"I realised that all you actually need are water, sunshine and something that’s good for your soul.... - " hmv.com talks to Metronomy
Metronomy were still in the middle of touring their last album Metronomy Forever, which arrived in 2019, by the time the pandemic hit the following year, forcing them to cancel many of their planned shows and, like everyone else, retreat toward home.
For the band's frontman and chief creative force Joe Mount, that meant heading back into his studio to make the most of the extra time by not only beginng to craft its follow-up album, but also releasing a collaborative EP in the meantime that saw him working with the likes of Brian Nasty, Folly Group and Pinty and heading in a much more electronic direction.
Their new album Small World, however, brings a more stripped back feel and, almost as an antidote to its sprawling predecessor, comes in at just nine tracks.
Ahead of its release we spoke to Joe about the ideas behind the new album, finding a new appreciation for bands he didn't really get, and his plans for more collaborative work in the future...
When did you start putting together material for this new album? There was an EP in the meantime that had a very different vibe to this record...
“I started having the ideas for this in late 2019, but it wasn’t until all the touring got cut short and we were suddenly back at home that I really started thinking about doing another album, then I suppose it was at the end of summer 2020 when I actually started concentrating on the record.
“As a way to focus the album more, I decided to do the EP as well. So I was able to compartmentalise what I was doing, because always in what I’ve done there’s been this element of getting excited about production and trying out different ideas, but that didn’t quite fit with the idea that I had for the album. The EP was a way of creating another little outlet, and actually it wasn’t until I’d finished the album that I started working on the EP, but it became a sort of psychological thing to help focus the record.”
Did you have a quite clear idea about what you wanted to do with the album then?
“Yeah, I think every time I make a record I’m always reacting to the previous thing I’ve done, so Metronomy Forever, the last record, was 17 tracks long and it was quite sprawling in its ideas, lots of different ideas and sounds on there. So as a sort of reaction to that, not for the sake of it, but having done that I thought I’d like the next thing to be much more precise and coherent. So that’s how the idea started, and I guess once you’re making a record and you start thinking like that, you start listening to things that may be relevant to it.”
Was there any particular track that kicked things off in that direction?
“The first one I wrote for it was ‘Things Will Be Fine’, that felt like a different type of song to what I’d been writing before and yeah that did become kind of a keystone, it had all the elements within it that I was wanting for the record.”
What kind of things did you find yourself listening to for inspiration? Were there any specific reference points for what you wanted to do?
“Yeah, there were a lot. There was this weird thing where I started revisiting stuff that I’d listened to maybe ten years ago or something like that, things like Midlake or Joanna Newsom, that kind of stuff, these quite austere things. And then further back I was also thinking about stuff that I’d hear when I was younger and didn’t quite get at the time, things like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs, quite serious bands, or at least that’s how I thought of them.
“I think when you’re a teenager you sort of align yourself with a certain subculture or whatever, so in my mid-to-late teens I was probably listening to grunge a lot and something like RE.M. felt quite clinical somehow, it just felt weird, it didn’t feel like it was for me. But now I think I understand that that was always intentional, you realise that actually often what you think is a by-product of their music or what they do is an intentional part of how they present themselves to you."
The album was described in one of the press releases as ‘a return to simple pleasures’ – do you think that has emerged in the lyrics on this album as well as in the more sparse musical arrangements?
“Yeah, totally, and you can’t really ignore the fact that the album was made at a time when simple pleasures were pretty much all you had. Lucky for me I’ve got a family, and I’m happy with them, and I think enjoying the company of people that you love or people that you like is one of the simplest pleasures and one of the most gratifying things. So I was definitely aware of all that – and I keep saying this, but it was the first time that I’d been out of my overdraft since I left university, probably. And I was thinking ‘Well, why is that?’ And I realised that it was because I wasn’t always needlessly buying a coffee or a sandwich or something. I realised that all you actually need are water, sunshine and something that’s good for your soul. So yeah, it’s very simple pleasures.”
Have you been able to play much of the new stuff live yet?
“That’s something that we’re just starting to do now. The good thing is that all of the new songs translate really well to playing live, with the instrumentation and things, it’s a seamless transition. There’s always moments wen you’re playing new songs that nobody knows and you feel a bit exposed, and I guess you feel like ‘Oh, they know how good this one is yet!’ But we’re touring soon so we haven’t really got a great deal of time to road test anything until we’re actually on the road."
What are your tour plans looking like for 2022?
“Well, obviously we had to postpone quite a lot of our shows. People had been asking if I’d got any plans, and I’d always say ‘well, yeah, we’ve goit a tour booked but I can’t actually believe it’s going to happen.’ Whereas now it seems like the only shows that we’re going to have to move again are the German ones. Every other country in Europe seems to have decided that things have to happen now, so we’re touring all of March, pretty much all of April, and then festivals. We’ve just been announced as headliners at Green Man this year and, on paper, it looks like your average year.”
You must be itching to get back out there by now, is there anywhere you’re really looking forward to?
“Yeah, I’ve been talking about it with the band actually. It’s weird, but I think the days that we like most on tour – and I’m sure every other touring band can relate to this – but when you wake up in some random town, for want of a better word, where you don’t know anyone and there’s nothing to do except wander around and explore. We’re going to Prague on the European tour, and that’s obviously not a town, but I just love places like that where you can just enjoy a city and not have any commitments other than doing a really good gig. Also we’re playing in England at the end of our tour in April, and for us having a little trip around England is always a real pleasure.”
What about the production side of things? We saw you were involved with Robyn’s album Honey fairly rcecently, any other production projects on the horizon?
“Yeah, during lockdown ended up doing an album with a singer called Tatiana, she’s half Russian and half English, and it’s literally her first album. She’s not very well known yet, but she’s just a great songwriter and a great performer. Then I’ve been working a bit more with Robyn, I did some more stuff with Jessie Ware, and more recently a French artist called Jain.”
“It’s something I’ve always been really interested in doing and it’s the kind of thing where I could quite happily stop everything else I’m doing and just work on that, but I feel like for as long as there’s interest – and I’m always surprised that there is interest and demand for Metronomy – but I would always put that first, until I don’t really have any choice.”
Have you started thinking about the next Metronomy record yet?
"I kind of have, but I think there will probably be another Posse EP before that. It sorts of excites me, the potential I can get from doing that. In terms of Metronomy I’m very excited about the next stage of what I’m doing, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt it’s not to worry too much about what’s next, because things can change very quickly. But yeah, when I’ve got the time I’m very excited to concentrate on the next Metronomy thing.”
Small World is available in stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.