MGMT: From Phish to Faine Jade
You mentioned surfing before. I know you moved out to Rockaway not too long ago, is that because you wanted to be closer to the beach or did it just feel like time to leave the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn and Manhattan?
Yeah I guess. I mean, I love my old house but I was going out to Rockaway all the time and I was sharing a room, renting a room out there, and surfing a lot. I told myself that if a house ever popped up in this little neighborhood, this little couple block area where I was spending most of my time, that I would consider buying
Actually it was the first time I went out, got my car, and it’s like January, kind of dead of winter, and, I was telling my friend, I’m going to go out and see if there’s any houses for sale.
I got out into my car, drove 50 feet and turned a corner and there’s a “For Sale” sign. It was meant to be. I was like, “Yeah!” and I called and three months later, it wasn’t the smoothest sale with the owners, but yeah I bought it and started renovations and then it’s crazy because six months of renovations later is when Sandy happened. So it was a crazy end of the year. But I really like the feeling out there right now. I mean, it’s a little scary obviously but there’s like… I don’t know, it feels really bohemian and I got a few friends who have young kids, and my friend Sarah’s making soaps and my friend Zach has a coffee shop, and they have this temporary dome out there that MoMA built, selling coffee and we DJed in there and I don’t know, it just kind of has a nice vibe that needs to grow a lot obviously.
I went there a couple of times last summer just to walk down the boardwalk. It feels like a really cool artist community, which Woodstock probably was before it became commercialized and whatnot. Did your apartment get badly damaged in the storm?
It got some damage, yeah. My basement was full of water and trash and the concrete on the basement floor got all messed up. But you know, compared to a lot of spots around me it was not that bad.
Do you ever see Patti Smith walking around there?
Yeah, I met her out there, talked to her a little bit. That would be pretty cool… She seems pretty great. She told me when I met her that she in a way had given up on Manhattan as a place for innovative artistic people to really flourish. So she’s kind of trying to find this fringe neighborhood that has infinite possibilities and I think she feels like Rockaway is that zone. It’s cool.
Do you feel like you’re a New Yorker for life now? Or having grown up in Memphis, going to school upstate and then…
I don’t know, I guess… I mean, I always entertain the possibility of living somewhere else or trying to live overseas somewhere but it usually ends up coming back to New York being the place that I get down with most.
At this point are you guys working on the live show? And if so, what’s that process been like picking these songs that were born out of jams and then applying them to your live band and also I don’t know if you can reinterpret them exactly or do you need additional people with you?
We’re not going to have additional people. We’re trying to do things differently though, and we really want to make it easier on ourselves. Which I think…
We’ve been playing since 2007 as a live band where we play everything live and try to recreate all these sounds. Ben’s playing a keyboard part with two hands and then having to switch to another one and then sing, and James is playing tambourine and keyboard at the same time… All this stuff that we kind of had a moment where we were like, “Who’s really impressed by this? And what are we losing with the kind of stage show and entertainment value by having to be completely focused on all these parts?”
We’re going to try to have some sounds sequenced that we’re playing with. But in a way that still allows for extended parts and jamming and stuff like that but it’s already kind of taking a big bit of stress off of our backs I think. And it doesn’t feel wrong it just feels kind of nice and I think we’ll look happier and more into it on stage.
Do you think you will incorporate moments of improvisation in the live show or stick with a more stylized performance?
No, I think there are still going to be moments of improvisation. I mean, it’s a combination, we’re trying to go back and re-arrange all of our old songs too, mostly just by re-arranging by changing up the sounds and \ adding sounds that make it more in line with some of the new songs which I think is cool.
It’s not like they’re unrecognizable by any means but they’re different, fresh and I think that people will like that.
In that sense, do you feel like obligated to play “Kids” or “Time to Pretend” or “Congratulations” or any certain songs from your past or in a sense do you feel like Animal Collective, where they only play new songs? And they’ve done a good job at that but I’m sure at some point these people are going to want to hear something off of Merriweather Post.
