A day in Paris with Joe Mount and Metronomy

Joe Mount discusses his long-awaited second album 'Nights Out'

“We’re three poofs and a piano, that’s the role we’re playing this evening.” So grins bassist Gabriel from behind Perspex bins. It’s not the usual orbs of light on the chests of Metronomy tonight then, but rather the face of this week’s celebrity chef. Only Ramsey couldn’t make it and Metronomy are a little too fond of those orbs. It’s probably for the best anyway; their ominous electronics hardly lend themselves to prime time on the Beeb. Metronomy are going to be on television tonight though. And none of this pre-recorded piffle either. Ce soir ou Jamais (This Evening Or Never), we’re told, is France’s equivalent to The Culture Show, which goes some way to explaining why Oliver Stone – creator of new George Bush biopic, ‘W’ – is tonight’s star guest. But short of Tarantino-bashing, all Stone’s likely to bring to the hip monochrome show is a string of well-rehearsed press junket blurts. Give a microphone to Gabriel, guitarist Joe and sampler Oscar and you’ve got tales of cola-supping at Karl Lagerfeld’s. This is what’s pulled us to the City of Lust for the day… and the only album that’s ever been awarded the coveted (surely!?) L&Q 10/10, ‘Nights Out’.

On the banks of la Seine, France Télévisions is one of those places that annoyingly belittle our British equivalents. As sleek and fashionable as you’d hope it to be, even the techies strut as if on runways here. Think you’re louche T4? Pop a Xanax, hop into a coma and you’re getting close to the sexy set of Ce soir ou Jamais. And while Parisian glamour is as alien to us as an Alex Zane funny, it’s fast becoming the norm for Metronomy.

Last time we met, the trio were nearing the end of a week that saw Joe’s birthday clash with the band’s eventual signing to French label – home of Justice and Daft Punk – Because Records. Since then, nearly a full year has lapsed and Metronomy’s excuses to celebrate have only escalated. They’ve met the festival boom head on, playing every event from the sun-kissed Benicassim to the diarrhoea-splattered Blah Fest in your average have-a-go promoter’s back garden, released a follow up to Joe’s then-solo-debut album, ‘Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe Me)’, and have been embraced by the continent.

“[In Europe] it’s interesting what people focus on,” explains Joe on a cigarette break between sound checks and a makeup powdering. “We had or first experience of Germany last week and there they seemed to be concerned if we were financially okay. And another question they kept asking was, ‘why do you use a saxophone? It’s the most uncool instrument’. We were like, ‘we think it’s quite sexy…’

“And I play it in the most un-sexy way,” adds Oscar “which is quite cool.”

Joe: “But then in France they’re more interested in the whole package and concept.”

Gabriel [adopting a French accent]: “You are wearing lights, what is the meaning of this?”

Joe: “We’re like… ‘yeeaaaahh’. But I think people are far more open to us here. I think they’re fed up of regional sounding bands from England, because I think to a different country they sound more similar to each other than they do to us. Pigeon Detectives, throw them on the pile. We’re lucky because we’ve got something that’s not just about where we’re from.”

Where they’re from is Devon, despite Joe’s time spent making music in Brighton and now London muddying the origins of the band. And Metronomy are a band – Joe may continue to be the sole writer/producer of all output but his cousin Oscar (the bands’ more bashful member and best onstage semaphore dancer) and best friend Gabriel (the quick-witted, well-groomed one) have become irreplaceable members since originally lending a hand onstage, then under the backing band name The Food Groups.

“I think it’s perhaps a harder situation for other people to get their heads around,” say Joe, now that his once solo moniker is shared three ways. “But we’ve all known each other for a very long time, and so quite often they’d heard my music before it was released. They know how I’ve always made music, so it wouldn’t really cross their minds to think, ‘I’m pissed off, I’m not getting enough writing!’ So in terms of the studio it’s a nice way to work still, just doing what you like doing. But then on the flip side, in terms of touring I think it’s so much nicer to be with friends. You look at someone like Calvin Harris and wonder how well he gets on with the guys in his band, because they don’t look that similar and do they really have any history together?”

