Since 1999 Metronomy have been releasing singles you can’t get out of your head for weeks, accompanied by fantastic album artwork by the likes of Leslie David, and incredible music videos that were like an oasis of sparkling water in a barren wasteland of indistinguishable pop and R&B videos. It’s only when you see them all together you understand just how fun, fearless and clever the band are. Not just for acting in the videos, but for enlisting the help of some of the most talented up-and-coming filmmakers working today. Here’s Joseph Mount, the frontman of the band, on the rather haphazard creation of these videos, and what it was like to work with greats such as David Wilson, Michel Gondry and Daniel Brereton.
First up – when you are in a music video, and there is a shot of you singing along with the song, are you miming or singing and how awkward is it to do that?
Well, that is a very good question. It is awkward, whatever you do. From scanning through your questions I see you mention acting further on at some point, I feel I should stress that I am not an actor, nor do I think I am. What I normally do sits somewhere between miming and singing, it sounds like tuneful talking or rapping. I sometimes really wish that it wasn’t necessary for bands to appear in their videos, but often it is. I just try and ride out the awkwardness in the hope that the result will be worthwhile.
In terms of you having a hand in the art direction or idea for the music video, how has the amount of control you have changed from the beginning of Metronomy to nowadays?
It’s actually always been about the same, but it depends on how the treatment comes about. In most cases I will have the germ of the idea, then a director will flesh it out and make it their own. In the case of Radio Ladio I said to Daniel Brereton that I wanted something like this and this. We had no idea that we would turn up and be painted the way we were, I imagined it would be done in post production. For The Bay video I just told David Wilson that I wanted to make Torquay look like LA and bosh, he did.
In other cases the idea can be too intriguing for you to ignore, even if it’s miles away from what you originally have in mind. Lorenzo Fonda sent a treatment for The Look which was about one paragraph long, it said something about animated seagulls and dodgems. In that instance, the brevity of the treatment gave me a lot of confidence in Lorenzo, he seemed very single-minded, like he knew that it would look great and assumed that everyone else did too.
“For The Bay video I just told David Wilson that I wanted to make Torquay look like LA and bosh, he did.”
Joseph Mount, Metronomy
You seem to be one of the only bands out there who really, really give a shit about their music videos. Why are they important to you?
I’m quite alarmed that some bands don’t give a shit in all honesty. For me it seems incredibly simple; I have learned everything I know about being a musician from the musicians I love and respect, all of those musicians have had good videos.
My formative years in terms of music all happened in a pre-internet world. I was in my late teens when the internet really “happened,” so the dream of being in a band involved Top Of The Pops, CD singles, MTV and physical albums. It might sound cute, but it is true – I’ve been slow to embrace the new way of doing things.
I’ll never dream of getting 500k likes or #metronomy trending worldwide, but that might well be a dream of younger bands. Happily, by making good music videos you can still be old-school whilst appeasing the more social media-oriented people. I should point out too that our label (Because Music) is incredibly good when it comes to wanting to make interesting videos. I’m sure some bands with shit videos would love better ones, but their labels can’t justify the expense.
Tell us about working with Michel Gondry – how did that come about, how much input did you have in the idea and what was it like to work with him?
Well, Michel Gondry is a classic pre-internet director, he was most prolific when I was the most impressionable. Working with him was a dream come true and an absolute pleasure. The video came about because we are popular in France, I think he wanted to do another promo and was asking friends who he should work with. Because we have a reputation for good videos I think a lot of people suggested us and there you go.
I had zero input in the idea, I think it might have been an idea that he has had for a little while actually. But, sometimes you have to wait for the right place to put your idea, I can understand that way of doing things. Anyway, we met up and had a chat, then a few days later he came around to my flat with a maquette of the video set, it was wonderful.
The shoot was a breeze too. He was just concerned with the technical side of things, which meant we were in control of the styling and “acting” etc. I suppose that is where our input really mattered, we picked the instruments and outfits. I also told Oscar to play the tambourine like his life depended on it.
“We picked the instruments and outfits. I also told Oscar to play the tambourine like his life depended on it.”
Joseph Mount on Michel Gondry’s video for Metronomy’s Love Letters
How do you feel when you look back on your more lo-fi videos like A Thing For Me?
I feel great. I really love that video. It reminds both me and Oscar of a different time I suppose, a time when we were starting out, when we were younger and more carefree. It’s funny that you should describe that video as lo-fi, it’s by far the most technical video we’ve ever done, it took forever.
