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MGMT - The Under the Radar Cover Story

Fated to Confuse

Nov 14, 2013 MGMT Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

“This is our decision/To live fast and die young/We’ve got the vision/Now let’s have some fun.” Those words, taken from MGMT‘s 2008 breakout single “Time to Pretend,” have become a rallying cry of sorts, a party-‘til-you-die anthem for people who want to dream big and party defiantly. Written by multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser while they were seniors at Wesleyan College in the early 2000s, the song appears on the surface to be poking fun at a checklist of rock star clichésthe girls, the drugs, the moneyand the realization that such a life of excess was only a fantasy, that they were “fated to pretend” that it could ever be theirs. Read deeper, though, and perhaps the song isn’t about rock star wannabes and their unattainable daydreams as much as it is about two college kids making fun of people who would want such a life in the first place, a satirical swipe at those who want to live (and die) a cliché. Maybe the song isn’t serious at all. Maybe the song is a joke.

Whatever their intentions, the reality is that, in a spooky self-actualization kind of way, “Time to Pretend” came true. MGMT did become rock stars, selling two million copies of their debut full-length (2007’s Oracular Spectacular) while they dated models, did drugs, toured the world, and managed to have an indecent amount of fun without dying young. But if the song was prescient in envisioning where the band was going, it didn’t anticipate the part where the now-successful rock stars had to make a second album, 2010’s Congratulations. Nor did it imagine that second album pissing off a large portion of the band’s fan base, puzzling many critics, and taking a commercial nosedive after a strong opening week, its focus on experimentation and sonic exploration frustrating those who wanted more radio singles. If “Time to Pretend” was at least partly a joke, some saw Congratulations as the punch line. And some started to think that MGMT had such a lust for the reckless self-destruction expressed in that song that they were intentionally throwing everything away.

“I’m sure that’s what some people were thinking about,” admits VanWyngarden. “At some point in college we would joke about this big fantasy of getting as popular as possible and then destroying it in this bombastic and crazy fashion. Even if it was a joke, that little seed of a fantasy, some people would pick up on that and see us putting out an album like Congratulations as fulfilling that kind of prophecy. That was the twisted part, like, ‘No, actually this is the first time we’ve sat down and made music that we feel is like a really honest and deep and personal reflection, and it’s more of an artistic statement than we’ve ever made before.’ But the good thing from all of that worry and woe is that in the end, we were able to come out of it proving ourselves as a band that is not going to be so easy to categorize or fit into any specific sound or style. And the reward of the fight was to allow ourselves as artists to have more freedom and do whatever we want. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to fight for that?”

The fight did not end with the mixed reception of Congratulations, however. Where “Time to Pretend” couldn’t have anticipated the struggle of delivering a successful second album, it also didn’t predict that MGMT would arrive at a point where their third album would have so much hanging on it, positioning them at a creative crossroads that would either push them back towards their crowd-pleasing anthems of their debut or push them deeper into the creative weeds. With MGMT, they double down on the latter.

“Andrew and I were talking about how everyone that we played it for at first was really into it, but they were also saying, ‘Wow! This is the best record that you’ve made so far, but you need to write a hit or something that people are going to grab onto,’” says Goldwasser on a sunny Santa Monica morning, a few hours before he has to board a flight to Milwaukee for the band’s appearance at a festival. “And, at first, we were thinking maybe they were right. Maybe we do need to do that. But then at a certain point we realized that maybe we didn’t need to do that, because so far everyone we’ve talked to has liked it. I think it’s more that people are thinking about what other people are going to think, but I don’t know who those other people are. For us, we made a record that we’re really proud of and that we think is really accessible, even if it doesn’t have obvious hit songs on it.”

That might be an understatement, as apart from trippy space-rock of first single “Alien Days,” it’s hard to imagine any of the 10 songs on MGMT having any future on Top 40 radio or in a TV commercial. If Congratulations was daringly experimental, especially for a band that had a lot to lose, MGMT is the sound of a band that has weathered those losses and is ready to roll the dice on what they have left. Built out of hundreds of hours of improvised studio jams and abstract song fragments, it’s an entrancing, often confusing, and ultimately rewarding song cycleif you have the time (or patience) to peel back its layers of content. Though it is largely electronic, it is not exactly an electronic album. Often surreal and hallucinogenic, it’s not exactly a psychedelic album, either.