You also look at someone like Calvin ‘the Myspace discovery’ Harris and wonder just how much he grafted for his success. The truth is, having never delved into that perhaps thrilling history, we can’t confirm that he didn’t spend an untold number of years shaking off an untold quantity of set backs in order to finally grace us with ‘Acceptable In The 80s’. Joe Mount did… just without the grating pop hit as a way of thanks.

Post 2006’s ‘Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe Me)’ a certain amount of legal wranglings prevented the signing of a new record deal for Joe. And his penchant for creating sinister, skewed instrumentals seemed to simply create another problem.

“There were times [when I thought it wasn’t going to happen for me],” he explains, mid-makeup for tonight’s broadcast “when there was a bit more interest from some of the bigger labels and then they’d stop short from actually offering anything. They were always worried about how many vocal tracks there were. The worse case scenario would have been to sign to my manager’s record label [ed: Moshi Moshi] but the only real downer on the whole thing was when you’d talk to a bigger label and they’d be really interested and excited, and then it’d go to one person higher and they’d be like, ‘we need more songs like ‘Heartbreaker’’, and well, you don’t really get it then, do you.”

So tracks like ‘Radio Ladio’ and ‘My Heart Rate Rapid’ – both of which are clear pop progressions from earlier Metronomy tracks – wouldn’t have been written without such industry criticism?

“Yeah they would have, because what we were going around with was, ‘Heartbreaker’, another song called ‘Let’s Have A Party’, which ended up being a B-side, ‘On Dancefloors’ and then two or three instrumentals, one of which didn’t get on the album, so I’d done them anyway and they’d have been on the record no matter what. The only thing that happened before finishing up the album, the label were like, ‘Oh, we’d like another single if you could write one’, which I thought was for the greater good. So then I did ‘A Thing For Me’, but decided I didn’t like it. Stupidly, I’d played it to them already and given them a copy, which they really liked. Meanwhile, I was writing what I thought would be a better single, which was ‘Holiday’. So ‘Holiday’ is the most intentional single on the record, which is actually one of the weirdest tracks on there.”

Both tracks stand strong on ‘Nights Out’, neither of them seeming forced or desperately compromising. ‘A Thing For Me’ – a first hand account of lust found on the dancefloor minutes before it’s cruelly interrupted by that bastard fate – has wound up being Joe’s favourite track on the album, and Metronomy’s next single. Its video is being shot the day after, in a château outside of Paris, styled by Karl Largerfeld’s people. But more on the band’s most brow-arching fan later; we insist on talking about that intentional single, ‘Holiday’.

If you remember our last interview with Metronomy, a year previous to this one, you’ll remember Joe announcing how ‘Nights Out’ was to be “a going out concept album, an experience, so people want to listen to everything.” And if you’ve bought ‘Nights Out’ (and if not, why not?), you’ll realise just how conceptual it is. From its parping ‘Nights Out Intro’, mirroring the anticipation of girls slapping on Maybelline, to the drunken boy sensitivity of ‘On Dancefoors’, it’s a record to relate to. Even ‘Side 2’, completely instrumental and bumbling with a fuzzy head, is abstractly emotive. And yet ‘Holiday’ loses us. Psychotic and menacing it seems to be about saving for a holiday, albeit one you’d probably not want to go on, and then, as Joe uncharacteristically drones a chorus of “So you want me to yourself / well, you must know that won’t happen”, we seem to have turned two pages at once and landed in the middle of a break up warning. Which it turns out we have, even if Joe didn’t originally see it when tacking two different songs together.

“I did it as one song and then went to a pub quiz one night. I came back from the quiz quite drunk and put down this vocal, played it to other people, and I thought it was this happy disco song, and they were like, ‘what are the lyrics?’. So I told them, and they were like, ‘that’s a really horrible, dark, sinister break up song’.”

