MGMT: From Phish to Faine Jade
In terms of the approach, it does sound it’s something that you guys have been building towards for a while. Is that why you decided to self-title this album?
Well, just like with the last album, which we decided to call _Congratulations like when we first started touring for the first album. We thought would be funny to call the second one Congratulations, this one we decided to self-title it while we were touring for the last album. And then we kind of just felt like we had to stick with it. But I think it kind of makes sense.
It’s like The Band how their self-titled record being their second one versus their first record and whatnot, kind of with that whole arc of a rock band.
Yeah, it’s kind of playing with that cliché. I think it’s other bands that have done that too, where their self-titled one is not just like the third or second one. I guess Ben and I were also just like as musicians are prone to do, kind of looking at the careers of other bands and realizing that for a lot of bands that we listen to and love, they put out like four or five albums before they found their sound. But a lot of the times those first four or five albums are the ones that Ben and I are more drawn to [Laughs]. So I don’t know. I feel like Simple Minds and The Cure and R.E.M., it takes a while to crystallize their sound and that was kind of comforting for us in a way. Not that we’re trying to put ourselves on the same level as those bands but just kind of seeing what can happen and try not to be stressed out about it, like a make or break situation.
It’s interesting. We talked about the evolution of our generation and where we are now ultimately some of the first people to see rock clichés in bands that were designed to break society’s clichés about how a lot of these groups coming out for independent, less mainstream releases and then they had their big break. R.E.M. had ten years under their belt before they had their first album. There are probably a lot of R.E.M. listeners who didn’t even know there was something before “Losing My Religion.” Have you found that knowing Ben now since you were 18 years old that you guys have evolved musically together in terms of your listening interests?
There was a major shift in musical influences for this album. I think simultaneously Ben and I both got a little sick of rock and roll, which if I heard myself say that four years ago I would be like, “What are you talking about?”
But it’s true. I think for the first two albums we were listening to a ton of Rolling Stones and Elton John and just a lot of classic rock and I think we just kind of got a little bit over that or something. I don’t really know why. But I think a big part of it for me was in 2011, I finally started really getting back into electronic music and something changed in my brain where I was able to hear like soul and just heart and kind of a real spirit in electronic music which before I never really broke through. And then at the same time when I would try to listen to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Brown Sugar,” I could only hear something that was tired and really fun. Obviously they had it down, they did some amazing shit but…
I was a huge Phish fan. I was obsessed with Phish. And I remember reading at some point in high school Trey talking about something he called the “kill mommy” phase, I think he was talking about Jerry Garcia, just how at one point he kind of forced himself to break from that and step out and try something else.
I think that’s kind of what happened with us on this album with rock and roll. I mean and it was probably more extreme with Ben even because he was listening to a lot of this band Denim, which he got really into. Because they have a guy kind of got into this world in the ‘90s of writing songs that were like rock and roll songs making fun of rock and roll.
When did you get back into electronic music? I also think it’s important to qualify what electronic music you are referring too because your new album definitely isn’t a dance album it’s more Aphex Twin then say even some of your earlier stuff which has a dance beat to it but was much less abrasive.
Yeah. Well, I didn’t listen to electronic music until I was a freshman in college. It really was Ben who introduced me to a lot of music that we were really nuts about early on, like Mouse on Mars and Aphex Twin and this band called Bridge and these more cut and paste electronic groups that I think that was a major influence early on, our love of alien and insectoid sounding synth noises.
But then in 2011 when I started getting back into electronic music, it was much more the house side of things. And maybe that was a result of having toured so much that I found listening to house music while traveling was really great because it kind of just got your whole system into this groove and kind of let you get through things. And we were on this tour in Australia that we really felt a little bit out of place on the Future Music tour. But Tame Impala were there too that was like our only friend. We made a lot of friends, it was mostly DJs and electronic guys, but I made friends with a couple people and the last night of that tour, this legendary DJ Spinback, who was on the tour, he DJed at the artists’ after-party and I danced until six in the morning and that was another kind of breakthrough moment where I kind of realized what it’s all about with electronic music and the skill involved with a really good DJ. So then from there…
So that was first starting off I was really into this guy Omar-S, who was a Detroit guy, but he’s definitely influenced a lot by the other Detroit electronic acts from the ‘80s, Also, this band Woo was a big influence, they’re not really electronic per say but it’s more like this kind of atmosphere, and then the Orb was probably the biggest… I got really into the Orb. And not to talk about drugs or anything, another major breakthrough for me was like I had just made this playlist one time while I was on an airplane and it had like “Slug Dub” and it had a couple whatever that 20 minute long Stereolab and EAR song and it had all this stuff that I kind of just threw on there, and then I took really good clean acid in Hawaii and put the mix on and like I had never listened to really electronic music while tripping, and to hear something like “Slug Dub,” which just goes everywhere, you realize that’s what it’s meant for [Laughs] and like I know I’m probably like the five billionth person to have that revelation but it was special, you know?
Lots of kids have smoked pot and listened to Dark Side of the Moon and had that experience. It doesn’t mean it’s less special.
Yeah, I know, I know. It was cool. It’s like, I hadn’t had a moment like that since college so that was pretty cool.
Do you feel that drugs do have a role in the creative process at this point, not just for you, but for artists in general?
We didn’t really do too much. I mean, we were pretty clean, straight, for this whole session. It was really only one song that I could say was coming from a drug experience that we had up at the studio, that was “Your Life Is a Lie.”
It’s funny how these two worlds have kind of come back together in a weird way. It is almost like you have circled back to a scene that was evolving parallel to the ‘90s Phish scene you were part of.
Definitely. And there’s a huge, not even in the past five or six years, it’s been a huge growth in electronic music in that underground world. But Ben and I have our own take on it. It’s not like we haven’t felt like we’re coming late to the party or anything.
It’s almost like when hip-hop got involved in music in like the ‘80s, it’s so current you can’t ignore it otherwise you’ll sound overtly retro. When’s the last time you saw Phish?
At the side of the stage we played before them, a couple of days before them, at Outside Lands. My mom and sister were there, they were at the last show, so Trey came into our dressing room and we all hung out with my family and got our band, we watched from the side of the stage.
We had a great time.
I’m sure as somebody who grew up with Phish, you know, and I know that you’re part of the wave of indie or psych-rockers who have roots in Phish, it must have been great to have him… I know he teased you guys at one of the festivals, teased “Kids,” has name-dropped you and stuff.
It’s pretty epic. Pretty cool.
When do you feel you kind of fell out of listening to them?
I guess it’s kind of when I got to college. It wasn’t that I turned against them or dislike them, I just, I think in a way my high school musical world was pretty small and closed off.
Not that it’s a result of this, but high school in Memphis was much more oriented towards jambands, classic rock, the Grateful Dead and what my sister listened to. It was harder to kind of… When I got up to college, people were playing all sorts of shit I had never heard of so I just ran away with that.
Do you have a favorite show you went to?
My friend and I did a summer run 2000 on the East Coast and I really liked the Lakewood Amphitheater, Atlanta show and they did a great “Bathtub Gin.” The Holmdel show in Jersey that was really good. But I think the most special show for me was probably when they came to Memphis when I was I think a junior in high school, back in ’99.
They played at the Pyramid and it was Trey’s birthday, one or two days after, but the crowd sang happy birthday. It was nice.