It’s sign of the times that barely a fortnight after Metronomy shared feelgood second single, ‘Things Will Be Fine’, from their forthcoming seventh album, sole ever-present member Joe Mount – newly returned from Paris – had been forced to temporarily relocate to his parents’ home in Devon, his children having tested positive to the dreaded coronavirus ahead of his promo duties for new LP, Small World.
Somewhat ironic, perhaps, seeing as the accompanying press explained how the new 45 is about ‘harnessing hopeful, sunny optimism in the face of difficult situations, speaking positivity into existence whether for our own reassurance or for that of our children or loved ones – even when we have no idea ourselves if things really will be fine’.
The meaning behind the new 45 and Joe’s fate on returning from the Continent (his partner is French) sum up the 2020s so far for this artiste, but Metronomy’s prime songwriter/arranger/producer remains optimistic, looking forward to a live return and the LP’s 18 February release on Anglo-French indie label Because Music (also the home of Christine & the Queens), the new single’s accompanying video ‘a paean to teenage nostalgia, described by Joe as a ‘sort of pseudo role-play therapy session in which we all re-visit our teenage selves’, where ‘everyone ended up more scarred than they did before making it’.
I’ve had the pleasure of a few sneak pre-release listens of the new LP, and enthused to Joe how there are songs that hook you right away and plenty more bound to stay with me a long time.
“Nice! The reaction part of it is only just starting, so I’m intrigued but very pleased. It’s weird, the more records you release, the more your feelings about releases changes. You feel different about the way things you do are critiqued. But ultimately, you’re still just hoping no one’s really horrible about it!”
Small World is seen as a return to simple pleasures for Metronomy – the band completed by Oscar Cash (keyboards, backing vocals, guitar, sax), Anna Prior (drums, vocals), Olugbenga Adelekan (bass guitar, vocals) and Michael Lovett (keyboards, guitars) – as they channel nature and embrace more pared down, songwriterly sonics, while ‘asking broader existential questions’.
Writing from home rather than being out on the road gave Joe a different perspective to draw from, and spending time with his girlfriend and their children during lockdown meant there was not only home-schooling duties, but also plenty of time spent in the garden, exploring. As he put it, “I could be a bit more loose with ideas, and relaxed.”
Small World has its roots in the electronic pop that came before, but also ‘maps out the potential of a new sonic future for the group now the nights out are less’, Joe adding, “Whatever album you’re currently making is the one you’re oldest for, and I’ve always joked that when I get to the point where I don’t see any young people at the front of our gigs is when I will give up. I have maybe seemed preoccupied with age in the past couple of years, but I like now that, while of course we still have younger fans, there’s potentially a new generation getting passed down our music by their parents. I liked the idea of making a proper kind of record that’s ‘grown-up’.”
And while Joe was keen to avoid making an album characterised by our pandemic-influenced world at present, he still wanted to acknowledge ‘both the stillness and sadness of the past two years’ and its impact on his writing. Even the LP title seems to nod to the way our world shrunk as we were asked to stay at home. But as he stresses, “It’s not explicitly about coronavirus. It’s about life and the people that you love.”
Perhaps to the point, as his publicist puts it, ‘For all he seems to think he has made a comparatively sombre record, much of Small World still pulses with the zesty, tongue-in-cheek joie de vivre you’d expect of a Metronomy record’.
That said, there’s a rather reflective opening with ‘Life and Death’. Is that his take on a couple of difficult years with Covid, lockdowns, and the accompanying sorrow and worries? We’ve all had plenty of time to think deep, after all.
“Yeah, the way the record came about, I wasn’t really wanting to make a record about Covid. But I ended up finding quite a lot of inspiration in all the things that were happening around me and my family, finding out things about myself.
“Then, towards the end of making the record, I felt it would be unfair to sort of mine the last two years for good inspiration and ignore the reality of it. It’s a bit exposing and embarrassing trying to write something about the experience of it all, but I also feel you shouldn’t shy away from things because they’re embarrassing. So in a way, it’s an attempt at acknowledging all the bad stuff.”
I get the impression this is Joe saying, ‘This is where we’re at, but here’s this’, soon launching into ‘Things Will Be Fine’, one of those bright sunshine ‘things always look clearer in the morning’ moments. It’s a wonderful song, but is this him trying to convince himself? Because we don’t have all the answers.
“I think it’s more about convincing my kids. Ironically enough, they’re now at home with Covid. I was away in Paris, and I’ve come back, so I’ve ended up having to escape to my mum and dad’s house.
“But back at the beginning of everything, we were having to explain to them, ‘Actually, this has never happened before, but everything’s gonna be okay, although there was that whole feeling of not knowing at all if things would be okay. Being afraid, I guess.”
