Live shots by Justine Trickett
New York’s pysch-indie youngsters MGMT are being hotly-tipped for 2008, and it’s no surprise as their debut album Oracular Spectacular produced by the helping hand of David Fridmann should stop you in your tracks.
They kindly flew into the Crossfire office on a magic carpet fuelled by last night’s booze and had a chat with Zac about dogs and smelly fruit.
Welcome to London fellas…
So, we have two members of the band here, Andrew VanWyngarden who sings, plays guitar and writes songs and we also have songwriter Ben Goldwasser who also plays the keyboards, pretty gnarly too…
So, virgins to London, you’ve just got off of a plane, spill the beans….
[Andrew] We had a great first day. We got scammed trying to buy hash and then we went out in Notting Hill and went to Tesco Disco, which is a small carpeted room underneath the Tesco supermarket. They had free spicy cheese doodles and that was a lot of fun. Last night we played a show at The Social which was pretty cool.
And that was your first ever gig in the UK?
Yeah, our first ever gig…
So, did you enjoy it Ben?
[Ben] Yeah, a lot more people knew about us, more than we expected, which was nice. It was nice that people were there to see us. The sound turned out pretty good considering the place was pretty small. We spent a long time trying to figure out how to get all of our stuff on the stage.
You managed to fit it all thought didn’t you?
Yeah, we managed; we have a massive keyboard though.
Are you aspiring to take over the stage with your keyboard collection?
[Ben] Yeah, I want to take up at least half the stage. When we start playing bigger stages then I will think of more things to take up space. Maybe I could play a couple of notes on each one during the whole show?
[Andrew] Yeah, that’s a good idea
Can you ever imagine yourself like KISS being zoomed out into the audience with your keyboard?
[Ben] That would be great. What about being like David Lee Roth on a surfboard out into the crowd?
That would be sick
[Andrew] It’s like the ultimate goal of any musician
[Ben] A hover craft would be pretty cool…
Any more wishes?
[Andrew] Yeah, we want to play a show exclusively for dogs at some point. We aren’t a joke band, but we think it would be really amazing if there was a stadium full of dogs…
I am sure Battersea Dogs Home could hook you up next time you come in. There are a lot of dogs in there. It’s like jail; they don’t get much entertainment stuck behind those bars, so they might be pretty stoked if the yanks turn up with a full band, 40 keyboards and a bag of Baker’s…
[Ben] Dogs love Baker’s!
Do they love Baker’s in America as well?!
My dog loves Baker’s, but anyway, let’s talk about how you put the band together. Obviously you two are the main members, would you say that’s correct?
[Andrew] Yeah, I mean, we are the founding members and songwriters
[Ben] CEO of MGMT incorporated
How did it all come together, what is your musical background and where are you guys from?
[Ben] Well, I’m from upstate New York, about 5 hours from New York City. I didn’t go down to the city that much growing up although we live there now. Andrew is from Memphis, home of the blues
[Andrew] Birth place of rock and roll as well….
[Ben] And we met at University in 2001, started the band in December 2002 and started writing songs in my dorm room on a laptop. We would sit and make up these weird little electronic loops, play them live and do silly things over the noise. We didn’t sing at that point. Then at some point we decided to start writing pop songs, kind of as a joke, so the whole thing wasn’t that serious to start off, it’s still not
[Andrew] They weren’t joke songs necessarily…
[Ben] No, just the idea of pop was a joke to begin with. The whole ‘Management’ thing was to do with the whole corporate idea. Our goal was to sell out as quickly as possible. We thought it would never really happen and then it kinda did!
[Andrew] Go on…
[Ben] What do you want me to say?
[Andrew] We should talk about a couple of our shows from school….
[Ben] Yeah, we should! We played a show at school where we had a giant inflatable snow man and we covered that Nine Inch
[Ben] We did a 15 minute version of that while they inflated a snow man [laughs]
[Laughs] It sounds like a teenage movie…
[Ben] It was, that’s what we were going for..
[Andrew] Then another show…we got into the series of wearing jump suits and drinking a lot of red wine. We were exploring these tunnels underneath the dorms that were really far and I don’t think kids were supposed to be in there. We found this little room that was like a bomb shelter and it had supplies from the 60’s like crackers and this giant barrel. We tried to eat the crackers, but they were disgusting.