“I try not to read too much press, because I get self-conscious, but I was quoted as saying it’s not a record that people will understand the first time they hear it,” Goldwasser explains. “And I feel like that’s a horrible context to put that in, because it makes it seem pretentious in some way. But I believe that’s true; I don’t think it’s possible to really understand it the first time, but I think that’s because it changes every time you hear it. It’s not like there’s this moment where it’s like, ‘Aha! I get it.’ It’s more like it takes some time to appreciate what’s going on.”

The question, then, isn’t whether MGMT have made their most visionary and challenging albumthey have. The question is: will anyone other than their most ardent fans be up to the challenge?

Every Stranger Is A Ghost

Andrew VanWyngarden is back at the hotel after a rainy sound check in Milwaukee, asking whether it’s safe to eat a steak that he forgot to put in the refrigerator the night before. The hotel, VanWyngarden says, is rumored to be haunted, though he doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned. “There were a couple of channels on the TV that were crazy, like melting and psychedelic, but I don’t think that had anything to do with haunting activity,” he says between bites of rib-eye. “I think it was just a bad satellite signal.”

VanWyngarden says he doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the album he just made is a haunted, if not spooky, release. The textures are kaleidoscopic, spectral synthesizer lines stacked on top of each other in a blurry smear of sonic colors. The rhythms are hypnotic and trancey, with multiple time signatures intersecting in small and barely perceptible ways. VanWyngarden’s writing, too, has an eerily existential quality, ditching the winking satire and pop culture references of past releases in favor of ruminations on death (“I Love You, Too, Death”), examinations of drug addiction (“Mystery Disease”), and critiques of unexamined lives (“Your Life is a Lie”). Throughout, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden are the ghosts tangled in the buzzing and whirring machines, the latter’s vocals floating just above the fray, stoic and distant, tracing the outline of each song’s subtle melodic shifts. But if the album ended up taking them into unfamiliar territory, it started where the others did, right at home.

Beginning work as a duo in their Brooklyn studio in late 2011, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser started writing as they had done before, building songs off of chord progressions and riffs. Soon, they had the album’s first single, “Alien Days,” a track which sounds like the culmination of their other albums, a surreal space-rock epic complete with darkly theatrical choruses swirling around sighing, sing-songy verses that VanWyngarden says tell the tale of a “less sinister-type parasite” that controls human behavior. But other songs written through that conventional process lacked the spark they were seeking and were soon abandoned. Further conversations about possible directions for the album yielded no consensus. So, in lieu of having a clear direction, they simply began making music, compiling hours and hours of improvisationsome melodic and pretty, some harsh and dissonant, none of it structuredin hopes that something would provide a clear direction in which they could channel their creative energy. Free from the conventions of writing songs based around verses, choruses, and bridges, they found their new ideas were odd and exciting in a way that they hadn’t been since they started the band nearly a decade earlier.

“And then there was a moment when I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. It’s not like this is this other thing that we’re doing, and then we’re going to go write some songs. This is way more fun and exciting than trying to be all stiff and methodical about the whole thing. We should just enjoy it,’” Goldwasser says of their soft-focus jam sessions. “We didn’t really know when we started working on the album, because we thought we were just having some fun in the studio and that it would turn into something else, and before we knew it we had already recorded a lot of the music on the album.”

So even if they didn’t know exactly what album they wanted to make yet, they knew how they wanted to make it, and they soon packed up their gear and headed to producer Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in upstate New York. Having recorded Oracular Spectacular with Fridmann back in 2007 (as well as having him engineer Congratulations), VanWyngarden and Goldwasser had someone who could help them bring some order to what was becoming a wholly unwieldy collection of sounds. With so much material to sort through, what did they hope to find?

“It’s not going to help clear that up, but they wanted to be able to surprise themselves,” Fridmann says in answer to that question. “They’re both excellent traditional musicians. You could say, ‘Okay, here’s a chart,’ or ‘Here’s how the song goes. Follow the changes. Go!’ And they’d just be able to pick it up and play. It wouldn’t be any big deal. And on any instrumentthey both play drums, they both play the keyboards, they both play the guitars. It doesn’t matter. So it’s hard to surprise yourself if you’re in that position. So that was really the key to them in the creative processsomehow backing into something that was like, ‘Oh. Well, I didn’t know that was going to happen. I never could have imagined that you’d play that chord before the chord I’m playing. Now we’re playing all 12 notes at once, but I like it. Let’s go!’”

