MGMT singer talks Grammy nominations ('I freaked out!'), new album, and more
Guess who else wasn’t expecting Brooklyn psych-pop act MGMT to receive multiple Grammy nominations on Wednesday night? “I was going to watch the nomination-announcement concert thing just for fun,” MGMT singer Andrew VanWyngarden (pictured, left) tells the Music Mix. “It was a complete surprise. I freaked out!” We chatted with VanWyngarden this afternoon about the band’s Grammy prospects, the new album they plan to release in late spring 2010, and working (or not) with the likes of Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, Brian Eno, and avant-garde German film director Werner Herzog.
EW: In the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals category of the Grammys, your song “Kids” is up against artists like the Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, and Hall & Oates. Do you think you have a shot at winning?
ANDREW VANWYNGARDEN: My instinct would tell me that Black Eyed Peas will probably sweep everything. Even at the nomination ceremony, every camera shot was Black Eyed Peas; every go-to-commercial music was Black Eyed Peas. They, like, own the Grammys. But maybe some people will want to vote for the underdog or some music that’s a little left of center, as they say. I like how we have a video for “Kids” that’s got these crazy monsters terrorizing a toddler and an animated ending with everything coming out of a woman’s vagina in space. I don’t think the Black Eyed Peas have that going for them.
The other category you’re up for is Best New Artist. You’re probably a little more in touch with the up-and-coming music scene than a lot of Grammy voters—
You’d be surprised.
If you had to pick a Best New Artist, who would it be?
All the bands that I think are “new” aren’t new. It would be cool if a band like Beach House or Grizzly Bear got some recognition. But I don’t know.
You guys appeared on the kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba recently. Was that fun?
It was really fun. We taped it a long time ago now. It was a wild taping session. We got to throw cans of paint all over this giant white wall and dress like neon psychedelic Vikings. Just the fact that they let us make our scene be about art Vikings, which was something we came up with randomly, is pretty funny. They built this crazy boat set. We got to record this song that they wrote. I smile every time I watch that video.
You’re featured on Kid Cudi’s new single, “Pursuit of Happiness.” What was it like working with him?
It was kind of a weird night. We were going over to the studio where he was, to collaborate and possibly write a song with him. On the way to the studio, the news came out that Michael Jackson had died. When Kid Cudi got in, we and his manager were the ones to break him the news. That kind of cast a shadow over the session. We ended up not coming up with anything for a new song, but he had played us his album, and we really liked that song, “Pursuit of Happiness,” so he suggested that we sing on the chorus, and we did. It was a real casual thing.
There were reports that you might be collaborating with Jay-Z. What happened with that?
We were on board to do this track for Jay-Z’s last album. We talked to Jay-Z on the phone and he was telling us that he wanted us to do whatever we wanted. We came up with a beat and a chorus, and it ended up that they didn’t use it. Maybe we can do something in the future.
How’s your next album, Congratulations, going?
We’re almost done. We’re going up for the last mixing session on Sunday. About two weeks later we should be done. It’s pretty exciting.
What can you tell me about what the album will sound like?
For people that just know our singles, it’s going to be a big change. For people who get into some of the other tracks on the first album that were more psychedelic and classic-rock-influenced, they’ll be happy. It’s a pretty natural progression. But a lot of people think of us as an electro duo, and it’s not like that at all. It’s really catchy and really honest and heartfelt in a good way. We dropped some of the irony that you can find in our earlier songs.
I read in another interview that you have a song called “Brian Eno,” about the producer Brian Eno as a vampire. Do I have that right?
[Laughs] Yeah. It’s kind of a novelty song, almost, on the album. Originally we wanted Brian Eno to produce just that track. We thought that would be crazy, if he produced a song called “Brian Eno.” That didn’t end up happening. The song is about walking through the woods in Eastern Europe and hearing synthesizer noises and coming across a large, really old stone cathedral where Brian Eno lives and does these crazy sonic experiments. I become his apprentice in a way. He teaches me the alchemy of writing a pop song. Then I run away in the end. I don’t think anybody who actually listened to the song would get that that’s the storyline, but that’s the storyline.
Did you actually reach out to him to produce it?
I think we did. We emailed his manager or something. I don’t think he knew who we were. It probably would have been weird anyway. But I’m excited for him to hear it.
I read that you might be doing some recording with Paul McCartney after you opened for him. Is that happening?
We opened up for him in Boston and met him. I tried to throw in a quick line, like, “Yeah, let us know if you want to write a song!” [Laughs] We haven’t talked to him since then. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I think he does record a lot, so it’s not completely out of the question.
What was he like when you met him?
He was real happy, making jokes. He had a cool accent. It was like a split-second meeting. He’s a pretty nice guy.
Anything else you’re into lately?
I really like Werner Herzog’s new movie, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. He’s one of my favorite directors. Nicolas Cage is in a lot of great movies that I like, Wild at Heart and a few others. For whatever reason, he’s really good at portraying a corrupt, drug-addicted cop. All of the ways that people act on drugs in the movie are very authentic in a funny and also disturbing way. There’s a lot of classic Herzog moments that come in out of nowhere — a lot of random shots of iguanas with a soul song playing. Xzibit is in it. I don’t know how you can go wrong with this movie. I don’t know if Herzog does music videos, but that would be pretty awesome, to have him do an MGMT video.
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Photo credit: Jon Bergman