MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser never wanted to be famous. But quirky poppy zingers like "Kids," "Electric Feel" and "Time To Pretend" from their 2007 debut, “Oracular Spectacular” made them household names, especially after being featured in movies such as "21," TV shows like "The Voice" and a Nokia ad. It was like their psychedelic private art house jamming session had been crashed by an accidental open Facebook invitation.
Rather than embrace the masses, the Brooklyn-based duo stoically continued with an ever more zany second album "Congratulations," in 2010. Indeed, the early days of face paints, hippie headwear and neon accents were discarded in a now forgotten fancy-dress box – and "Kids" was no longer on the set list.
This apparent fan neglect reads as career suicide; MGMT’s paradoxical style can seem frustratingly hipster but they, as self-indulgent as this sounds, are out to please themselves. The 30-year-old rockers are in an enviably privileged position with the backing of a major label [Columbia], free to satiate their musical whims – something they've taken into their self-titled third album “MGMT.”
Here, Goldwasser chats about the new album, pop culture and his disdain for social media.
You said that your music has been misunderstood and labeled incorrectly in the past. Is this album about reestablishing your identity?
I feel like we’re presenting ourselves in the way we’d like to be seen. I think it’s a little strange to us that people want to impose a narrative on us as a band. We’re not thinking too much about what our image is or what we’d like to be known for.
Your music is often described as paradoxical. Is it important for you to create something that’s intangible or ineffable?
I think in a lot of ways music is always about the intangible. I think our album is music that a lot people could get into, potentially. We’re not trying to scare or be intentionally experimental but also I don’t think you want to be known only as a band who writes quirky pop songs.
You get a lot of criticism for alienating your fans but you’ve got nearly 4 million Facebook likes. Do you find it frustrating that critics and people keep harking back to the days of “Time to Pretend” and “Kids”?
It’s frustrating. We’ve never intentionally alienated anybody. We’re people who appreciate lots of different music: catchy dance music, noisy industrial stuff and quiet pretty music that you’d listen to in your living room. Maybe a lot of the critics who said we’re trying to alienate our fans only have this one-dimensional appreciation of music.
You only started tweeting in January of this year. Why have you been resistant to embrace your fans via social media?
I guess we just started doing it because we were bored in the studio and we were looking for something to do. But I don’t personally do any social media stuff.
No, I’m not on Facebook, no. I just do Instagram – posting funny things I see on the street. We don’t really like putting our egos out there as a band – I don’t really have the energy for that kind of stuff.
Is it because you're concerned about your privacy?
I mean, partially. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about having some sort of privacy. I don’t really appreciate that level of ego-driven social media behavior – I just think it’s really obnoxious. It’s a similar thing to how people behave really differently when they’re behind the wheel of the car and they’re anonymous. They do all those things that they would never do face-to-face with someone else. I think social media is really similar to that in a lot of ways – there’s a lot of disgusting behavior.
What do you dislike about pop culture?
I don’t want to say that I dislike it. It has its place but I think there’s room for a little more subtlety in pop culture. It’s really strange for us as a band because we’ve been accepted by mainstream culture kind of by accident. But we also draw so much of our inspiration from underground stuff that never reached the mainstream. So we have a complicated relationship, I guess.
In “Plenty of Girls in the Sea” you say “The trick is to try to stay free.” Why splice politics into your lyrics?
I think there is a lack of freedom here. I think if more people started acting on what they really believed in and started saying what’s on their minds or that kind of thing, there would be a lot of opposition. A lot of people are afraid and too comfortable or don’t want to risk giving up that level of comfort for potentially something better. I feel like things could go in a nasty direction if people realized that the comfort that they thought they had is in fact transient.