English electronic band Metronomy kicked off 2014 on a good note: their song “Love Letters” was named the Hottest Record in the World by BBC 1 DJ Zane Lowe. The band is currently in the middle of a North American and European tour in support of their record Love Letters, which dropped earlier this year and has been the band’s most successful release to date, reaching no. 7 on the UK and French charts. We spoke with songwriter and frontman Joe Mount about his writing process, Kendrick Lamar, and songs about girls in clubs.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
I’ve got lots, really. How many do you want?
As many as you’d like to say.
I guess when I was getting into bands and stuff, I was obviously into the Beatles. They’re kind of obligatory.When I was a teenager I was into Nirvana and Weezer, Kurt Cobain. I used to listen to a lot of The Lemonheads. I’ve had so many different phases of stuff that I’ve been into. I kind of got into electronic music, people like Aphex Twin. All of the standard people as well. Everyone.
How would you describe your new album?
It’s an album that shows my appreciation for music made in the ‘60s and everything that came out of that. It’s not supposed to be some kind of pastiche or retro record, but I used a studio which is kind of a ‘60s studio, so I tried to give myself the same limits that they had back then.
How would you compare it to your last album?
I would say it’s more direct. In terms of songwriting, it’s a much more concise record. People feel like it’s quite an intimate record. Because the last one was quite successful over here, people are expecting something a bit more show-offy or a bit more bombastic. This record is much more controlled than you might expect.
Every band is influenced by the artists that came before them. Are you influenced by new musicians as well?
Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, most of the influences from modern stuff that I get come from the R&B world or hip hop, things like that. There are obviously some great bands around, but the stuff that really excites me is production. If you look to the world of rap music, there are a lot more exciting production ideas going on there. The Kendrick Lamar record was amazing. To me, that’s a really fantastic, modern, psychedelic record. On this album of mine, I wanted to do a kind of psychedelic theme. So someone like Kendrick. Lyrically, Frank Ocean is really interesting. I guess they’re kind of obvious people.
What’s the first song you ever wrote?
When I first got my computer and started music, the first songs I ever tried writing, I was imagining that I would get some kind of R&B girl to come and sing them, so I was always writing songs about boys. I was always writing songs about cars. I was using R&B clichés. So I’d write songs about boys and cars, imagining that one day a girl would be singing them. The first proper song I ever wrote in which I used big words was a song called “Radio Ladio” which is on an album called Night Out. That’s a really simple song about seeing a girl in a club. They’re all kind of R&B themed. Seeing a girl in a club and thinking she’s attractive. You should check it out, it’s great.
What’s the last song that you wrote or started writing?
I’ve been trying to write some new stuff. The last song that I finished is a song called “The Hardest Thing To Do” and it’s a duet with the singer Robyn. It’s a song with her and it’s gonna be in a film. That’s the last thing I finished, I think.
How do you go about writing songs?
I used to do it very differently than I do now. I started writing songs using a computer and stuff like that. When I began, I would sit down at a computer and make loops and record little ideas. Now, the songs that I did for this album, I made myself do it in a proper, traditional songwriter way. I sat down with a guitar or a keyboard. It’s the most obvious thing to do. But I guess if you come from a computer music background, it’s quite a big step.
How did you learn to play guitar?
I still can’t. I taught myself. I can play some chords, but I’m a terrible guitarist. There are so many people who are better than me. But yeah, I taught myself. I used to play drums in bands, so I would always kind of watch. There was a time when people would always pick up other peoples’ instruments, so I would always pick up a guitar.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
That’s changed as well. I used to find it hard. I used to try and be kind of vague. I used to allude to things and always top short of being kind of explicit in what I wanted to say. Now I know the first thing I do is not going to be the last thing I do, so I just try to get ideas down and then refine them. I guess the only rule that I have now is that I don’t use words that I wouldn’t use in real life. That’s my only rule. For me, it can take a long time to feel like those lyrics are done. But again, I tried to do this new record in a much more singer-songwriter way and I think that kind of helps. It helps you streamline what you do.
Are there any words that you love or hate?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve got that advanced yet. I love using the word ‘heart’. I think I’ve used that quite a lot. Probably too much. I would hate using the word… I’m trying to think of a word that’s bad to use. I would hate using the word ‘club’. I’d say that’s bad and overused.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
All kinds of things, really. I use experiences that I’ve had or things that I remember as starting points. From that point, they become more real or more of a story. I always find it easier to try and start with something that I have an emotional connection to. For example, most of this new record was inspired by traveling. Touring, mostly. But, you know, the album isn’t about touring. I just used that as a jumping off point.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
I think everyone who I like is rated. I guess you get people who feel like rappers and people who make hip hop music, they’re not songwriters. I think you get people who feel that that’s a different thing. There’s a Kanye West song called “Runaway”. I think that is one of the best songs that’s been written in a very long time, and I mean that in a traditional songwriting sort of way. Someone like him would never really be called a songwriter, but I think you get people like that who deserve to be called songwriters.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“Smile” by Stevie Wonder. There are songs which are very satisfying in their structure, and I think there are songs written by Stevie Wonder which, when you hear them, you can kind of imagine them, like they’re just instantly classic jazz standards, that kind of thing. I don’t know. I just think that there are these songs that sound so perfect when he sings them. But you can also imagine a thousand other people singing them and turning them into their own in that kind of jazz standard. I’d love to be able to add a song to that kind of world.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I’d co-write with Jesus. [laughs] I’m not sure. I’d probably choose someone living. Who would I choose though? Thing is, if you’d asked me this question when I was 19 years old I would have said the same thing. I would go for Pharrell. Well, not Pharrell, but the Neptunes. I’d like to see what, if anything, we could do. Again, that’s proof of how good they are that now it’s an obvious choice, but I’d still go for it.
What do you think the most annoying thing about songwriting is?
Actually doing it yourself. When I’m doing stuff, it’s about having an idea and it becoming a game of thinking you’ve stolen this idea and trying to remember where you think you’ve stolen it from. In the end, you haven’t stolen it, but it’s just the constant doubt that what you’ve just done was someone else’s idea. Luckily, I’ve never plagiarized.