Well, even a year ago we didn’t really know too much about vaccines and so on. It’s amazing how quickly it all changed.
“Yeah, I accidentally stumbled across something on Twitter today about Lawrence Fox. And it just makes me so fucking angry. He’s so disrespectful, me feeling, ‘Actually, no, it was very upsetting for everyone’.”
I’m with you on that, yet that’s someone I don’t want to give too much thought. It’s that dilemma – we don’t want to give him the oxygen, but at the same time we need to expose all the untruths. As with Nigel Farage and all their ilk.
For me though, that second track on the LP (the latest single) is somewhere between Neil Finn, Lightning Seeds, and Noah and the Whale, albeit far less pessimistic than the latter, lyrically. I guess you’ve always had that pop sensibility. And that comes through again.
“I quite like the Lightning Seeds reference. And I certainly like Neil Finn. I used to really like Crowded House when I was young.”
I tend to hear influences in your songs that you couldn’t possibly have heard first time around. But I’m guessing you grew up with radio and your folks playing good music.
“Definitely. My parents have got a decent record collection, which obviously I kind of ploughed. Then weirdly, I’d listen to Radio 1, but also proper local radio, and around here they’d always play stuff like 10cc and Don McLean. Never anything very modern. So I learned a lot about older music through them. What was the name of the radio station? I don’t remember, but basically, local radio.”
Track three, ‘It’s Good to be Back’ (the first single from the record) carries on the positive mindset. For me, it pitches somewhere between Confidence Man, Erasure and New Order. And the synth patterns beneath make it. It can’t fail to put smiles on faces, surely. I also get the feeling its low bass end saves it from being over-poppy in the form of a Clean Bandit No.1, for instance.
“Ha! Well, I’d kill for a Clean Bandit No.1! But for me, I have this idea I remember from when I was young of music that was too grown up for me. And there were certain things like hearing the Pet Shop Boys or Electronic, thinking there’s something I like about it, but it’s not for me – it’s too sophisticated.
“I guess I’m realising I’m having a bit of fun with this album, imagining I’m the sophisticated person, trying to put myself a little out of reach of young people. I’m trying to play with that a bit.”
‘Loneliness on the Run’ is more bluesy, with echoes of Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy. I suppose it’s just good pop structure though.
“Yeah, that was something I was trying to do. I wanted to make a record that was songwriterly, to try and include these classic parts of a song, to think of the song in terms of sections – verse, chorus, then a third section – trying to put it together like that. And as soon as you give yourself that classic structure, suddenly it starts to sound like all kinds of other stuff, purely because it’s working within the same kind of rules everyone else worked with. Yeah, that sort of happens quite naturally.”
‘Love Factory’ is another example. There’s even a David Bowie feel for me, not for the first time in your song catalogue. In this case though, maybe around his ‘Absolute Beginners’ period.
As for the LP’s sleeve image, I gather that garden scene was taken close to Totnes in the ‘90s by your Mum (‘It’s a scene that is serene, green and fecund. Only, as he puts it, “Those gardens don’t look like that anymore. They’ve sort of gone to shit.”’). Is there something about having children – Joe and his partner’s children are eight and seven – and reflecting on your own childhood, stoking happy family memories?
“Well, my oldest child is now almost nine, so it’s not like a new experience. But I think as you go through your life – and I’m not trying to sound like a sage – and have kids, I can see where I end up, you know. I can see myself eventually being a kind of elderly person with grown-up children. And if you’re lucky enough to be in that position, you’re lucky enough to have found – and I’m speaking for myself – a kind of focus for everything and a reason to be here. And as I grew up, I think about that more and more.”
Joe is based in Kent these days, but when he first left Devon – 20 years ago – he headed for the East Sussex coast. telling me he ‘still has an affection for Brighton’. It’s now 16 years since Metronomy’s debut long player, Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), Joe and co. soon carving out a name synonymous with polished but offbeat electronic pop music over their previous six acclaimed LPs.
It’s also a decade now since Mercury Prize-nominated third LP, The English Riviera (the first to also feature Oscar, Anna and Olugbenga). So here’s a big question – how come you’re still going strong, while many of your contemporaries slipped by the wayside or moved on? Is it because you’ve remained in happening pop circles, this fella now – sorry to remind you – pushing 40 this year, but still working with established and emerging talent (including production and writing for Robyn and Jessie Ware, and remixing the likes of Sugababes and Lady Gaga).
“I think with a lot of contemporaries that have fallen by the wayside, sometimes it’s not necessarily what they wanted to happen. I mean, things can happen to you that you don’t want to happen. But, I don’t know, I just remember when I was younger, 15 or so, buying into the idea of career musicians or career bands, really loving the idea of finding out about people who had stories. I think in the first case I’ve been really driven to do it, and it’s not something I equate to being egotistical or super-confident.”
