“I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A NICE THING FOR ME TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE A RECORD THAT DOESN'T RELY ON COMPUTERS AT ALL.”
Words and Interview by DJ Pangburn
On Metronomy’s latest album, Love Letters, Joseph Mount decided to go analog. Sure, in the past the band used computers to remix the likes of Gorillaz and Lykke Li, and record a variety of electronic and psychedelic music since their debut LP Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), but Mount wanted a different experience. This decision took him to London’s Toe Box Studios, where nary a computer is in sight.
While Mount wanted the album to be relevant to the times, Love Letters can’t help but feel like a throwback to a bygone era. The album sleeve, created by graphic designer Leslie David, has the feel of psychedelic album artwork and, to a lesser extent, science fiction paperbacks of the ’60s and ’70s. The album title itself, if taken literally, can even make us long for a time that love letters were actually a thing. Messages that required care and consideration unlike the flood of virtual messaging apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
Mount wanted to know if the creative care found in decades past still had a place in this digital age, where things can be created in minutes. Listening to Love Letters, it’s clear that he succeeded. And who better to give this analogue agenda a visual form than one of world’s greatest music video directors, Michel Gondry? The playfully surreal director gives “Love Letters” the analogue feel that Metronomy channels on the new album.
In a recent phone conversation, Mount dug into the decision to go analogue, and why it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily anti-technology. He also talked about the brief but terrifying moment when he recorded over a track on tape, and how it taught him that it was okay to see something vanish.
You recently released the Michel Gondry-directed video for the “Love Letters” single. Did you just hand the song off to him?
When you work with any director, they never really want you to say that much. I said that it would be nice if it were this performance video with the band, and a bit psychedelic. But, I think in a way that didn’t really change his idea much. So, I think it’s important when you’re working with a director to allow them the freedom to do what they want. That way you’ll get the best out of them.
On Love Letters, it’s not strictly electronic or psychedelic, as there is a diverse set of instrumentation. You make use of horns on the album, for example.
What happens when you’re in a band is that quite quickly people need to describe you so you kind of get a name for your genre. I think in a way over the years this has led people to believe that Metronomy is exclusively electronic in sound or as a band. On every single record there have been horns, and there have been guitars and drums.
The thing with this record is that those sounds are much more obvious, and the sound itself is much more intimate and minimal, so you can really hear everything that is going on. This is a kind of an analog record. I wanted it to sound like a made record rather than a programmed record. There are some programmed drum machines on it, but it feels much more live.
Did you know you wanted it to sound more live going into the studio?
Well, yeah, but there is a certain way of working that is normal now with computers. I just wanted to shake things up a little for myself. It was about making music in a slightly different way. Forty years ago, I wouldn’t have had a computer to work with, but still would have been able to make electronic or dance music. You just have to do it slightly different. I thought it would be a nice thing for me to learn how to make a record that doesn’t rely on computers at all. I’m not anti-computer. I just thought it would be a nice experience.
You recorded to tape at London’s Toe Rag Studios, right?
Yes. I went there specifically because they have a 1” eight-track tape machine, and there isn’t a computer in the building unless you bring one.
You mentioned you aren’t anti-computer or anti-technology. There is an interesting push back against technology right now. Some people are almost neo-Luddite about technology.
Yeah, you have to really aspire to be a neo-Luddite. I use this analogy—which isn’t a particular nice one—of the popularity of microbreweries or these little coffee houses that roast their own coffee. There is something about making something on a small, delicate scale that appeals to people. Nowadays, there is more of an appeal to make a record in an eight-track, analog studio. It’s a big decision to do that, and much more of a decision than to record on a computer. I think people will appreciate the reasoning and the care in making music that way.
Obviously, the team at Toe Rag Studios are professionals, but did you experience any challenges in the process of recording to tape that you didn’t expect? You can record over tape, but on a computer you can hit “delete,” and do a million other things that just aren’t possible on tape.
In the end, nothing really happened that wasn’t expected other than running out of tracks before I realized it. The first time that something was accidentally recorded over, that was a shocking five minutes or whatever. The engineer accidentally recorded onto the wrong track. By the way, all editing is destructive if you’re using a tape machine. Anyway, the engineer said, “Oh, I’m very sorry, I think I just recorded over the drum track,” and you just have this moment where you feel very angry, but there is nothing you can do at that point. You can’t take it out on the engineer, and you can’t get somebody to retrieve it from the tape. It’s gone. But, it was quite a good experience anyway because it made me much less precious.
Perhaps this is too literal an interpretation of the album title, but the idea of a love letter in this digital age is really sort of obsolete or anachronistic. But, that seems to fit your analog approach to recording.
It really hadn’t crossed my mind until people asked me about it. It’s funny because there could be a weird way that it works, but it is relevant I guess. I might conduct a survey of young people to see if anyone still sends letters. Of course, it’s still possible.
If you’re a young man and starting out in the world of romance, and you’re kind of trying to think of ways of impressing girls, you can blow their minds by sending a romantic letter. If there is one boy at a school who knows that he can send these letters, then he’s going to be popular. [laughs] It’s a totally dated thing, but there is a romance that will last as long as you still send letters. It shows much more care than a Snapchat picture or something.
The album artwork itself harkens back to psychedelic posters and album art, but also paperback science fiction covers, which were psychedelic as well.
Thank you. There is a lot about this record that is referencing the past. Musically it’s not supposed to be some pastiche; it’s supposed to be relevant now. But, there is something about the album artwork from that period when it would really be relevant to selling a record, or designed to catch someone’s eye in a shop. It’s still very important for me. I don’t know, I like the idea of it. In fact, this is the first time that I’ve ever worked with a modern graphic designer. The experience was very rewarding because I wanted it to be quite intense and pink with this psychedelic feel. Leslie David, who designed it, brought her own eye and touch to it. I’m happy to be a part of that album artwork world.
Love Letters is set for a March 10th release.