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Author: Nina Bertok
Monday, December 1, 2008

US act MGMT exploded out of nowhere earlier this year with the single Kids, quickly followed by Time To Pretend, before their reputation as 2008’s ‘it’ band was cemented as Electric Feel stormed the airwaves. Having had to significantly upgrade venues to cope with demand, MGMT’s December OZ tour may just be the international tour of the year. 3D’s Nina Bertok spoke with one half of the duo, Andrew van Wyngarden.

It was a happy accident when in 2001 Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser crossed paths as two space-cadet uni kids with a tendency towards all things experimental. Despite setting out on a mission to annoy all who would listen to their cosmically far-out kaleidoscope of noise, MGMT ironically ended up achieving just the opposite by catching the eye of Columbia Records in 2006 and proceeding to record one of the most sonically extraterrestrial albums to come out in years.

It’s a pretty mess, vocalist/guitarist and principal songwriter Van Wyngarden agrees. “Seven years ago, Ben and I met at university but the band itself didn’t start until later in 2002. It wasn’t even really a band. I mean, it was just us two writing these songs in Ben’s dorm on a laptop computer,” he begins. “We would come up with these strange electronic loops and just generally create noise and play it live and say things over all of it. None of it was serious from the start. I guess we didn’t really sing yet at that point, I don’t know when that started. I guess it begin when we started writing pop songs as a kind of a joke, and that’s when the band really started.”

What has turned out to be one of the biggest singles of 2008 – a hit about an electric eel, no less – also happened to be one of the very first MGMT songs to feature actual lyrics, Van Wyngarden claims.

“Yeah, that’s true,” he chuckles. “Electric Feel was one of the songs that came out at the start, like, before we started writing songs with actual real words and lyrics in them. I don’t know, people always ask about the category thing. The 1970s psychedelia thing always comes up and I would say that a lot of our musical influence does come from the ’70s and ’80s, we’re fans of The Rolling Stones, Spacemen 3, Royal Trux and The Velvet Underground. But we’re not retro by any means because there are just so many other bands that have come out in the last couple of years and who are way more retro than us. And I’m talking, like, half-naked hippies with long hair. We’re not. We are more electronica. But that said, I wouldn’t want to say we are about one thing or the other, and the same goes for what the songs are about. It’s up to the individual person to make of it whatever they will.”

Whatever it is, MGMT’s atmospheric debut Oracular Spectacular exploded in an array of colours in 2007 with the help of producer Dave Fridmann, better known for his work with the Flaming Lips.

“We kind of had a wish-list of producers who we wanted to work with and he was on it,” Van Wyngarden says. “Dave ended up producing it as well as mixing and mastering it. Actually he didn’t really have to do too much with the production side of things because all the songs were already arranged and written before we went into the studio with him. A lot of the songs that we recorded as demos for songs we used on the record in the end. But Dave got in there and did a really great job with making it sound so good, especially with the mixing part. From the start, we really didn’t want to go with some big-name producer who would just try to make us change our style, and I hope that we get Dave to mix our next album too. It seemed to work really well this time so hopefully we can do it the same way. We just really hit it off with Dave, we really felt that he understood us on a more personal level but he also seemed to really get what we were trying to do with the music.”

While Van Wyngarden and Goldwasser were stoked to work with a producer of Fridmann’s calibre, they were nothing short of amused by Columbia Records’ decision to sign the duo on their artist roster in the first place.

Van Wyngarden recalls, “Oh, it was a huge joke. For a band like us to be signed on a major label like that couldn’t be for real. We did put them through a few kind of tests, like, just throwing really weird song titles at them to see how they would react but they were really cool with it. I guess that was the main reason that we went with it, we felt we would still have a lot of freedom.”

On the subject of freedom, Van Wyngarden says there’s nothing he looks forward to more right now than visiting “the land of milk and honey” – Australia, that is.
“I’ve heard all positive things from other people about Australia,” he insists. “I am really looking forward to it. Right now we’re doing our headlining tour in Europe and I’m freezing my ass off. I’m trying to do this interview inside this store because I’m trying to do some shopping but it’s so cold I can’t keep warm. So no, I don’t really know what to expect from Australia, honestly, it sounds like the land of milk and honey. Actually, I will be staying in Australia for a little bit longer because I’m going to try and learn how to surf. Properly.”

Time off following a bunch of Australian dates in early December – including a much-anticipated headlining slot at Meredith Festival – is well in order for the duo, Van Wyngarden explains.

“Another thing that people ask is how we’re dealing with things really kind of blowing up for us overnight but we haven’t really paid any attention to it because firstly, you don’t want your head to get too big so you try to stay oblivious, and secondly, because you don’t really have time to sit there and spin out over it. I have no idea what is happening and how this all came to be because we just didn’t expect any of it and we just went with the flow. I don’t know, maybe once we actually get some time off we’ll be able to register how crazy this has all really been.”

WHAT: Play Hordern Pavilion
WHEN: Tuesday 9 December