Though VanWyngarden and Goldwasser are quick to acknowledge they are very different people both in and out of the studio, they appear to share the common goal of reaching their listener through the art of surprise. Just as they are opposites in physical appearance, they are also opposites in conversation. Charming, distractible, and often flashing a mischievous sense of humor, VanWyngarden is a natural entertainer, charismatic, and engaging. He is also prone to occasionally saying things he probably shouldn’t, such as when he, apparently jokingly, suggested in a 2010 interview with Scottish newspaper The Daily Record that Columbia wasn’t pleased with MGMT’s dwindling record sales and would be more involved with their future creative decisions. (Not true, he says, noting that the label has been unfailingly supportive and immediately loved the new record.) Goldwasser, on the other hand, is focused, polite, and extraordinarily careful, answering nearly every question with a humble “I don’t know” before offering a succinct elaboration. In conversation, they make an odd pair. In the studio, their personalities balance each other in ways that allow them to pull in different directions but to ultimately wind up at the same end point. Fridmann got to see that relationship work itself out in real time.

“In terms of what is currently interesting them, Ben is obviously very focused on the technology component of it, and Andrew is focused on just the feel part of it more than anything else,” Fridmann explains. “It’s great, because they also work in a wonderful way of complementing each other. If we’re looking at a technical problem, Ben will be like, ‘Well, I know how to get this sound. I need to do this, that, and the other, and then we’ll be in the right place.’ But knowing all the technology doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find the right sound, and Andrew will come over and hit 10 switches that you’re not supposed to touch and be like, ‘Wait. That gives me a new idea. Let’s try this other sound!’ And they’ll go off in some other direction. That same goes for Ben. Andrew will be sitting there going, ‘I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right!’ And Ben will come up with, ‘Well, see, we just need to do this chord and that chord, and now we’ve got a progression that travels through there and makes the melody make sense.’ And then we’re onto it.”

In that way, MGMT is the sound of Goldwasser’s head and VanWyngarden’s heart combining to create something that is both cerebral and impulsive, engaging and often bewildering. Hearing them describe it, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden appear confident that, quirks and all, listeners will accept their new album for what it is. Unfortunately, they thought that the last time, too.

We Like To Watch You Laughing

In the summer of 2009, MGMT were on top of the world. They had opened shows for everyone from M.I.A. and Beck to Radiohead and Paul McCartney, adding each of them as fans in the process. They had toured around the world, earned Grammy nominations, and were knee-deep in their sophomore release, recording in Malibu with Spaceman 3’s Pete Kember, a hero of theirs. For a band that had three years earlier been more or less defunct, it was a stunning change of luck. And VanWyngarden knows the exact moment that their luck began to turn.

“It was a headline of an article,” he says with a sigh. “We hadn’t even finished the album yet, and it was an in-the-studio preview piece in Q Magazine in England. And they had done some phone interview with us, and we were still writing the album, so there are times with any artist when you’re in the studio and all you’re really doing is listening to it and making it up, you’re not sure if it’s good or bad or what it sounds like or what people are going to think about it. I think that’s good and healthy to have that feeling, but it’s not the best feeling to try to describe to the journalist from England. So here we are on the phone, and he’s asking us about our new album, and we’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. We can’t tell. Maybe it’s terrible.’ And when they wrote the headline of the article, the title was ‘MGMT: How is your new album? “Terrible.”’ And from that moment, it set everything in motion, every magazine running with this whole idea that we were trying to intentionally destroy our fan base or that it was a ‘fuck you’ to somebody. Just watching that unfold was not fun for us.”

Generally, there were three kinds of responses to Congratulations. First, there were those who were either confused or disappointed, many of them fans and music critics who had championed the band, all of them lamenting the fact that MGMT hadn’t written any pop hits on the level of “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” or “Electric Feel.” Second, there was a smaller (or perhaps less vocal) group who liked Congratulations from the start, praising it as a refinement of the psychedelic half of Oracular Spectacular and a boldly weird step for a band that could have cashed in on their reputation. Then there was a third group, made up of those who didn’t really know what to make of the album but ultimately listened to it enough that they eventually appreciated its eccentricities. Listening to VanWyngarden and Goldwasser, one gets the impression that this response was the most satisfying. Still, as much as it has been speculated that they welcomed the criticism that greeted Congratulations, it’s apparent that the backlash stings, even today.

