Joe has also spent the last 5 weeks giving interviews, and has found that most people want to discuss one thing – how ‘Love Letters’ was recorded (analogue rather than with computers). In Brighton he’d told me that he’d done so to make it an album completely produced in the studio, and because for a lot of people his age computers are still cheating. It had been the plan for ‘The English Riviera’ but he’d ended up finishing a lot off in the mixing room, as he had when recording at home. “The whole way it was recorded is very important to how the record sounds, but it’s not necessarily something I care enough about to make a big deal about,” he says in Kingston. “But if people want to talk about it, that’s fine with me.”
I want to talk about how melancholic ‘Love Letters’ is, at a time when I imagine Joe, a new father, to be at his most fulfilled. The title track thumps four-to-the-floor, preachy, joyous Tamla Motown and ‘Month of Sundays’ recalls sun-pissed Arthur Lee & Love, but even on these more upbeat spots Mount’s vocals quiver as if there’s something in his eye. The snake-charming organ of ‘Monstrous’ recreates that ominous feeling of video games in the dark; ‘The Most Immaculate Haircut’ (a slow waltz about Connan Mockasin’s hair, and originally intended as a Mount/Mockasin duet) feels all the more obsessive for its muted middle section scored by crickets and a swimming pool; the opening track is called ‘The Upsetter’. But, then, Metronomy’s music has always carried with it an underlying discontent and ennui. For ‘Nights Out’, Mount was sleeping at the studio because he’d recently split up with his girlfriend. ‘The English Riviera’ was largely misunderstood as a love letter of its own, to Mount’s childhood home on the Devon coast, when, really, it was the work of a man trying to reimagine where he grew up as somewhere far more interesting.
“Listen to [‘Love Letters’] at the height of summer and you’ll have a different view of it,” says Mount. “The last record that I really got into was the Kendrick Lamar album, and the feel of that record is quite sombre and intense and murky, but if you listen to it on a beautiful day it sounds amazing and very different. But I think the feel of melancholy is actually quite nice. It’s not depression, it’s whimsical and it’s quite an easy emotion for everyone to relate to.
“Of course bits of the record are autobiographical,” he says, “but the bits that you probably think are sad bits, that’s like taking an idea and running with it. ‘Never Wanted’ is pretty based in reality; the rest are based on ideas and feelings. If you take the experience of being away from a girlfriend or a loved one, travelling around, which is basically what you do in a band, you decide that instead of writing a song about some wicked after party in Brazil that there’s more material in the sadder stuff. Just ask LMFAO… although they did do pretty well from the good times. But you take the more meaty stuff and run with it.”
‘Love Letters’ has a theme (essentially homesickness) rather than a concept that competes with ‘The English Riviera’ and ‘Nights Out’. “When I started to make the record I decided that I didn’t want the same thing as before, where you end up getting distracted talking about Devon,” says Mount. “I enjoy talking about Devon, but it shifted the focus too much. I knew that I wanted a theme of travelling and feeling dislocated from friends and family, but I didn’t want to write a concept record about touring.
“Part of my shtick is to try and keep albums relevant and important, because that’s the reason I got into music and albums. I find it very lazy when people say that the album is dead as a format, because, well, you’re not making or listening to good enough albums then. There’s something that you can do in a 45-minute/hour long record that you can only do in that format. I feel like it’s important to do something within that space of time, and if what you choose to do is bung a collection of songs together without any context, it could just be on shuffle. To keep records relevant and interesting you have to have something – the new Wild Beasts record [‘Present Tense’] has a production and sound and atmosphere that gives it the purpose of being a record, where if you listen to a pop record that has several producers involved, it won’t have that.”
Joe grew up in a literary household, where his father was a writer and his sister was good with words also. In spite of that, and to some degree because of it, writing lyrics was always his chore. Only one track on ‘Pip Paine…’ (‘Trick or Treatz’) features vocals, and even then they’re swathed in black static. For the following ‘Nights Out’, Mount was cajoled by his label into writing a few more songs with words. By ‘The English Riviera’, though, there wasn’t a single twisted instrumental to be seen, and there’s just the one (‘Boy Racer’) on ‘Love Letters’. “The one thing I really wanted to do [on this record] was write lyrics where attention had been paid to them,” says Mount. For a while he says he considered collaborating with a Van Dyke Parks figure (the 1960s composer and singer-songwriters who’s worked with Brian Wilson, Rufus Wainwright and Grizzly Bear), “to try to get someone who had this confidence with writing, so I could feel comfortable singing someone else’s words.” But I find it hard to believe that Joe would be able to relinquish such a large part of a Metronomy album to someone else.
“After ‘The English Riviera’ there were some songs that I thought had good lyrics and some that I thought had bad lyrics,” he says, “and the ones that were bad, it was only because I hadn’t tried hard enough. A song like ‘The Bay’ could have had more going on. When I was writing that song, I was thinking of things that were more interesting than how it ended up being. I realised that I’d been dumbing myself down a bit.”