MGMT interview: ‘It doesn’t have to be druggy music just because it’s not pop’

The duo’s new album sends the listener on a euphoric musical journey. We find out why they've taken a chance on trance

Photo: Danny Clinch

Both halves of MGMT turned 30 this year. In the nicest possible way, they look it. Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden burst into the world in 2008 with their album ‘Oracular Spectacular’, the cover of which saw them posing on a beach dressed as Amazonian nu-rave princes. Today, talking up their eponymous third record in a hotel near Soho, they look trendy but not trendsetting – more Uniqlo than day-glo.

It’s not just their appearance that’s changed direction. ‘MGMT’ is a strange and resolutely non-poppy record. It develops the styled psychedelia of their second album (‘Congratulations’), but with fewer guitars, denser layers of electronics and even the chugging drive of trance.

It’s a big gamble, but one they’re glad they’ve taken: ‘I think that that’s the ultimate prize,’ says VanWyngarden. ‘To listen to music that can put you in a sort of altered state’. Doe-eyed and slightly shy, he denies that there’s any sort of chemical influence – at least not directly: ‘We draw upon our experiences with drugs over the years as inspiration. But Ben and I aren’t into taking drugs to write. It’s just never really worked for us.’ Goldwasser, bespectacled and the more clean-cut of the two, puts it bluntly: ‘It doesn’t have to be druggy music just because it’s not straight-forward pop music.’

Music of a trance-inducing nature has been everywhere this year, as woozy electronica LPs by Jon Hopkins, James Holden and NYC duo Blondes prove. The pair have added themselves to this trend and dropped whimsy from their songwriting repertoire: ‘We used to feel compelled to add a crazy chord change or a weird bridge section,’ Goldwasser explains. ‘We got away from that this time: that feeling like songs suddenly needed to go to a totally different place.’

Further sonic exploration came from intense jamming in the studio: ‘A lot of the music came from improvising for hours on one idea and letting it develop. We’d edit it down to the best bits,’ says Goldwasser. ‘Nobody would want an 18-hour MGMT album.’

While first-album hits like ‘Time to Pretend’ and ‘Kids’ are still anthems, their follow-up was regarded as a commercial (but not critical) flop. Are they worried that all this experimentation might make their new record their last? Goldwasser thinks not: ‘I think we’re fortunate to have fans who have stuck with us. Some people had this kind of knee-jerk reaction when we did something different – I think they’ll be ready this time around. We’re just really proud of the music. It feels like the happiest we’ve been.’

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