Congratulations, MGMT. You guys have been chosen to headline this year's Rock the Garden, the must-attend festival for Twin Cities indie-rock hipsters.
However, many of the Pitchfork-reading, Current-listening, Rock the Garden-ticket-holding music lovers are wondering how MGMT ended up with top billing. Because the conventional wisdom is that although MGMT's 2008 debut, "Oracular Spectacular," was pretty darn spectacular (spawning the hits "Kids" and "Time to Pretend" and leading to a Grammy nomination for best new artist), the Brooklyn band's live act was disappointing. Then MGMT's 2010 sophomore CD, "Congratulations," has been described as everything from different to weird, even by the band itself. It's a psychedelic smorgasbord, a dizzing mashup of Syd Barrett, Phil Spector and Flaming Lips, that requires multiple listenings to be fully digested. And who knows what to expect from MGMT in concert now?
To sort out these issues, we chatted with MGMT's Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, both 27, who have been making music together since they met at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. They were calling the other day from Portland, Ore., on separate phones.
Q: On this tour, you are playing everything from huge festivals (Coachella, Lollapalooza) to small clubs to theaters to a festival in Minneapolis for maybe 8,000 to 10,000 people. How do you shift gears from venue to venue?
Ben: I think we're mostly comfortable playing in smaller clubs. We feel like we're best in that environment. We like playing festivals, too. We like to have a mixture of different kinds of venues.
Q: How are you different at festivals?
Ben: We're getting more comfortable playing to the festival crowd. I really like playing outdoors. I think 10,000 is a good amount of people. We just played at Sasquatch [a festival outside Seattle], and there was like 30,000 people watching us and I was in awe. It was pretty amazing.
Q: What do you think of the reaction to "Congratulations"?
Andrew: Some of the initial press was kind of annoying. It's OK if people don't like the album. But a lot of articles that came out had their minds made up before they were even written. They were just looking for something to say we fucked up, we don't know what we're doing, that we committed commercial suicide.
Ben and I take a much simpler approach to the whole thing. When we started making this record, we said, "Let's just make the album and put it out. It's just going to be the music we feel like making now." It's not like we were trying to lose fans or be experimental.
Q: You guys did try to warn fans ahead of time that "Congratulations" was going to be different.
Ben: Maybe in a way it was wrong of us to even say anything. But it made us very self-conscious when people were already talking about how we had to follow up our blockbuster hit songs or whatever. We don't think of our music in those terms. We never really thought we had hit songs in the first place. We didn't really change our approach to any of it. We'd rather not have to think about having to top a hit single and write music for those reasons.
Andrew: Our self-deprecating, sarcastic approach to interviews did not come across well. There were some headlines earlier on like "The new album is going to be terrible." Of course, our new album is going to be different. Do people want something exactly the same? It was kind of like damned if you do, damned if you don't in that situation.
Q: In an interview, Andrew said that MGMT wanted to test the limits of what's bearable. Was that self-deprecating and taken out of context or is that what you really meant?