On the set of Ce soir ou Jamais, Metronomy are about to give ‘My Heart Rate Rapid’ another go, this time in their full stage get up, or their matching black tees with Velcro’d on pound-shop lights. Sitting in for Oliver Stone is L&Q photographer Tim Cochrane, staring blankly back at the show’s host who is thanking him for his company, in French. We make out the song’s title and an excitable “Metronomy”, and, to the left of a video wall that boasts a giant beating heart (subtle visuals, aye?), the band casually strike a direct blow to ‘Holiday’’s cynical core – “I’m gonna tell her with my heart rate rapid,” they optimistically chirp as studio cameras whiz around. The lusty ‘Radio Ladio’ would have had the same appeasing effect. Or ‘Heartbreaker’ – a song featuring the best bass intro since Cream’s ‘Badge’, about precious friendship. And yet some people feel that Metronomy’s electronic pop – and perhaps the word ‘electronic’ has something to do with it – is too cold to connect with.

“Maybe lyrically I’m not the most adept,” confesses Joe “because the first time I started to write lyrics was for this album. And I don’t want people to think I’m being metaphorical – I try to be pretty straight down the line – and obviously that can be seen as maybe cold, but in the music I’d like to imagine that there’s far more emotion than… I dunno, like, I hear all of these records now and in terms of the quality of the sound, that sounds cold. It’s probably not the best example because it’s not the same thing, but that Friendly Fires record, there’s nothing about it that puts you in a particular place, it’s just there. And fair enough, they’re not trying to do that, but the fact that I’ve written it and recorded it, and spent time with it, and not given it to anyone else to help me with, I think that’s probably coming from a far warmer place than other stuff. I think all of the stuff it talks about is emotional.”

Autobiographically emotional, we presume. And seeming about one particular girl.

“‘Heartbreaker’ is less about a girl and more about friendship,” says Joe “and I suppose about a particular boy. So it’s personal in that respect. ‘Back On The Motorway’ is a bit… well, it was a bit funny because I played it to Jamie from Klaxons, because he was living where I was recording the album, and he was like, ‘Oh, I get it. It’s about a relationship’, and I was like, ‘no, it’s just about a car crash’.”

Hoodwinking a Klaxon in his own loggings, you don’t hear of that every day. But, then, you don’t often hear of a musician writing and recording an album completely alone (or at least not one that shows no signs of being cripplingly introverted). Joe Mount did once tell us “it’s more enjoyable spending time on your own in a little room” though, which is exactly what he proceeded to do, even if the little room was the garden studio of Milo Cordell, founder of hippest of hip indie labels Merok and now one half of hipper than hip duo The Big Pink. Which begs the question, are Metronomy, even if only by association, one for the scenesters?

Joe: “I think that especially in London, for a long time, we were seen as a scene band, so the gigs were well attended. And then there was quite a big period when people weren’t really sure if we were still cool. And I think that at Offset Festival this year it felt like people were finally realising that we were alright. Not necessarily cool, but I think all of the reviews of the album have made people realise that we’re a real band. I think hopefully we’ve gone a bit beyond that. We’re not a scene band, we’re just a band.”

The first ever Offset Festival wasn’t like a lot of the rooky gigs-in-fields spawn this year. A satellite soirée in Hainault Country Park, you could get there on the central line. The Verve were given the week off from headlining and Wire and Gang Of Four were shipped in to close each day. Metronomy played the Last.Fm tent after a rare and brilliant live performance from the godfather of Italo disco Black Devil, and, bucking the trend of the day’s new grave guitar bands (black net curtains for shirts compulsory, not optional), they and the Frenchman pulled two of the event’s largest crowds. The doubting 60s bobs and Ray Ban disciples (don’t seek out that look now, it got guffed away with the return of Oasis and their legion of terrace terrors) were indeed muted, perhaps so much so that Metronomy are cool again. Karl Largerfeld certainly seems to think so.