You seem to keen to act in the videos, are the rest of the band good sports when it comes to that kind of thing?
“In for a penny” I say. I might have mentioned already that I am not an actor. But, I figure if someone is spending money on a music video you should give it your best shot, Anna is especially wonderful in that situation, I think she has the most potential as an actual actor. On the other end of the scale I really hate it when a band or singer are almost too good at acting, that can end up looking a bit stage school, a bit “jack of all trades.” Whichever way you look at it, music videos are a by-product of what you do, so you shouldn’t take them too seriously.
“I think people often forget that being humorous and being cool are not mutually exclusive things…There are countless musicians out there who take themselves way way way too seriously.”
Joseph Mount, Metronomy
Which music videos did you used to watch when you were a kid/teenager and do you reckon that’s made you more keen to make more memorable ones yourself?
There was a golden period for music videos in the mid/late 1990s/early noughties. Five which actually stick in my mind as influential for whatever reason (aesthetically?) would be…
Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You
Fatboy Slim – Right Here Right Now
Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun
Pavement – Stereo
Modjo – Lady
You’re also one of the only bands who have a streak of humour running through what you do – why do you reckon that’s so important?
I think it’s just natural. Prince has a humorous streak, David Bowie has a humorous streak, The Beatles had a humorous streak. Humourless music is not nice music as far as I’m concerned. I’m not trying to compare Metronomy to Prince, but I think people often forget that being humorous and being cool are not mutually exclusive things.
I only really think it’s important in as far as it allows you to see what you do from a different, less self-absorbed perspective. There are countless musicians out there who take themselves way way way too seriously.
“The weather is the star of that video, it’s easy to imagine how different and ‘ironic’ it might have ended up had it rained, that would have really been sad after the generosity of the local tourist board.”
Joseph Mount, Metronomy
Tell us about shooting The Bay with David Wilson in Devon?
We shot the video over two days in Devon in Spring. It was cold, but we had two sunny days which could have very easily been wet and miserable. The council closed off roads for us and put us all up (crew included) in The Grand Hotel, all for free! The owner of the hotel offered to take a cameraman up in his helicopter to film the opening shot.
The day before the shoot he emailed to say he’d crashed his helicopter, he was thankfully unhurt, but we had to find someone else to do it. It was a very cold, but enjoyable couple of days. The weather is the star of that video, it’s easy to imagine how different and “ironic” it might have ended up had it rained, that would have really been sad after the generosity of the local tourist board.
Which other bands are getting it just right at the moment?
I’m not sure, sometimes it seems like it’s not bands but labels that get it right, Young Turks are trying to do something aesthetically which is cool, a little po-faced sometimes, but cool all the same. There is a French label called Entreprise which have some nice videos too. Major Lazer are clever to have stuck with Ferry Gouw to get a nice identity for their stuff, Tame Impala have some nice videos too. I’m sure there’s tonnes more exciting stuff going on though, I really am out of the loop.
Are there any directors you’d particularly want to work with, or would you like to perhaps direct your own music video one day?
There’s no one in particular, that would go against the spirit of what we’ve done so far I think. Michel Gondry is really the only person that I’d have been interested in working with…and even that didn’t come from us approaching him, we prodded a little. I myself would love to give it a go, but I don’t think my mind works in the right way. I’ve toyed with the idea of treating for a Metronomy video, but someone else has always had a way better idea.
Art + Music
This month we will be looking at the infinite, somewhat holy connection between art and music in all its different genres. Spanning an enormous amount of ways music and art come together, this feature will take a closer look at stage design, record sleeves, music videos, zines, rock star painters, band merchandise, music at fashion shows and much, much more. Now put your hands together for Art + Music.
- Chris Brooks has spent a decade rediscovering his family's 100-year-old printing press
- Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal firmly places classical painting in the now
- Kai Tang on how book design is timeless and therefore “more valuable”
- Tim Schutsky turns snow globes and scuffed-up trainers into scenes worth a second glance
- Champagne Nicko's illustrations feature characters in perpetual party mode
- Pablo Amargo on his simple and humorous illustrations for The New York Times
- Get ready for 230 new emojis to confuse your mum with
- Netflix rolls out brand new ident for all its original material
- David Rothenberg discusses his unique portraits of the passengers of planes
- Photographer Nick Turpin captures cars bathed in the lights of Piccadilly Circus
- Byun Young Geun likens illustration to “looking into a mirror”
- Naranjo-Etxeberria designs an identity aiming to cause impact at first glance