“I think it was a pretty obvious reflection of how the world is,” Goldwasser says, “and the people with the loudest voices during that time were the people who were being snarky and complaining that we didn’t write another ‘Kids.’ You know, whatever. We know a lot of people got the second record and got really into it. I guess it was just a learning process for us. At first, it was really disappointing, and we didn’t really understand why so many people were saying negative things. But we learned to shut that out, and after a year a lot of people came around to it and started saying really nice things about it. I feel like at this point we’ve learned not to care too much about that stuff.”

The fact that the album sold only one-third as many copies as Oracular Spectacular in the United States attests to the damage done through mixed reviews and negative word-of-mouth. But if Columbia Records was disappointed, they can’t say they weren’t warned that MGMT wouldn’t be interested in remaking Oracular Spectacular over and over until no one wanted to hear it anymore. In fact, when they were signed to a record contract on the strength of their first two EPs, Goldwasser and VanWyngarden told the label just that.

“We were very adamant about that, even then,” VanWyngarden says. “Because we knew. We weren’t that dumb. We knew that they liked ‘Kids’ and ‘Time to Pretend,’ and they knew they had a chance to be popular songs, but even then, in 2006, it was three or four years after we’d written those songs, and we’d already gone through college, where they were minor on-campus popular tracks. We were already over those songs, and we were trying to convince our A&R woman not to put ‘Kids’ on our first album,” he says, laughing. “That gives you a bit of an idea of why the negative reaction to the last album was frustrating for us, because we were pegged from the get-go as electro-pop, and I don’t think we’d ever want to deny that portion of our fans or that it’s part of us, because it’s a major part of us. We appreciate that side, too. But even the first meetings with the label, we were like, ‘Are you sure? You know, we’re going to make some weird psychedelic prog-rock sounds.’”

Though both VanWyngarden and Goldwasser are careful not to portray any of their early singles as stylistic outliers rather than the songs that they are still most associated with, the college kids who wrote those songs bear little resemblance to the 30-year-olds who made MGMT. In fact, listening to the band’s evolution, one has to wonder if the band that made those seminal tracks was ever really the band they wanted to be. Ask them what drew them together in the first place, and they both point to their mutual love of music, an appreciation for the outdoors, and a shared sense of humor. Put two of those three things together, and you get the early MGMT tracks. But were the songs jokes?

“Not jokes. ‘Jokes’ is the wrong word,” VanWyngarden says, correcting himself for using that word moments earlier. “For instance, ‘Kids.’ Ben wrote the music for that one on his own, and he told me he was out at a party at college and came back to his dorm room and was a little drunk and wrote that song and the music as a joke to himself, like ‘What’s the stupidest pop progression I can think of?’ And then he played it for me, and I wrote lyrics really quickly, and we performed it on my birthday when I turned 20. And the first time we played it, we put a section in the middle that was an extended instrumental section that sounded a lot like ‘Jump’ by Van Halen or something like that. And we put in these sound effects of ice hockey, so it was ice skates slashing along and pucks and crowds cheering, and in the middle of the song we got hockey sticks and a hockey puck and went and played in the crowd. You couldn’t really call it a crowd. I think it was six or seven people. So that’s the kind of stuff we ended up doing a lot in our live performances in college.”

VanWyngarden’s tone brightens when telling these stories, and it’s obvious that he has a lot of them. How about the first time he and Goldwasser performed together in public, clearing the room of all but one audience member with a 45-minute version of the Ghostbusters theme song? Or the time he and Goldwasser, then freshmen, had the audacity to disrupt a dorm talent show by secretly recording another band as they played, and then using their keyboard amp to blast that band with manipulated versions of their own music while they were still onstage? Or how about the story of how “Time to Pretend” was originally entitled “The Mantis Sailing Home,” a tribute to a pet praying mantis whose eggs hatched and inundated VanWyngarden and his roommates with hundreds of baby mantises? Then called “The Management,” they were performance artists as much as musicians, and the world was ripe for their satire.

“I don’t think we were trying to be GG Allin provocative or anything like that,” Goldwasser says, “but I think we really enjoyed playing pop music in order to make fun of pop music, and at the same time, we love pop and appreciate it and love dance parties and whatever. But a lot of the willfully stupid elements of pop music are really funny and fun to poke fun at, and I don’t think there was a moment when we decided to become a serious band or something like that. But I think we did get a little sick of irony and not being able to be totally sincere at any point. I’m kind of bored of music that’s insincere. I like music that has elements of satire in it, but I feel like you can have that even though you’re getting at something real and sincere. I think it was kind of surprising to us that a lot of people didn’t get the joke. ‘Time to Pretend,’ which is definitely not a song that’s advising people to forget about the world and party all the time, became known for that. That wasn’t necessarily the message that we were trying to express.”

