THE MGMT: Mystic Warriors

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Emerging from the neatly manicured grounds of Wesleyan University, Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser-dubbed The MGMT-landed a deal with the reborn Columbia Records, now under the leadership of mega-producer and guru Rick Rubin. Their music isn’t the usual fare for the likes of Columbia or any major label, a fact the duo readily admits.

Emerging from the neatly manicured grounds of Wesleyan University, Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser-dubbed The MGMT-landed a deal with the reborn Columbia Records, now under the leadership of mega-producer and guru Rick Rubin. Their music isn’t the usual fare for the likes of Columbia or any major label, a fact the duo readily admits. The debut LP, Oracular Spectacular, isn’t like anything most people will recognize. It is a work brimming with epic melodies and hooks, vocals bursting through like cosmic sunbeams, and it oozes with primordial soundscapes that flow forward from the beginning of time.

What began as a couple of dorm buddies swapping favorite albums-from early industrial music and ‘80s Southern power-pop to hippie-folk artists from the ‘70s and anything one can put the word “weird” in front of-turned into Ben and Andrew’s impromptu art rock shows on campus. A couple years ago they self-produced an EP that eventually found some sympathetic ears at Columbia.

While that sound brought on comparisons to The Postal Service and other synth-pop groups, the duo fluxes and matures on the debut. Dave Fridmann (Modest Mouse, De Novo Dahl, The Flaming Lips) worked with the two on producing and “polishing” the new songs at Tarbox Studios in Cassadega, N. Y. It was a gauntlet of recording: one day recording and mixing the next; all was completed in a short 20 days. The experience shattered the duo’s notion of major-label recording. Nightmares of recording the same song a billion times, until it doesn’t sound a thing like the version they originally wrote, were replaced by the waking reality of Columbia offering them free reign to write and record what they wanted. “We’re still pretty shocked by it all.” Andrew says. “We’re gonna keep making the music we want to make…with the knowledge in our heads that the worst thing people can do is take away money we would have made. We want to keep a healthy perspective, [one] that is about the music.”

Andrew and Ben describe themselves as “major-label flukes” and testify that the situation with the music industry as a whole (one of slumping sales and frustration) impacted their signing. They’re glad to be on a label making an effort, albeit a possible “last-ditch effort,” to change the way they do business and the artists they sign.

Being on a major forces them to grow up a bit. – A lot of people don’t listen to the same music we listen to-whereas before it was just our bullshit,” Ben and Andrew explain. “Now people are asking us what we want to do with our music.”

It’s forced them to get over writer’s block, to sit down together in the dead of a Brooklyn winter, and work. Nevertheless, their “work” is still rip-roaring fun, fueled by cosmic conspiracy theories that result in some apocalyptic pop phrasings. They assert their hopes to rise above the mundane pop scene on Oracular Spectacular.

“It is still poppy. There are a lot of songs [written today] that find a hook and drill it into people’s head. It diminishes the impact. One big thing we were challenging ourselves with was trying to write a song that was there for a second…then it’s gone, and it pulls you in more.”

They’ve brought on Hank Sullivant (formerly of The Whigs), Matt Asti and James Richardson to tour with them this fall, and they’re hitting the road with fellow upstarts Of Montreal. “The label knows things are going to keep changing, and we’re not stuck to the idea of it being just the two of us writing and recording. We really like playing with these guys; they’re great songwriters and musicians,” they explain.

Armed with the might of a major and the powers of fourth dimensional transitions, these two warriors of the mystic now venture in the desert of pop-rock on holy vision quest. Let’s hope they make it out alive.


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