In preparation for Metronomy’s fourth album, Love Letters, the group’s founder and creator of its distant sonic signature, Joseph Mount, made the decision to take things down a different path. In search of a retro-purist sound, Mount and Metronomy arrived at the analog-focused Toe Rag Studios in Hackney, London. It might seem an unusual choice for a band which, up until now, has had a predominately electronic and digital slant to its music. But for Mount, the choice to record with vintage mics, eight-track tape recorders and Abbey Road mixing desks only helped recall the styles of mid-’60s British rock’n’roll.
“It’s difficult to kind of remember exactly when decisions were made, but I was writing demos and stuff pretty much all the way [through] touring the last album, The English Riviera, and after a while I started to think that it would be, I don’t know … the last album was the first time I’ve used a studio and it was the first time I’d worked with what I imagined a studio to be, you know, with a big desk and nice microphones and things like this,” says Mount.
Toe Rag is full of vintage ex-BBC and EMI microphones – even the ridiculously old, circa-1930s STC 4021 ‘Ball and Biscuit’ microphone that gave its name to a White Stripes song from the chart-topping Elephant, also recorded within the confines of this illustrious studio.
“Basically at the end of recording English Riviera,” says Mount, “I felt like although I’d recorded a record in a studio, it hadn’t been the experience I’d imagined it to be like. It hadn’t been quite as pure, or something. We were still using a computer and I still felt a bit like it was the same process that I would do at home, on my little laptop or whatever … Over a period of time I started to think I should try and get that satisfaction I was looking for, and I felt like it would just be a really interesting thing to do – to take what I do and what people perceive I do and record it in a way which involves much more finesse.”
The resultant Love Letters is a subtly dark release full of reminiscent lyrics about lost love and heartache. Opening track ‘The Upsetter’ carries the fragility of Mount’s vocal, without all the multi-tracking and width of previous Metronomy records – the analog signal path has crafted his voice into something with more honesty and lucidity.
“Lyrically it’s more kind of dark, you can hear everything much easier,” Mount explains. “I think when you are recording in a studio like that with such limitations, you’ve got no choice but to have the vocal perfect – there’s no quadruple track[ing] it and stuff … I think in the past I might have tried to hide behind the effects a lot more.”
Relieved the album is complete, Mount and the rest of Metronomy will embark on a promotional tour with shows across Europe and the USA and rumoured to include dates Down Under in the latter half of the year.
The singer seems unsure if this new record represents a new direction for the band. “With each record I release there’s a context, and having a back catalogue, you know, having four albums now, it’s easier to start to build a picture and work out how different tracks and different records relate to each [other] … The fact that it was recorded the way it was, it has changed how I wrote songs and stuff like that. I’m getting much more relaxed and I’m beginning to understand what I do a bit better. I think I trust myself [more], so I think the definitive sound is emerging.”