As beams of magenta, cyan and yellow burst from the photographer’s psychedelic lighting, Joe Mount is holding a piece of steel mesh against his face. “I’m up for anything with this record,” he says, squinting slightly.
Beneath the decadent mirrors and faded golden décor of an ante-room in his label’s Parisian headquarters, and seconds from the bewildering bustle of the Gare du Nord, earlier that day I’d interviewed Mount, the 33-year-old creative force behind the English electronic pop phenomenon Metronomy. He looks slightly out of place among the vintage French backdrop; large- limbed and boyish in his white t-shirt and thick brown curls. When he describes his inspirations, he twists energetically in his seat.
“For me,” he says, “music is about moving or dancing – there’s something about motion with music. If the kids don’t care about what you do, you should think about what you’re doing, because pop music is for teenagers. If there are still teenagers at the front each time I go on tour, I’m fine. That’s how I gauge the success of Metronomy really – if young people are into it.”
Mount’s experienced plenty of motion himself. Having grown up in, he says, a kind of vacuum on the edge of a quiet, bohemian village in Devon in the 90s, he’s now living in the French capital with two children, and he’s readying the new Metronomy album – his fifth in ten years.
As Metronomy, Mount’s debut album was tinkered into existence on his home computer in his early 20s. 2006‘s Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe) was a noisy collection of instrumental tracks influenced by raucous French house and the melodic braindance of Warp records. With a lo-fi, punk attitude and natural pop fluency, it caught the ear of revered DJ, producer and indie remixer Erol Alkan. Mount tapped his cousin Oscar Cash and his friend Gabriel Stebbing, and suddenly Metronomy was a band, with an eager scene waiting to embrace it.
Around this time, Alkan and his club, Trash, were central to the scene known, perhaps unfairly, as indie-disco, or – even worse – nu-rave. Some brilliant bands were emerging, and Nathan Barleys were wandering the streets like DayGlo hyenas in skinny jeans. “The Myspace days!” Mount smiles. “Everyone had access to everyone, no matter their level of fame… Erol Alkan got in touch on Myspace; I knew at the time that this was a really great thing because he was a really important tastemaker. He was the man that stamped the piece of paper: ‘approved’.”
Incase there’d been any doubt that his music was more intriguing than many of the scene’s hype acts, Mount followed Metronomy’s raw, instrumental debut with Nights Out, a comparatively fleshed out studio album of intricately produced, but gloriously trashy electro-pop; with the infectious vocal choruses of sassy singles Heartbreaker and Radio Ladio hinting at the projects’ crossover appeal.
It was a defining era that launched Mount’s career, but by the end of the decade, it was time to try something different. In 2011, Metronomy released The English Riviera. Sweeter, slicker, and warmer, even the title spoke of opposition to the London scene he’d outgrown. Bursting with hummable, mathematically perfect musical equations like The Look and Corinne, Mount had enlisted new band members Anna Prior and Olugbenga Adelekan for a more indie-leaning sound, and the album was rewarded with a Mercury Prize nomination.
Even after these sharp stylistic shifts, it was 2014’s Love Letters that represented the most decisive step away from his electronic past, with only one track, Boy Racers, retaining that DNA. Laden with soft, sweet harmonies and jangling melodies, this was guitar music influenced by complex 60s pop from Brian Wilson to The Supremes. He says it was a conceptual sidestep, a breather, frail, even, although he insists that “it was definitely both the album that I expected, and the album that I wanted.” The album broke new commercial ground for the band; it reached the top ten and saw them headline major festivals. They were indie superstars, and Mount could do no wrong.
So was moving to Paris soon after meeting his French girlfriend another of those unexpected switch-ups that turned out so well? “I haven’t looked back,” he insists. “If you’re into music, you can do anything from anywhere.”
There’s a narrative to Metronomy’s discography, and while Mount is casually reluctant to provide me with a neat conceptual framework for album number five, the record does have something of a design, and it’s existed in his head for eight years. Feeding into it are memories of the summer leading up to the band’s first big break with the release of Nights Out: constant drunkenness, failed relationships, living in London and desperately trying to be cool. Growing up, it seems, has given him the freedom to finally make a liberated, light-hearted record about the angst and excitement of his younger self as he struggled with the surrealism of his situation.
