A classic interview with Andrew and Ben From MGMT in 2008 just as they broke as major new players on the music scene.
MGMT Interview on Moe Train’s Tracks
Andrew Vanwyngarden, Ben Goldwasser (MGMT)
Monty Wiradilaga, Brian Kracyla (Moe Train’s Tracks)
Starlight Ballroom – Philadelphia, PA
Here’s a great interview that was rescued from The Tracks’ vaults… Back in early 2008, MTT caught up with Andrew and Ben from MGMT in Philadelphia, PA.
MGMT had just gotten a major break in the music scene with the widespread critical success of Oracular Spectacular. Keep an eye on MoeTrainsTracks.com for tons of great new content!
Moe: We saw you guys down at Bonnaroo for your set, it was a great way to open up the weekend. I was a pretty epic show if I must say.
Andrew: Yeah, it was fun. We had been to Bonnaroo before so it was good to see it from the side of the artist instead of the person in the crowd. It was only our second festival show.
M: Oh really, where was the first, Coachella?
M: So how do they compare?
A: I don’t know, Coachella was crazier for us because we were more nervous. Bonnaroo was a little more relaxed and cool.
M: You guys just started tour together with a band right?
Ben: We started practicing with them about a year ago. I think we were kinda thrust into exposure a little too quickly for our taste. We played on national television after we had only been touring with the band for a couple of months.
M: Was that on Letterman?
M: You looked a little nervous.
B: Yeah, we were very nervous! But we’re getting more comfortable and we don’t have to think as hard when we’re playing, its kinda getting to be more natural. We’re getting used to playing for crowds.
M: Did you guys have sound problems at Bonnaroo in the beginning, what was going on?
B: Yeah, well, the festival thing, we hardly ever really get a sound check so it’s always a little weird starting out.
A: I think the monitors were pretty messed up.
M: (to Andrew) Oh, by the way, you had on some pretty fucking crazy pants. I remember walking up to set and saying ‘holy shit’, those bright blue ones!
A: Tropical floral bellbottoms, yeah. Really big bellbottoms.
M: They looked comfortable though!
A: Yeah, they’re real comfortable.
M: Saw you guys backstage, you guys looked pretty chill, pretty relaxed, so I guess you feel like you’re falling into place with everything.
B: We’re good at hanging out. We’re good at relaxing.
M: Any standout moments yet from your recent successes?
B: We just played at the Oxygen festival in Ireland and that was really crazy. There were all these people climbing up the towers that were holding up the tent and we had to stop the show because this girl made it all the way to the roof of the tent so that you couldn’t even see her anymore and everyone was yelling at her telling her to come down.
M: Did she take a spill?
B: No, it would have been ugly if she had! That was probably at least 60 feet up in the air or something. It was pretty crazy.
M: I saw a video of you guys at some festival in Scotland that you guys were playing and you were walking around the grounds, checking out the scene; Andrew you like the thrill-rides?
A: As much as I’d like to keep the myth going that I like thrill-rides, I’m new to them. I’ve been on like Space Mountain and most of the Disney rides, and I like those a lot. I was like twenty when I started going on roller coasters, so I don’t think I’d go on the Slingshot thing. I would vomit.
M: You guys got together at Wesleyan, and you were actually making music that you thought would be annoying?
A: We knew it was annoying.
M: Just to fuck around, just playing, just to amuse yourselves?
A: I dunno… We were young and foolish.
M: You were freshman?
M: So it was basically putting that freshman energy, that drunken and banged up energy back into the music.
A: Yeah, exactly.
M: What’s up with the clothing optional dorm?
B: At some point it was designated a “clothing optional” dorm but there aren’t many people walking around naked there. There were a few, and we were friends with most of them.
A: I did naked calisthenics with Vin Popper on time. (all laugh)
M: Tell us about some of those early dorm session jams. We used to do the same thing. We’d go out to parties, get all fucked up and come back and just grab our instruments at like 2 o’clock in the morning and start jamming. So what was it like with you guys getting together?
B: It was a lot like that. It’s was just kinda very casual, just having fun. We had a lot of other friends that we played music with and we were both in other bands at the same time. It wasn’t like we started a band in order to get successful and get fans and all that, we just started it for something to do and didn’t really care if anyone liked it.
M: You guys just probably wrote the album for yourselves.