That said, even if VanWyngarden and Goldwasser weren’t writing joke songs, they also weren’t thinking of MGMT as a serious project quite yet. By 2005, they had graduated college, had released two EPs, and had toured as an opening act for of Montreal, but just a year later they were on an unofficial hiatus with no plans to make any more music. Having relocated to Brooklyn, VanWyngarden was writing songs with of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes and had essentially joined his band as a guitarist, even going so far as to do press photos with them for an upcoming tour. Goldwasser wasn’t doing music at all, having decided to pursue a career in social work, setting his eyes on relocating to New Orleans. Then Maureen Kinney, an A&R rep at Columbia, was given a copy of their Time to Pretend EP and emailed the band to express her desire to offer them a contract. VanWyngarden, thinking it was spam, deleted it.

Luckily, the band’s manager received a copy of the email as well, and alerted VanWyngarden that it was actually real, leaving him to begin the process of tracking down Goldwasser to convince him to give music another shot. After persuading Goldwasser that a major label contract was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he reluctantly returned. But there was one final issue to deal with: there was already a band called “The Management.”

“And that was the first moment that we had to behave like an actual band, because legally we couldn’t have the same name, so we had to think of ourselves like a real band,” VanWyngarden says. “With the name change came this rush, especially once we were signed to Columbia and we were writing songs for our first album, and we had to think of ourselves as a band. We couldn’t write a whole album of joke songs, so that’s when we started transitioning into what music we would really want to make and play for people. That was a big turning point.”

Now a real band, the newly christened MGMT took their major label money and headed to Dave Fridmann’s studio in the spring of 2007, giddy to be working with the legendary Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev producer. At first hesitant to put those future hit singles on the album, they ended up building the rest of the album around more distorted versions of them, writing a new batch of songs that would begin the shift from college pranksters to burgeoning psych-pop auteurs.

“What I always find humorous is that what people think Oracular Spectacular isn’t what Oracular Spectacular is,” Fridmann says. “That is not a dance record. That is not a club record. That is not a dance band or an electronic band. Those songs have tons of big distorted drum kits on them. That is not club music. People got this idea of what it is, but they’re not listening to it. I still get people who come in and say, ‘Make it sound like MGMT’ and I’ll start distorting stuff, and they’ll say ‘What are you doing?’ Well, did you listen to the record?”

As we know, Oracular Spectacular blew up in the way few albums do, selling two million records and positioning MGMT at the odd intersection of mainstream pop ubiquity and hipster chic. By the time they got around to writing their follow-up, they decided to work as a full band, bringing their touring group into the studio for an album that was both a daring exercise in art-rock extravagance and a weary assessment of their lives as rock stars. But having had so much success in such a short period of time, they had forgotten their warning to Columbia a few years earlier. Congratulations was that weird prog-rock album they had once promised they’d make, but they no longer remembered why such albums carry a risk for both label and artist.

“The second album was the first time that we started from scratchno songs, nothing,” VanWyngarden recalls. “We were going to make something completely new that represented us at the time…. I think we were too far immersed in it to realize that there were things that people were going to react to the way they did. I think that’s good, because that wasn’t in our heads when we were making the songs, but that also made it rougher on us, because we’re more sensitive and we hadn’t experienced that yet. We were still writing [the album] off of 2008 and people loving the first album, almost like sailing on this naïveté from college, like, ‘We’re fucking around and this is great and we can just continue to fuck around and everything will continue to be fine.’ And then the harsh reality that some people aren’t going to go along with every single whim and whatever you want to do if you’re a band that’s on that scale. I think that was a tough realization for us.”

Before the backlash had subsided, the band had been accused of everything from self-sabotage to self-indulgent pretentions run amok, and the perception set in that MGMT had become drunk on their own sense of creative freedom. Even the album covera decidedly trippy image of a surfing cartoon cat who is about to be submerged by a massive wave that is also in the shape of a cat’s mouthwas attacked for being silly and over-the-top. But if Congratulations was a divisive release, even though it wasn’t a huge departure from what they had done before, what will those same people make of this even more experimental version of MGMT? Could another wave of confusion be building off in the distance, ready to crash on them again?