“Since that summer, I’ve not had a summer off,” he says wide-eyed, keen to make me understand the importance of this time. “From that point on, our lives changed into the lives of touring musicians. It’s a symbolic record. It’s a kind of companion record to Nights Out, but one which I couldn’t really have done then. It would have been a really bad album.”
On the new album, the excitement of Metronomy’s earlier days is vividly painted; disco rhythms and neon synthesisers replace Love Letters’ acoustic guitar flourishes. The scuzzy atmosphere of the bygone London that forms the emotional backdrop comes through moments of gobby, discordant attitude, which inevitably get pulled into effortlessly tuneful conclusions – sometimes ecstatic, usually heartsick, often poignant.
“I did something I never did with the previous albums: I just made it for fun,” Mount tells me. “I didn’t wanna think about performing it live, how it’s going to work. It was genuinely a very pleasurable thing to do.”
As one would expect, family life can be fairly incompatible with living a teenage pop dream. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, Mount says, life’s full of grown-up things like compromise and time management. Mount found there was no longer time to make music while at home, and attempts to sneak laptop-based creative time on the tour bus proved worthless, and so to bring the new album to life, he booked a fortnight in a residential studio outside Paris and, in a very grown-up way, he was amazed by how the strict, time constrained isolation brought freedom to production.
“You’ve just got to splurge and get everything out; it really focuses you,” he says. “You’re loving every minute of it because you’re not having to care about anything else. You can become very narrow-minded and selfish, which isn’t a bad thing when making music at all.” And though he’s emphatic that there’s no analogy to be found between producing an album and raising kids, he’s discovered that the two processes are mutually beneficial. “Each puts the other into perspective,” he says. “Doing one helps you relax about the other.”
“If the kids don’t care about what you do, you should think about what you’re doing, because pop music is for teenagers”
While accessing the memories of a younger, wilder time for the new album, Mount had to shut himself off from his comfortable, middle class concerns. But he knows that fatherhood and financial success is taking him ever further away from the lovelorn, desperate character of his lyrics, and he’s aware of the potential for problems there – he doesn’t want to write songs about being complacent, to stop writing lyrics about unrequited love. “There are warning signs – I’ve heard that happen to Paul McCartney, and it doesn’t sound good on record,” he says. “You survive by using music as your personal playground, your shed. The music I love reminds me of being a teenager, and it’s easy to access that. It would be slightly perverse if I ended up doing it at 45.”
On the new album, Mount plays all the instruments himself, apart from a little Hammond organ. “It’s the way I’ve always done it; that’s what I do,” he explains of the status of Metronomy, which is perhaps closer to a solo project than a band. “Part of the character of Metronomy, and the reason people like it, is that it’s my personality. Metronomy exists as a band when we tour and it exists as me in the studio. To me, it’s very easy to work with them both, and the band understand that.”
“Also, they’re attractive people,” he says playfully. “If you’ve got a very talented, attractive drummer, and you’ve got a very talented, attractive bass player, who’ve got personalities, it helps.”
The bedroom producer is back with a vengeance, then. From our conversation, during which he gushes about Beyoncé’s new Diplo-produced track Hold Up, it seems that the idea of transitioning into a pop production powerhouse is incredibly appealing to him. “Bedroom producers are taking over the world,” he says. “Hudson Mohawke’s been producing for Kanye West and he’s just a bedroom guy too. What he’s able to bring to a track is invaluable; now that world understands the value of those people. People like Diplo and Pharrell, they’re producers, but they go beyond that. They’re orchestrating pieces of music produced by hundreds of people.” If he didn’t feel as passionate about the existence of Metronomy as he does, he’d focus on getting a credit on a Rihanna hit. “Maybe in ten years,” he says, hopefully.
Any early concerns about Metronomy’s longevity, then, are a distant memory. He appears slightly surprised by how well things have gone, and his ability to mature for the demands of fatherhood. But for Mount, every unexpected twist and turn of Metronomy’s evolution has only reassured him that trusting his instinct usually pays off. And he’s already thinking about how he can flip things around next time.
“What I’d love to do now is another instrumental record,” he says. “I probably will. The fans of Metronomy are so accepting. I feel very lucky.” It’s more than just luck that’s got Joe Mount this far of course. And beneath that cloak of down- to-earth modesty, he probably knows it.
Metronomy’s new album will be released this summer via Because Music