B: In a way, I mean, we know we were writing it for other people because we had signed a record deal at that point, so we had a delivery date, so there was a little bit of pressure on us but when we were writing the songs we didn’t think that anyone was actually gonna hear the album, so it was pretty much just writing it for ourselves.
M: So I guess its still a surprise with all of this going on?
B: Yeah, its still a surprise. And, I don’t know, it keeps getting crazier!
M: When you guys were first recording you guys had a pretty gritty sound right? I mean, if you were recording back in your dorms you’re going to have that unintentional gritty, natural sound. Did you guys try to replicate that sound?
B: In a way it was the other way around because we were doing a lot of stuff just on computers, so a lot of it was very electronic and very clean sounding. I think we’ve tried to get dirtier.
M: You had the producer who worked with the Flaming Lips. Did you guys pick him because he had that psychedelic background?
A: We kinda just chose him because we talked to him and we’re fans of the Flaming Lips and other stuff he’s done, like Sleater-Kinney and Mogwai. He’s not the kind of producer that wants to mold the band into something, he kinda just lets them do their own thing. So, he was good for us.
M: So did the album come out exactly how you wanted it to come out?
A: At the time I think it did, yeah.
M: Looking back now, what do you think?
A: I’m sure now if we listened to it a bunch, we’d probably change stuff. But we think it’s good that we can’t because it captures that moment.
M: I see you in a lot of pictures wearing sunglasses, you’re not becoming Bono are you?
A: I hope to God not!! If I am you should stab me…
M: What’s your beef with him?
A: Nah, I just don’t like him. I heard he’s a great guy, and he seems like he’s got good intentions. I think it’s really the sunglasses that piss me off the most. So, now I’m never going to wear sunglasses again.
M: Will you burn them in effigy?
A: We stabbed an effigy at our senior recital.
M: Ben, you said, “To give music meaning you have to have your back up against something”; What, you don’t remember?
A: (laughs) You sound like Thoreau or something.
M: Yeah, I guess you were being pretty introspective.
B: I guess maybe just having some resistance kind of helps. With us, when we got signed and we had to deal with all the kind of big-record-label bullshit for the first time, I think it kind of forced us to look at what we’re doing and try to give it as much meaning as possible and try to ask ourselves why we were doing it in the first place.
M: So what’s your validation?
A: I don’t think we’re validated.
M: No? What will be your validation then?
A: If aliens approve of our music. So, we’re waiting for contact.
M: Waiting for the return in 2012 when the earth ends? I know you guys are joking around about your future, about what will happen hen things will come, but we’re sitting inside of a big tour bus. Obviously this is probably five times bigger than your dorm room was. You said that when the fame comes around and you get the big label money that you would go get blow jobs, you would ride horses to your gigs, and go get castles. What’s going on with the success?
B: Yeah, we’ve both gotten blow jobs before, which is cool. We’re working on the horses and the castles.
M: What have you benefited from just by being in the business?
A: We get a lot of free clothes, a lot of free stuff. And we both got haircuts for the first time in a long time. We used to cut our own hair and now we can afford real haircuts.
M: If you guys think that everything musically has been done before, how does MGMT stray away from the norm’?
B: I don’t know if everything’s been done before…
A: All the good stuff has.
B: Yeah, all the good stuff’s been done before but pretty much…
A: You could string your guitar with celery or something, but that doesn’t mean it gonna be good music.
B: Any new good thing I think comes out of recycled ideas and using them in creative ways. Rock and roll is a pretty basic, simple form of music but there’s so many possibilities with it.
A: You don’t have to make up your own language to write a good poem.
M: Who is it that does that again…
A: Sigur Ros!
M: Oh yeah that’s right. Did you guys see them at Bonnaroo, what’d you think?
A: I heard for somebody that it’s much better to see them in a wide open cathedral-type space, like an indoor space, and I could see how that’d be true. It didn’t translate that well to the festival thing.
M: Yeah, it’s pretty grand I guess. So, what’s the future of MGMT, or have not realized the present yet?
A: We have trouble comprehending what’s happening at all times. But the future should hold good things. We’re trying to get a cabin somewhere in the woods. James is gonna cut firewood, I had a vision of him walking towards me with an arm full of firewood and I’m gonna smile and then our dog is gonna lick our faces.
M: (laughing) Alright guys, thanks a lot.