Indie survivors Metronomy: “I like the idea that we stealthily succeeded in our own way”

Seven albums in, the Devonshire-formed five-piece have released 'Small World', a meditation on their voyage so far. “I’m not sure what’s left to tick off," frontman Joe Mount tells Rhys Buchanan

For the first time in years, Joe Mount is a very busy man again. After dialling his number, we’re met with a customary beep! “Hi! This is Joe. Leave a message and I may or may not get back to you.” It’s the day after Metronomy have dropped their seventh studio album ‘Small World’, and he’s in the thick of celebrations, loading into a venue in his hometown of Totnes for a release show.

When Mount does get back to NME, he’s crackling with a warm, excitable energy: “We’re playing at The Civic Hall in the centre of town. It’s quite charming; it must have been built in the ’60s or something. We were at Rough Trade [in east London] yesterday and then we slept on the bus for the first time in two years and then woke up on an industrial estate back home. A lovely start!”

It’s a routine he’s simply getting reacquainted with. Metronomy have always proved an unwavering live force as a fixture on British festival bills, pulling their brilliant and offbeat electronica forward with each album, never losing sight of their sense of youthfulness and invention. Is it strange being back given the pandemic held them away for a while? “It’s not weird being back in venues,” the frontman replies. “The odd thing is that it’s been such a long time. It’s noticing that you feel a bit older, I guess. It’s really fun. I think I’m pleasantly surprised by how excited I am.

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“I think I’m always just relieved that people are still interested [in our band]. It feels like the longer you do it, the more impressive it is that people are willing to humour me.”

He needn’t have been worried. ‘Small World’ is an album brimming with the confidence and spritely energy we’ve come to love the five-piece for over the years, but it’s not exactly the Devonshire band as we know them. This time, Mount’s songwriting thrives as intimate acoustic pop dealing with matters of love, life and the passing of time, without their glossy-floor filling beats.

He says ‘Small World’ is something of an antidote to their adventurous and epic predecessor 2019’s ‘Metronomy Forever’: “I thought it would be nice to make something much more concise and focused. I think for me there was something slightly fun about trying to make a Nashville Metronomy record, a grown-up record, so I thought that would be quite eclectic to be, like, we’re taking ourselves seriously all of a sudden.”

It’s a testament to the band’s sense of youthfulness that they’ve finally penned their growing up album approaching 20 years into their career. He says that sense of adventure has been central to their longevity: “It’s entertainment and you can have fun with it. At this point in our career, you don’t have to stay in your lane, you can enjoy the freedom that you’ve got. I realised I could make a record like this and then the next one could be psy-trance.

The change in gear didn’t come out of the blue, though. Mount relocated to the countryside with his wife and two kids a few years before the pandemic struck, and this offered space to enjoy life’s simple pleasures away from touring schedules. It’s a factor that flows wholly through the record – notably on the radiant ‘good to be back’, when the glitchy bop opens up and Mount accepts: “Yeah, I see the world / But sometimes not what’s right in front of me.”

Today he explains: “I already wanted to write more about myself what I feel and then the pandemic happened and it clicked with what I was already thinking and feeling.” He pauses, before pondering on the sacrifices of being a musician: “You end up for long periods of time away from your family so when you’re suddenly presented with two years of time at home it’s really unusual, which is quite sad. I remember saying to my fiancé: ‘We have to enjoy this, because it will never happen again.’ So from the word go it was not lost on me that it was a really unusual situation.”

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One of the record’s many highlights in the form of the dizzying and romantic ‘Hold Me Tonight’, a duet with Porridge Radio’s Dana Morgalin, who offers grungy and heartfelt vocals that summon all the passion and uncertainty of an early romance: “And I don’t know who I’ll talk to / I don’t know who I’ll cry to / And I don’t know what I’ll do / Instead of loving you.”

Mount says that collaboration is vital in keeping their flame alive: “When you’re lucky enough to have been doing it for this amount of time, you don’t want to forget that early excitement. Every time I work with a newer act you can feel that and feed off it like a vampire.” He chuckles before acknowledging the age gap between himself in his late 30s and bands nearly half his age: “That distance creeps up on you and you realise that there’s quite a big gap.”

Does it bring about nostalgia of when he was a fresh faced artist starting out? “Absolutely, he says. “It’s like when you watch interviews with old bands and they say, ‘Oh, I remember when we were driving around in that little van.’ It’s because you never forget and I think the people the reason always go on about it is because it’s the most exciting time in your career. It’s great to work with someone who is so open-minded about everything; it’s refreshing and inspiring.”

metronomy have done a fair share of looking back on their own breakthrough days in recent times, with their classic albums ‘Nights Out’ and ‘The English Riviera’ receiving 10-year anniversary treatments. Mount says it’s good to take stock of the journey so far: “Every time I put out a record I go down a bit of a rabbit hole. Sometimes I’ll try to find an ancient interview, watch it and see what I said and whether I’ve done what I said I would.”

Well, has he? “I do feel very proud and happy,” he admits. “We were a young band 10 years ago and you realise there was this potential to develop into what we are now. It’s like, ‘What kind of musician will I be for the next 10 years?’ It’s rewarding to stop and reflect. It’s quite a nice position to be in because there are people who are still interested to find out what comes next. Having a 10-year anniversary of a record kind of just reminds everyone that they’re 10 years older, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not just me; it’s the people that listen to it as well.”

“At this point in our career, we don’t have to stay in our lane. The next record could be psy-trance”

Joe Mount every right to be proud: few buzzy bands who emerged in the late ’00s have seen it out and continue to make some of their best work. He’s proud of that in itself: “There are obviously a lot of bands that come and go but that is a part of the deal as well. Some bands are only meant to exist for maybe one youthful, exciting record – there’s room for everything, I guess. I think what I will always enjoy is that we were never at the beginning heralded as the ones that would get that far; I like the idea that we stealthily did it in our own way.”

So what’s next for the band? They’ve headlined Glastonbury’s John Peel Stage and have a show packed summer on the horizon, including a slot headline at Green Man in the Brecon Beacons. “I’m not sure what’s left to tick off,” Mount reflects. “Most of us are going to be in our 40s soon, so it’s like, ‘Oh, what landmarks are on the horizon?

Metronomy
Metronomy. Credit: Alex Lambert

NME suggests there’s always time for a slot on the Pyramid Stage. Mount laughs: “I will give you a million pounds if we do the Pyramid, and actually I can’t give you that amount of money – I’ll give you a hundred.”

We’ll take our chances on that bet. Metronomy have climbed the hill in their own weird and wonderful way. If they continue to do so, nothing is out of the question.

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