[Ben] They were the worst crackers I’ve ever had!
[Andrew] But we took the barrels and we played some shows were we would stand on top of the barrels and try and push each other off. I mean, that was just insane! People were going crazy at that show…
[Ben] Then we had another show where we played at this kind of county fair type thing called ‘The Daffodil Festival’ and we were warming up before the set, at this time we had put together a 6 piece band. Anyway, while we were warming up this group of cheer leaders go by and I guess they had just won a cheer leading competition and they saw us playing and I guess they liked it because they came back for our show and started doing their routine in front of us while we were playing.
You can’t buy that stuff….
[Andrew] No, you can’t. That’s how we got famous and that’s why we are in London.
So it’s all down to the cheer leaders?
[Andrew] Yeah, that’s how everything happens..
In a quest to find dogs…
[Andrew] Yeah, the cheerleaders happen to be the daughters of these famous dog breeders from London, so, that’s why we came over here, it’s incredible.
That’s amazing; no one would believe that y’know? So farfetched….
[Ben] You can’t make that stuff up…
I hear you used to cover the Ghostbusters theme tune?
Yeah, we did. I think we did it once that was like out first show. I had a Digitech whammy that had built in drum sounds, we had the drum sounds on loop. Ben had his Roland XP80 and we played a talent show and we were on last. We carried on playing, we wanted everyone to leave to our music. It worked, we played for like an hour.
Hang on, you played the Ghostbusters theme tune for an hour?
[Andrew] Yeah, an hour. I mean, it went places, it was a pretty psychedelic version of it, but the drum loop was going the whole time and I just laid on the floor and closed my eyes and muttered stuff into the microphone, Ben held down a synth line pretty well.
[Ben] The one that was stolen from Huey Lewis..
What have you guys listened to throughout the years that has inspired you to create the mess that is MGMT? (It’s a beautiful mess, by the way!)
[Andrew] What a great compliment, thank you. We’ve always been attracted to what we call creep balls music, which is just really strange music. Some people would call it bad, but we call it good.
[Ben] It’s really gross music..
[Andrew] We like gross music, examples Ben…
[Ben] Erm, Psychic TV maybe?
[Andrew] I guess we like it if it’s pretty, but really strange. We like Chrome, Spiritualized and Spacemen 3. A lot of British music too. The oldies, the goodies!
Do you like stuff like Loop? Is that the sort of era?
[Andrew] Yeah, for sure stonery, psychey….
Is Dead Meadow the kind of band you would like to play with if you went out on tour?
[Andrew] Yeah, that would be amazing. I wonder if they would want to play with us though. They are really nice guys. We hung out with them in Berlin one time.
So, ‘Oracular Spectacular’…there is a lot of meat in there. There is a different flavour for everyone, a bit of everything. How do you take every ingredient and end up with the pâté that comes out?
[Ben] A lot of times when we write songs we have had some kind of influence or a style that we really want to put into our music. Like, we’ll say let’s have that part sound like this and that part sound like that and then we piece it all together. We didn’t plan anything, it was more of a song by song thing. We tend to be inspired a lot by artists that switch genres each album. Each song is different. ‘Legendary Pink Dots‘ are like that. When we were writing the album they were a big influence. We literally just wrote whatever came to us. There is a weird combination on the album because it has a couple of older tracks on it which were originally electronic with a more dancey feel. ‘Electric Feel‘ was one of the first songs we wrote, well the first actual song with lyrics.
It is definitely one of the stand out songs on the album. You recorded with David Fridman right? He has worked with The Flaming Lips who are one of the most spectacular bands on the planet. How much of his influence was his production skills on the end result of your album?
[Ben] When we started writing we didn’t know that he was going to produce us. I mean, we had randomly put him on this list of dream producer’s who we would like to work with and we ended up talking to him on the phone and we hit it off really well. We love his production work. I mean, we didn’t want to work with him because we wanted to sound like the Flaming Lips, it was more that we felt like he understood us on a personal level and he really got out music. We were pretty sure after talking to him that he would make it the album we wanted it to be.
