Interview: MGMT

Art school kids turned psych dance rockers, MGMT have come a long way since the orbital success of Oracular Spectacular. Despite headlining the biggest festivals, topping the lists of prominent music-tastemakers and fighting with the President of France, the band’s follow-up album Congratulations saw them moving in a new direction. Natural progression or backlash against the industry, JUICE finds out how to handle success and criticism from a sleep-deprived Andrew VanWyngarden.

So were you up to before this interview?
Sleeping.

Uh… okay.  When you changed your band name from the Management to MGMT, did that confuse people? Did they think it was an abbreviation?
When we did that, nobody knew about us. We did it when we put our EP. So it wasn’t like a big deal.

You’ve always said in interviews that it wasn’t your intention to start a band and be a full-time musician. Why then did you tour so hard in the early days in support of the Time To Pretend EP?
We didn’t tour that much… Not really, we started the band and we were doing it for fun in college and didn’t really play outside of college very much, maybe once or twice. After we graduated I was living in NY and we just eventually started an EP, toured with Of Montreal a few times. We didn’t think the EP would be some breakthrough thing but it ended up being what you’ve all heard.

Your videos are always zany and psychedelic. Where do you derive inspiration?
‘Time to Pretend’ was inspired by the holy mountains. We wanted to depict imagery that we were imagining when we were writing the song for the first album, living on the beach. For the next album Congratulations we thought of concept, but involved directors, we helped direct it. It was inspired by lots of different things.

How do you translate that to your performance on stage?
2007, when we started touring, it was more of a psychedelic rock thing… We’ve always played to neon lights… Where we are now, I feel, is playing shows more inspired by The Velvet Underground.

The art junkie band? Yeah, they certainly were the definitive New York band. Hipsters of their day even. Who do you think are hipsters of New York today?
There’s not really just one band representative of New York’s scene. There are so many different things shaping in NY now, I don’t really know. I wouldn’t say it’s just one band.

Anything special in store for KL?
We’re excited to come over! We’ve never been to that part of the world to play music. I think it’ll be a good show. It’ll be interesting to see how much the crowd knows about the new album. We’re just happy to see a new crowd singing along to our songs. People kind of know what to expect now having watched so much. But it’ll be a really good show, cool lights and stuff. It’ll be fun.

What have you heard about Malaysia before this?
Don’t really know, which seems crazy because it’s a whole country. I don’t know… what do you think the crowd will be like at our show?

As long as it’s you guys, you could be playing cards on stage and the audience would still cheer.
Haha… That actually sounds like fun!

What’s your idea of fun when you’ve got a day off touring?
Whenever it’s possible we like to get down to nature, walk around. We usually just see the backstage, the hotel and an airport… but it’ll be nice to just walk around the city, a cool park, see some exotic creatures.

Speaking of mutant peacocks, what encouraged the sonic shift for Congratulations?
We wrote first album in college, 6 to 7 years ago. The amount of time in between those albums, in those 2 years, our taste in music turned out completely different by the time we were writing songs for Congratulations. We were signed to a major label, we were touring the world. But our approach to writing music and drawing from experiences, in my opinion, it’s not that different from first album. I’m still listening to a lot of the same music that inspired me before. I don’t think a crowd who likes Congratulations would not like Oracular Spectacular. I think it was a natural progression, natural changes. It’s important that we stuck to what we thought was the right thing to do and didn’t care about what some people thought – they were expecting us to write songs that sound like ‘Kids’, you know. We were not going for that, it was going to be different each time we wrote an album, not one particular thing.

Do you feel mad every time someone asks you to play ‘Kids’?
I don’t think so. We feel grateful that people like our music. A lot of the time, when we play ‘Kids’, it’s really fun to see people dancing, singing, smiling and trippin along. It’s the most popular song we have. We’re really not at a point where we feel we need to distance ourselves from that song. It does fit in with our set, along with the psychedelic songs you have this pop song that comes in… I do get a little tired of singing ‘Electric Feel’ in front of so many kids, it seems a bit silly. It’s a funny song.

Was ‘Siberian Breaks’ meant to be 12-minutes long? Were you channeling the Velvet Underground?
It started out like any other song, one chord progression, and then it just grew into this long song. And eventually it doesn’t seem like a big deal to have a 12 minute song. I think of it as smaller songs, joined together. It’s kinda like the center of the album.

Well we think it’s quite bold to slap a 12 minute song in the middle of your album. Can recommend bands that are pushing the envelope in your book?

Panda Bear’s got this amazing album, Tomboy, coming out really soon that I’ve gotten to hear. Also, Violens are making real original-sounding music to me.

Thanks for the tips. In your opinion what’s real cause for congratulations in the world today?
I think people staying positive and just making art and just not getting negative or depressed. I don’t know man… There are many things. People observing things, yeah, they deserve congratulations… haha!

And what’s the cure for those days when you can’t stay positive, make art or observe things?
One way, for me, is to think about how good I have it in comparison to a lot of people in the world. And to tell myself to shut up, I mean like, everyone gets depressed. Sometimes you just have to slap yourself in the face and say, “You have it a lot better than other people.” It’s pretty great to have a career as a musician. I think people have more control over their lives and reality than they think sometimes. They shouldn’t give up, unless it gets to them, of course.

We recently interviewed Paul Banks of Interpol. When asked about what he thought of his detractors, he said that anybody that doesn’t like his band could kiss his a$$. Do you feel the same way about your music?

Of course there are going to be people who don’t like our music. It’s unfortunate that when people don’t like music, they feel an obligation to make it public (Ed Note-the job of a music journalist). I’d rather just not think like they should kiss my a$$. I don’t want them anywhere near my a$s, personally.

Thanks for your time, Andrew.
No problem. I’m sorry that I just woke up and spouting some, urm… I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I hope you get a good interview of this! Yeah, I’m excited to come and play!

We’ll be there requesting for ‘Electric Feel’!

MGMT will be rocking Bukit Kiara Indoor Arena on Friday 25 March 2011.

Image Moi