Recounting the first time that Metronomy ‘went Chanel’, Gabriel’s Myspace blog began, In the UK, some people say Metronomy are dweebs…but in Paris, we’re major dudes!. He then pasted in a snapshot of the band with the silver-headed fashion mogul and signed off…

This is us with Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer. We went to his secret fashion bunker and were fed fancy canapés. Then he took photos of us for a French magazine. He told Joseph he was very photogenic and had the hands of someone from a 17th Century Dutch painting. He even gave Joseph one of his PERSONAL shirts to wear in the shoot, and to keep afterwards!

So there it is LiLo, Largerfeld has a new muse. Freckled redheads are out, axed for hands from 17th Century Dutch paintings. Joe’s people would like to apologise on his behalf as Mr Mount is currently unavailable to comment.

“Yeah, y’know, we met at a party, as you do… no, not at all,” laughs the singer at the rather silly notion. “We did a photo shoot for this French fashion magazine. None of us particularly expected him to be who he was… The night before in the restaurant was when we first knew who it was going to be, and we were like ‘fucking hell!’, and then we had this amazing day.”

“The world of high fashion doesn’t disappoint,” confirms Oscar. “Like, he does have a butler with flat diet Coke coming around to him because he only drinks it flat.”

“It’s like going into a James Bond villain’s lair,” furthers Gabriel. “He just lives in this really crazy world, but he’s a really nice guy; really chatty; really intelligent. And I think he’s become a bit of a fan. He’s styling our video tomorrow… well, he’s not but his people are. And I’m certainly wearing Karl Lagerfeld jeans now.”

And so too are Joe and Oscar, making our photo shoot styled by Largerfeld… sort of. But don’t go practicing your air-kisses for the next time you see Metronomy in Dalston just yet. Joe admits “I don’t think anyone of us feel that we’ve got anything in common with high fashion, we just find it hilarious,” and Gabriel later tips us off about the charity shop on Hackney Road that he bought his deck shoes in.

“Oliver Stone walked out while we were playing,” says Joe down a crackling line from inside his band’s tour van. “He just got up and walked off.” Just as we expected, well-rehearsed press junket blurts and little else. We’re back in London, having left Paris before the live broadcast of Ce soir ou Jamais, Metronomy are stuck in traffic, somewhere between Bristol and Manchester. The night before there was “crowd-surfing and all sorts” to this trio’s dance music… if that’s what it is?

“I don’t see it as dance,” offers Joe. “I can see why people would put it in with dance music but ask Oakenfold what he reckons, I doubt he’d think it’s dance music. If we sent out white labels of the intro track to DJs the response forms wouldn’t be too good. But I know it’s difficult and is going to be called dance music in the same way that you’d call LCD SoundSystem dance music.”

Still, whatever it is, Metronomy’s continually crawling splitter van is an exhaust-fume-sullied symbol of the bands live commitment to their new record. When we met in France three days previously we felt rather guilty having Eurostar’d to Paris in under three hours, while the band had taken from 5am ‘til 1pm to match the same journey by road. We felt like cheats, but the distance is soon to be small fry to Metronomy as the new year sees them embark on their first world tour.

“We’ve just got some album sales figures in and England’s the highest but then second it’s Mexico of all places, so I think we’re going to try to go there in January when we’re on our world tour,” enthuses Joes, happy at the prospect of getting to see Japan, America, New Zealand and Australia also. ‘We’re gonna need a bigger van’ springs to mind. And bigger venues. And bigger sponsorship deals to match Largerfeld’s. And, just maybe, a bigger little room for Joe Mount to sit alone in. He’s already started album number 3; another concept record, but more so, with 5 or 6 strong ideas ready to go. Already, we can’t wait for it, but then ‘Nights Out’ is our 2008 Album Of The Year, so we would say that, wouldn’t we.