So, did David mix your record as well or did you get someone else in to do it?
[Andrew] Dave mixed it and he did a lot of the mastering. A lot of the album sounds over compressed, like really mashed. There’s times when there is full mixed distortion, which is crazy, it sounds awesome. He ran the whole thing through crappy 90’s compressors. There are so many bands that are over compressed so they sound loud for the radio. I hope our album sounds loud, but not bad.
[Ben] Loud loud not bad loud…
[Andrew] Hopefully there is still dynamics.
Have you had any random faces come out of the wood work and say ‘I’m a fan of MGMT’ yet?
[Ben] Famous people?
Yeah, dead people, famous people . They’re all the same.
[Andrew] No dead people….
[Ben] The Kings Of Leon….apparently the drummer likes us? A lot of model’s and fashion people are getting into the album which is pretty sweet.
Why is that do you think?
[Ben] I don’t really know how it started, but keep it coming!
[Andrew] There is nothing wrong with it. We love being associated with fashion people and models. Was that believable? [laughs]
[Ben] We are also inspired by the fans who bring us lots of free drugs at the shows.
Does this actually happen, I’ve heard this rumour?
[Andrew] It actually does happen a lot. When we were on tour in Montreal this last few weeks, like San Diego, LA…they would be very nice and just give us stuff. It was trimming season…
Trimming season? Explain that, if you were talking to an English person they would probably think you were talking about having a ‘personal hedge trim’ if you know what I mean?
[Andrew] Basically it’s the harvest season, people help with the crops and it filters through down California to San Francisco and they gave us some really nice presents!
Do you like presents, are you into people bringing you presents when you play?
[Ben] Yeah, it’s sort of this tradition..
Do you give presents back to the audience? For example, the original drummer of Pavement used to make toast for people in the crowd.
[Andrew] Toast?! Erm, well we have given cookies. There was one show when we cut open this fruit called a Dorian, it’s the king of all fruits. It’s the smelliest fruit in the world. It’s kinda like bacon and onions mixed with rotting flesh. In fact, it’s garlic rotting flesh.
I want one..
You don’t want it, trust us. It is actually restricted to cut them open on some airplanes because the smell is so strong. We cut one open at one of our shows and people passed it around. We sacrificed it with a machete and invited our friends on stage while we sampled it and played ‘Blowing In The Wind‘ by Bob Dylan on an ipod and everybody went around and said what the fruit tasted like….everyone else left because it was the worst smell. So all in all, I guess we don’t give any good gift to our audience.
[Andrew] Although, cookies are pretty cool and so are set lists. Oh, I threw drum sticks at someone last night which I now regret..
Is she now in hospital?
Well, it did hit her in the head. It was a joke! I always wanted to do it like you see other bands doing and hit some poor girl in the head, but hey, that’s just what’s it’s like. It’s rock and roll.
[Ben] Yeah, it’s R and R.
What are your two favorite tracks off the record…one each…
[Ben] I think my favorite track from the album is probably ‘The Youth’
[Andrew] Mine would have to be ‘4th Dimensional Transitional’ because it is the least appreciated. It’s almost as if no one acknowledges that it exists. We decided that the song is four dimensional and some people can only see three dimensions
Next year obviously you guys are going to be coming back to release the album and after that are you thinking of world domination on a major scale?
[Andrew] We would love to go to South America or Mexico. I think I want to live in Mexico…
The presents would be rad..
Yeah, cactus stuff. We still have that mentality where we wanna wear fur coats and always be making the music we want to make and being good dudes. No one likes assholes. It’s annoying when people turn into assholes, we never want to be like that.
Well, it all sounds amazing and it’s been great having you in here…where do people find you?
[Andrew] Check out www.myspace.com/mgmt If you guys haven’t heard of Myspace you should check it out. It’s a social networking site and it is cool shit…
I’ve er..heard about it [laughs] Thanks for coming in boys..
[Both] – No worries, bye!
Check out the wonderful album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ released in February/March on Columbia Records here in the UK and www.whoismgmt.com for the full experience.
We made these three videos for the band in our neighbourhood when they came by for this interview. Enjoy their first trip to Portobello Rd in Ladbroke Grove.