Don’t Expect To Be A Winner

In the history of popular music, there are two reasons to make a self-titled record. One: it’s your first album and introduction to your audience. Two: it’s a restatement of purpose, a message to the world that this is the purest distillation of your musical essence. Often artists will use this tactic to send a message to their listeners that, even if they’ve been lost in the creative wilderness for a while, they’ve thought better of it and they’re back to doing what their fans loved about them in the first place. And though they’ve reined in most of their prankster impulses, MGMT admits that they’ve allowed themselves this one indulgence: MGMT is self-titled to mock the notion that they believe this album is either definitive or a concession to those who believe they would have been better off churning out album after album of synth-pop anthems. In a strange way, despite sounding little like the band they were six years ago, they’re nowphilosophically at leastat a place very similar to where they started as college freshmen. They’re again making music with the sole goal of entertaining themselves, and they’re still into subverting the conventions of popular music.

“I think we’re both a little bit bored with rock in a lot of ways,” Goldwasser says. “I think there’s still a lot that can be said with rock music, but I think people take it for granted sometimes. It’s this thing that’s always cool, but if you think about it, a lot of it is really not that cool. I think there are still things you can say within that, because there are all these clichés that everyone recognizes and you can use them and make something new out of them. I think that’s exciting. But when it just turns into, ‘There’s this band, and they’re a rock band. They do these things, and they’re cool because they do these things that everyone knows is cool’that can be really boring. I’m really tired of that.”

To that end, if MGMT is no longer a rock band in any conventional sense, they’re in good company. And while MGMT is a decidedly strange, genre-dissolving album of abstracted pop songs, they’re only further deconstructing what Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, The Knife, and a host of experimental electronic bands have done in the past decade. It might not be an album that will make much sense on first or fifteenth listen, but MGMT might sound utterly visionary in five years.

“This new record, to me, is very much a record of the times,” Fridmann says. “It has been more clear lately that we’re not thinking of music in the same classical, circle of 5ths, music school kind of songwriting. Music is becoming more and more of a different type of tonality that is allowable, and listeners accept multi-timbral, polyrhythmic music and just say, ‘Okay, sure. Why not? I like it.’ People don’t even question it anymore. You can put things that would be unthinkable in music in the past, where you’d say, ‘Oh, I’m going to put this chord over that chord and have this giant tone cluster.’ So I don’t think of it so much as an abstraction or that this is some sort of divergence from music. I think this is where music is going. I think the Western ear is slowly dying, and we are changing. I think they’re just on top of that front of strange musicstrange new music.”

For all the struggles to describe the music contained on MGMT, “strange new music” might be most accurate. Even after a decade of music drifting away from traditional verse-chorus structures at an increasingly accelerated pace, an album as boldly uncompromising as MGMT is still startling. If those aforementioned experimental acts have maintained their audiences and even brought on new listeners, they’ve done so because their audiences were ready to follow them. Because of their success, MGMT has a different audience, one that they say is getting younger and more open-minded but whose less adventurous members are probably one weird album away from abandoning them. If true, they don’t seem particularly worried about that response.

“I think that it’s going to be mixed,” VanWyngarden says, his tone suggesting that such an outcome isn’t entirely unwelcome. “I hate it when people say ‘mixed reviews,’ because that always has this negative feeling to it. When people say, ‘That album came out to mixed reviews,’ you say, ‘Oh…mixed reviews.’ But really, I think that’s great. If people are thinking about it and forming their own opinions on it, of course not everybody in the world is going to be accepting and like, ‘Yes. This is a great album.’ But I think a lot of people will like it. I hope that they find themselves surprised that it is pretty out there and different and experimental, but it’s also not that hard to get into it. It’s more open than the last record, and I don’t think it feels as much like we’re trying to prove something or get somewhere,” he says, appearing to reach for a metaphor to tie everything together but giving up.

“I’m just totally happy being able to exist on this planet as an artist and a musician and be able to think abstractly and have my head in the clouds. To just do what we do with our new album and our last album and kind of just take risks as an artist and still be able to have a career and survive…” he says, trailing off once he hits the word “survive,” as if it has triggered a thought he’s going to keep to himself. “I think that’s really lucky and cool.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s September/October issue.]


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Mario Lopez
November 16th 2013

I love how this band experiments with their sound so much. You’re never going to get the same MGMT record twice. Alien Days is a testament to just that.

September 15th 2014

great interview and article!!