We’re still getting songs from every era. We’re trying to think of it from the perspective of the audience a little bit because you don’t want to deny some simple pleasure of hearing a song that they want to hear.
I can understand really wanting to push it and be experimental but our whole goal as using some backing tracks, I guess you could say, even though that’s where it sounds bad, it’s just to free ourselves up so that we can engage more and can feel more like an experience live. You know, I think Tame Impala was an inspiration for us for our live show because their live show is incredible and it’s super tight and they have some things that are kind of sequenced filters or effects that kind of make things sound just like the album when it needs to or they can kind of go off and do something, but their show flows well.
That’s what we really want to do is have things flow and kind of have an arc to it.
I got really into Parliament live. I got a double LP in Memphis, I really liked that one and I really like a couple DJ mixes I’ve gotten, this guy Intergalactic Gary. I listen to WFMU all the time and have the app on my phone so I’ll hear a song and be like, “What’s that?” and take a picture and then go download it.
We’re putting out a single cassette of “Alien Days” for Record Store Day and the B-Side of the cassette is this guy who I heard on WFMU called Hardy White. He has this show where he’s just got this incredible way of kind of with this really. We just got in touch with him through the radio station. Recently, I haven’t really seen much live music at all. I’ve been like DJing a little bit in Rockaway but just random parties and kind of low-key things for friends. But I’ve really gotten to enjoy DJing—building sets and having an arc to it that’s really fun.
I’m glad you say that because I feel like since the iPod, a lot of times musicians DJing is just playing their iPod it’s cool to see you treating it like a setlist, organizing all this stuff. And do you do vinyl mostly?
No, I’m still digital with the goal of kind of once I figure out the set that I really get into, then I’ll try to track everything down on vinyl. But I like using this virtual DJ program which is probably not the top thing but I’ve been using it for years because you can have like six virtual turntables at once, but I use four so I can have these going and set a loop and I can have three other songs or three other loops playing so you can kind of end up making your own music which is pretty cool.
You cover a Fade Jade song on MGMT how did you pick that cover?
It’s a ‘60’s kind of like flower pop band from Long Island called Faine Jade. The song we covered, I’m pretty sure it’s on one of the Nuggets compilations, is called “Introspection.” That was a band that my friend introduced me to five or six years ago and I’ve always been into that song and then there was a moment in the recording process when last summer or something when it felt like we didn’t know what to do next and we still didn’t know what we were doing and so I was just like, “Screw it, let’s try a cover.” So we started recording that and then we were just really happy with the way it sounded.
Do you think that influenced the tone of the sessions after that?
Yeah, I think lyrically it fits in that theme of the record because actually Dave was the one who was really pushing for this final track order.
He thinks there’s this kind of story line that really works so “Introspection” comes kind of after this initial introduction to the darker, slightly more menacing, questioning side of things, then comes “Introspection,” and then the result of the introspection is like the realization is that your life is a lie or something. It’s kind of like really twisted.
I feel like there’s two distinct halves, sides to the record because the second side is way more the kind of dream sequence, kind of nighttime, trippy side.
You mentioned that this concept of life being a lie but what you said in the last hour or so it sounds like your life is the opposite. You’ve kind of reclaimed the artist community, you’re working the DJ set, you’re playing the music you want to play, it’s not a lie in that sense.
Who knows where that song came from. While we were like tripping hard on acid by a fire but I just started singing that. I kind of think it must be directed at some other people. I think Ben and I kind of enjoy going on rants about people that we don’t really agree with their approach to life.
But at the same time it’s interesting that sometimes people will be listening whether it’s at a bar or a party and not getting the life element.
That’s why I think it’s funny too is that that’s kind of like the catchiest, shortest song on the album so that would be really incredible I think if that song were to get popular because then everyone’s singing, “Your life is a lie.”
When you find yourself singing older lyrics listening back do you channel who you were then or did you sing it to put on a good live show for your friends or your audience?
I still connect to the older lyrics, a lot of them. I mean, some of them not as much but I think it’s important to try to channel the feelings when you’re singing it and get into that zone.