It’s more about a work ethic, I suppose.
“I guess so. And I’ve always liked the idea of getting to a point where I’ve got a back-catalogue and you can kind of be understood slightly by that catalogue. I’ve always been quite driven by that, I think.”
We’re taken to places we might not expect on this record, with a neat example on the slow-build of ‘I Lost My Mind’, which maybe takes a couple of extra minutes to hook you, but then truly reaches the soul. Meanwhile, ‘Right on Time’ is pure ‘70s and ‘80s pop, again far too early for you to recall first time surely, but similar territory – dare I say it – to that The Feeling mined to great effect. And it’s another sunshine record.
Then we have ‘Hold Me Tonight’, and I love Joe’s duet with Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, a band that came up in my conversation with namesake Dana Gavanski a few days earlier, an artiste who has supported Porridge Radio. And Dana Margolin is Brighton-based, isn’t she?
“She is, but weirdly, someone said to me when I was doing an interview, ‘Have you known Porridge Radio for a while? Because I saw you at a gig of theirs in 2017/18.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Porridge Radio gig’. But they were like, ‘No, I saw you there!’. I think I’d gone to see the main band that night, and it turns out they’d been supporting. But I only met Dana recently, when we recorded the song.
“I felt there should be a female voice, and my manager suggested her. I’d already heard a few songs, but made myself more familiar with them, then Dana sent back this demo for what she was thinking, and I really loved it. It sort of twisted the song and gave it this meaning. I think she’s brilliant.”
She reminds me vocally on that track of Robert Smith, as you have at times in the past (for instance, The Cure meets Japan feel of 2011’s ‘She Wants’).
“Yeah, it’s weird, because I was obviously aware that people would mention The Cure. But when I first wrote that song, to me it sounded like The Velvet Underground. It didn’t have drums on it, and it was a different kind of song. It just sort of ended up growing into what it is now. But, you know, I’ve definitely been a Cure fan. No shame in that!”
Absolutely, and then the LP ends with ‘I Have Seen Enough’, which I love too. As the accompanying press release puts it, ‘He sings of the small, beautiful things in our own small, beautiful worlds that we can appreciate even within times that feel devastating and overwhelming: watching their children grow, enjoying a good show, picking fruit, marking out the seasons, soaking up the sunset.’
With a nod to his better half’s geographical roots, there’s a definite European feel for me, on a song somewhere between early Cinerama, Stereolab, and Serge Gainsbourg (whose daughter Charlotte is a labelmate), maybe.
“Yeah, that’s something I’m sort of … it was a song I kind of imagined being French in a sense, so I tried to write it in French. But yeah, definitely, now, because of my partner and because of our kids I feel French. Ha! And yeah, I guess it’s a bit of a nod to that kind of chansons stuff.”
I get the feeling that song might have lasted, happily, another couple of minutes, but you leave us yearning for more after three and a half minutes.
“Yeah, always leave them wanting more – that’s my ethos!”
Finally, you should be getting the chance to play these songs and a few more live soon, including dates either side of America. Then there’s Liverpool and Manchester on my adopted patch, Glasgow, Dublin, the Ally Pally in London, and even The Foundry in Torquay, not far off your old patch.
“Yeah, we can’t wait. It’s weird. The past few years, we’ve just been saying, ‘I can’t really believe it’ll happen’. Then of course, they got cancelled. But now it feels like they’re gonna happen. And yeah, it’s gonna be brilliant.”
Following a return to the US this month – with shows at The Lodge Room, Los Angeles and the Bowery Ballroom, New York (with ticket details here) – and a 30-date tour of mainland Europe in March and April, Metronomy are set to embark on a 12-date UK and Irish itinerary, calling at: Friday 22 April – Barrowland, Glasgow; Saturday 23 April – O2 Academy, Leeds; Sunday 24 April – Boiler Shop, Newcastle; Tuesday 26 April – Olympia Theatre, Dublin; Wednesday 27 April – O2 Academy, Liverpool; Thursday 28 April – Academy, Manchester; Saturday 30 April – O2 Academy, Birmingham; Sunday 1 May – Tramshed, Cardiff; Tuesday 3 May – The Foundry, Torquay; Wednesday 4 May – O2 Academy, Bristol; Thursday 5 May – O2 Academy, Oxford; Saturday 7 May – Alexandra Palace, London. For tickets head here.
For the video to ‘Things will be fine’, head here, and to pre-order Small World, follow this link. You can also follow Metronomy via their website, Spotify, Apple Music, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.