Ben Goldwasser was 25 years old when he and fellow band member Andrew VanWyngarden were thrust viciously into the global spotlight. In 2008 the duo released arguably the biggest breakthrough debut album of the decade in Oracular Spectacular, and while the paramount levels of success were no doubt welcome, the subsequent pressures and expectations laid upon them became overpowering and deeply affected their artistic output.
“When we worked on [2010’s] Congratulations we didn’t really give ourselves much of a break after touring Oracular Spectacular,” explains Goldwasser. “A lot of the moods on that album were influenced by what we were feeling, which for the most part was overwhelmed by all of the attention we were getting and not really knowing how to deal with fame and success. It’s really easy to get disillusioned with the whole machine that is the music industry.”
These realisations led the duo to step back and take an unrefined approach when they recorded their third, self-titled studio album. “Things were pretty crazy for a while – it got really confusing. But now we’re really feeling in control. We’re feeling really confident and really happy with the music that we’ve made. We’re really excited that now people can finally hear it, we’ve been waiting for a fair while. On this album we really gave ourselves a lot of time to decompress after we finished touring, which I think really helped. We were in a really good frame of mind when working on this album.”
For MGMT, the duo returned to Tarbox Road Studios to work with longtime collaborator Dave Fridmann (co-producer and mixer of Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations). “We had a lot more time with Dave to record all of the album up there, we actually learnt a lot of the songs in the studio,” Goldwasser says. “Previously we’d do a lot of the recording somewhere else and already have these fully-fledged ideas of how we wanted things to sound and what the arrangements of the songs would be before we went to work with him. This time we went up there with a clean slate. It was a cool way to work. We really just recorded ourselves jamming in the studio. Just recording for a couple of hours and then going back and listening to what we did and picking moments that we thought would be cool to expand on and try and turn into a song.
“For this album we used a lot more analogue synths and drum machines than we ever did in the past. A lot of it was written by setting up sequences, building up from something and synchronising a bunch of things together and slowly starting to make changes to the patterns that were playing and getting a lot of variations and stringing together a song that way.”
Returning to Australia over the New Year, Goldwasser admits that MGMT’s current live performances are evolving rapidly but also provide a steep learning curve. “For the past few months we’ve been playing about half of our new material, but a lot of it is really difficult to play live,” he explains. “Considering it was built in the studio from improvisation and filled with a lot of unique moments, it really isn’t possible to recreate.
“We’re still using a lot of the same instruments [from when we toured Congratulations], but I feel that we’ve gotten a lot better at creating the sounds that we want to. We’ve been playing really well together. We don’t have a lot of gimmicks, or whatever, it just sounds really good.”
BY TYSON WRAY
MGMT play The Falls Music & Arts Festival at Byron Bay, Marion Bay and Lorne on Saturday December 28 – Friday January 3. London Grammar, !!! (Chk Chk Chk), Johnny Marr, The Cat Empire, Violent Femmes, Vampire Weekend, Hermitude, Flight Facilities and more. MGMT out now through Sony Music Australia Goldwasser.