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MGMT on staying relevant 11 years after ‘Electric Feel’

Words by Nikki Escalante

Live fast.

MGMT first graced our speakers in 2007. It was a fluoro-adorned era, with the timeless dance anthem ‘Kids’ the soundtrack to our teenage rebellion.

Eleven years later, the duo has brought their renowned psychedelic-funk sound to a fourth album, Little Dark Age. We caught up with one half of the group, Ben Goldwasser, to take us through the album and everything in between.

How’s life been since the release of Little Dark Age?

I just got home from tour yesterday, so it’s nice to be back. The year has been good. We’re mostly happy with the reception the record’s had. It’s nice to just have music that we can go out and play live that’s fun for us and that the band seems to have had an immediately positive reaction to.

People are already singing along with it and everything, so that’s kind of the best we could have hoped for. It’s really rewarding.

There’s a lot of emotion and social commentary packed into this record. Can you talk us through your thoughts when you were piecing everything together?

In some ways, the record is sort of us coming to terms with who we are, in our mid-30s, getting comfortable with that. I don’t know if it has a specific message, but a lot of it deals with asking questions about where society is in terms of our relationship to technology, or what’s going on in the world politically.

It’s not necessarily picking sides, it’s more just acknowledging that things are pretty weird in the world right now.

Were there any links between the songs and the current political climate?

A lot of the writing happened around the [US] election but I’m not really sure if there’s a direct political message in the lyrics, or if it’s more about how the social climate informed the mood we were in while writing.

A lot of that stuff came out in the music but I don’t know if it’s in a concrete way. I think feeling really anxious about the way things were going in the world made us want to write music that was relatable and catchy, because we just wanted to reach out to people and give them something that they can dance to.

A lot of mainstream artists are now bringing light to social issues. How important is it for you to be able to share these thoughts through songwriting?

I think it’s a privileged position to be in, to be an artist who has the potential to reach people. I don’t want to waste the opportunity, but at the same time I think that it can be kind of annoying when an artist has too much of a political message. Sometimes I immediately get turned off from something when I’m like ‘oh, this person thinks that they’re better than me because they’re preaching to me.’ You don’t really want to do that.

Any favourite lyrics from the album?

I love the lyrics to ‘Little Dark Age’. I don’t really ask Andrew what the songs are about a lot of the time, so it’s cool when we’ve been working on a piece of music for a while and he’ll sing the lyrics for the first time and I’ll be like ‘I have no idea what that’s about, but it sounds really cool.’

In terms of sound, it’s quite the ’80s revival. Did being born in that era influence the production?

When I was little kid, I didn’t really grow up listening to it. I wasn’t nostalgic for the ’80s, it’s something that I came to later on. For me, it was already a dated sound and I wanted to listen to new things. Then when I went to college I started going back and realising that pop music was amazing and I should listen to more of it.

Now I really enjoy coming back to that. I also really like collecting vintage keyboards. I think it’s really cool to have a box that’s like a digital instrument that has all these sounds that are frozen in time, it’s a fun thing to explore.

What’s been the biggest challenge of the last 11 years?

Too numerous (laughs). I think in terms of the band, just being able to grow and change as people and figure out how to keep the band relevant and meaningful for us – and to remain close friends through all of that.

To me, it has been a big challenge but a big achievement that we still like each other and enjoy what we’re doing. I don’t know of a lot of bands or musician friends who have been in it for so long and actually [still] enjoy it.

I don’t know, it’s funny to imagine us as super old men bickering about things (laughs), I hope we’re still friends for a long time.

MGMT and Franz Ferdinand are joining forces for two co-headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney in July. Tickets via Frontier Touring.

This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 180. You can read it here.

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