have different hats. I have two hats, one hat for Metronomy and one hat for everyone else.
AllMusic: "Miami Logic" is built on top of one looping riff, and at one point all the other instruments drop out and the original riff is still going. I thought that was pretty fun.
Mount: That song in particular is something I began writing probably when I was doing Nights Out, so I did it in 2007 or something, but I never finished it. The difference between how I write stuff now and how I wrote stuff before was that in the beginning, I would just make loops and layer them up, and there wasn’t much songwriting in what I did back then, and what I’ve tried to get to over the years is writing songs, not just using loops. Then in a funny kind of about-turn, with this record I decided that I didn’t have to overwork an idea or over-write a song, and so I had these loops, and I said, “Why not do what you did before, and it will feel fresh because you haven’t done it for so long,” so that song is a back to basics for Metronomy.
AllMusic: Do you often leave songs unfinished and revisit them later?
Mount: For me, it happens all the time, and all the albums up to this one have been a mix of completely original ideas and old songs that it was never the right time to finish them. That’s probably how a lot of people work, some people get hung up on the thought that an old idea is an old idea, but it’s only old to me. Until it’s released, no one has any idea what I’m up to, so I’m embracing that idea, that you can get back into something that I made nine years ago and make it feel fresh and relevant. On this album, I started many more songs than the 10 that are on the album, and you can either finish them quickly and use them as B-sides or decide they’re worth a bit more thought. There’s quite a few songs that might appear on the next record.
AllMusic: As a writer, it's tough to look back at things I wrote even a month ago, much less 10 years ago. Is it scary to go back that far?
Mount: The difference is that in all of those examples of tracks where I might have gone back in time, there’s no voice or lyrics on them, it’s just a musical idea, and that’s much less embarrassing to listen to, you can put the current you onto the older music. You don’t have to be quite as explicit with words there.
AllMusic: You use some varied vocal approaches on the album. Going in, did you know which style each song needed or did that come as you went?
Mount: I knew that for this record, I wanted to give the vocals something which I hadn’t given them before. In the first instance, I thought I’d sing in a very loud and confident way, and then after trying a few tracks like that, I realized that doesn’t necessarily equal character, I’m still learning that you can use your voice in many different ways, and you can give songs and words this kind of extra depth, but you don’t have to do it by singing really crazy. There are many notches you can turn it up to. With the whole record, I started by thinking I was going to do a crazy soul thing, and then I realized it didn’t really sound very good.
AllMusic: Who are some musicians you appreciate who have multiple voices like that?
Mount: I really like Pharrell, there was a period where he was doing Neptunes production stuff, and depending on the song he might do a Stevie Wonder version or Slick Rick or Michael Jackson, so someone like him. And David Bowie was very good at giving songs what they needed, and that’s what it is, realizing you can use your voice to give a song what it deserves.
AllMusic: People talked about David Bowie being from outer space, Pharrell is at least in high orbit.
Mount: The funny thing with him is I thought his biggest song ever was going to be something like “Hot in Herre” or something, or one of those Timberlake songs, and you think he’s as big as he’s going to get, and then he’ll ramp it up again. Now there’s a whole generation of people who just know him for “Happy” and haven’t heard all this crazy stuff he did with Beyoncé and Britney Spears, it’s insane.
AllMusic: The album closes with "Summer Jam," which doesn't have many lyrics. How did it get that name?
Mount: With the whole record, I made this conscious decision to leave all the titles as their working titles, because normally you get to a point where you’re telling people the titles, like last year we were performing “Old School” live and I was saying, “It’s not called ‘Old School,’” but we called it that on the setlist, but after a while I just said, “Why not? Let’s put some significance into these really insignificant names we give these things.” So I did this very short version of that song, and if you’re working in Logic or whatever, you have to save it, and I saved it as “Summer Jam.” I gave it that name because it had this slow groove to it, and in the end it became its title, really. I don’t really know what a “summer jam” is, it’s probably “Hot in Herre” by Nelly, that’s a summer jam.
AllMusic: Did you always know it would be the closer?
Mount: For a long time, it was going to be in the middle. Another thing that takes a long time is the sequencing of a record, even though you know that half the people aren’t going to listen to it like that anyway, it feels like you should try and put it in the right order. In the end, partly because of where the other songs were and because of the shape that I’d given the album, it was the best way for it to end. It’s the end of the album, but it almost feels like an interlude or something, and that’s quite nice. I like the idea of the next record happening quite quickly, and so that gives me incentive to put something on the other side of the interlude.
AllMusic: Is there a musical style you love that you're too scared to try?
Mount: My favorite music genres are rap and R&B, especially female R&B singers, so those are two things that I can never become, really. I could become a rapper, but not only do I have nothing to say, but there’s not a great pedigree of English rappers. There’s the grime MCs, but I’d like to be more like Pharrell or Kendrick Lamar, but that’s not me, man.
AllMusic: Do you have a hard drive full of embarrassing freestyles somewhere?
Mount: Actually, on this album, there’s a song that I never finished and maybe I’ll put it on the next one, but I was going to try to do a rap, that was going to be my big thing. Not in the style of a real rapper, but like when rap music was a new kind of music for the world to hear, and everyone was trying to rap, Blondie was trying to rap, Prince tried to rap, it was a new frontier, so I was going to try a rap in that spirit. That remains on the cutting room floor.
AllMusic: Ah yes, the "try-n-rap."
Mount: It’s quite fun, when you think about it like that. Depending on where your entry point is into the rap game, it’s a style thing, it’s quite funny to think that I could try to do a rap on a song. I wouldn’t be trying to appropriate black culture or anything like that, I’d just be doing my little rap. It’s a thin line, you have to tread it carefully. But as long as I wasn’t putting on an American accent or using words I have no right to be using, I think I’d be OK.
AllMusic: Did you ever pretend to like any particular musicians in order to fit in with your friends?
Mount: It’s happened many, many times. When I was really young, it was anything from the nu-metal genre, because I met some cool girls who were into Linkin Park and that, and I tried to entertain the idea that I could appreciate it on some level, but I couldn’t. Strangely, I can appreciate it more now that I’m less angsty and older, I kind of enjoy it more. When I was at university, there was Mr. Scruff, it was this bad dance music, and everyone was crazy for it but I just didn’t get it.
I’ve always been quite outspoken about what I don’t like, but I’ve liked stuff to impress girls before and put up with it. Sufjan Stevens is another one. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate him more, but I went out with this girl who loved him, and I used to fucking hate it, I couldn’t understand it. Maybe because it’s attached to this memory of mine, I quite like it now.