When Joseph Mount started making music in his bedroom under the name Metronomy, he imagined he’d be confined within those four walls for a long time, perpetually laying down tracks with his laptop. Fast forward 14 years, and his small project has moved far beyond the limits of his quiet hometown of Devon, England, its sound evolving with every stride. Now including keyboardist Oscar Cash, bassist Olugbenga Adelekan, and drummer Anna Prior, Metronomy have since embarked on world tours and produced four diverse albums—the most recent of which, Love Letters, hit shelves early this spring.
It’s a frigid February morning when Mount meets me at Brooklyn’s Roebling Tea Room. Swathed in a heavy coat, he’s slightly flushed from the cold, laden with a guitar case and bulky duffel bags that he drops on a chair before collapsing into one himself. Only 12 hours have passed since Metronomy took to the stage at the nearby Music Hall of Williamsburg, playing a concoction of fresh tunes and crowd-favorites for a house filled to capacity.
At Metronomy’s inception, Mount had no inclination of becoming a singer or a songwriter in the traditional sense, envisioning himself more in the same vein as Four Tet, producing music with only a laptop. Metronomy’s debut, Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe), emerged from Mount’s array of electronic bedroom recordings in 2006, a collage of futuristic, experimental noises colored by a diet of Aphex Twin and Björk. Frantic and heavily textured, it is disjointed from the sleepy, rural environment Mount grew up in, reflecting more of his descent into what he describes as “a bit of a rabbit hole.” Living in a world that lacked a strong music scene, he burrowed himself deep into “willfully difficult” electronic music, but Metronomy didn’t remain there for long. Mount’s self-confidence grew, and with it Metronomy’s exploration of its soundscape. Today, the band displays unprecedented boldness through their diverse and solid musical arrangements. As Mount tells me, “I’ve always been a bit shy—not really trying to push what I do upon anyone unnecessarily. Whereas right now, I feel like I’m much more happy to do that.”
Critics wrestle with Metronomy’s oeuvre, unable to easily pinpoint a discernable style. Their second album, Nights Out, released in 2008, was pegged as electropop; 2011’s The English Riviera introduced more guitarwork, aligning itself closer with dance rock aesthetics. Listen to Love Letters, and you’ll be hard pressed to connect the record’s catchy pop songs, heavy on instrumentation, with the band’s early, grittier electronica. Metronomy have taken sonic turns with each release, but it never moves blindly. The shifts stem from Mount’s natural progression in his songwriting.
“For me, [the shifts] are really organic,” he says. “I feel like I’m kind of getting better at music and getting better at songwriting, and that feels like progress to me. I think some people loved the first record and didn’t really understand what happened after that… but I think that just changing and learning and trying to force yourself into slightly uncomfortable situations is very valuable.”
“But you know,” he adds, “Not everyone hears the kinds of ideas I have in between each record.”
It’s taken Mount some time to feel at ease with writing instrumental songs. In the early days, he struggled to finish them, too aware that something was missing. Then he tried singing over his compositions, and he realized it opened up entirely new possibilities for Metronomy.
Still, the transition from producing bedroom beats to singing in a full-fledged band wasn’t initially smooth. Nights Out, which captures Mount’s nighttime escapades following his move to London, features his vocals on about half of its tracks, but they can fall flat and sound stilted. It was three years later that Metronomy found its bearings with The English Riviera, a glamorizing ode to a cluster of fragmenting English seaside towns built in the image of Mediterranean resorts. Moving even further from the vigorous electronic hooks of Pip Paine, the album surfaced with firmer and more focused vocals coupled with funky riffs, earning a nomination for the 2011 Mercury Prize.
With Love Letters, Mount’s acquired comfort in songwriting is evident in his heartfelt lyricism. But Metronomy had no intention of remaining static with its latest delivery, steering away from more conventional recording spaces and instead recording the album with eight-track tape machines at London’s Toe Rag studios. What emerged was a more organic project that favors the human touch of live instrumentation, standing in contrast to the laptop-crafted sounds of earlier recordings.
“I think that’s quite a pure way of recording, especially for someone like me who needed a computer to give myself time to learn about writing music,” Mount says. “It felt that record[ing] in that traditional way [produced] a sense of achievement—now I can do this stuff without leaning on a computer and use my own skill.”
Traditional rock instruments eclipse electronic devices during Metronomy’s most recent live shows as well. Up until its current tour, the band has used laptops on stage; now, guitars, keyboards, and drums stand as the centerpieces. Mount quips that they can’t trust technology enough to have a computer accompany the band; but all jokes aside, he adds, “Having these instruments… That to me is a band.”
“I never would have had the chance to find out I could make music if I hadn’t had a computer,” he continues. “But if I’m watching a band, and I think, Oh, this is cool, and then I see a computer, I think, Ah, there’s the genius. There’s the brains. I just wanted to get rid of that side of the live show. It’s funny because we never gave that much responsibility to the computer, but it still felt like it was more important than us.”
Today, the band has a firmer grasp not only on its sonic identity but on its direction. Mount speaks of the progression of Metronomy’s songs and their structures in terms of an always-changing, as opposed to linear, movement. “Because it’s me that’s steering the songwriting, we don’t have to commit to anything,” he says. “It’s not like we have to have a little talk about what direction we’re heading. I’m happy to not work it out.”