Music has played such a big role in Joseph Mount's life that it's easy for him to think of instruments as people with personalities. The drums, for instance, are like an easygoing, affable drinking buddy. He considers the bass guitar more serious and thoughtful — maybe someone who abstains from alcohol.
"Guitars would just be annoying people," he says, sounding genuinely fed-up with six-strings. "Like, total assholes, not the kind of people you want to hang out with." But then his tone brightens considerably: "When you get into synthesizers, they're very nice, funny characters. I would enjoy the company of synthesizers and drums, but not so much guitar."
That attitude makes sense coming from Mount, the mind behind the long-running English band Metronomy. Though the four-piece plays traditional rock instruments, his tendencies as the group's founder and sole creator have always leaned away from guitar-heavy arrangements and more into the realm of New Wave, disco, and modern electronic music.
Mount spoke with New Times from his home in Paris ahead of Metronomy's set during House of Creatives Music Festival Saturday, November 11. Having just put his two children to bed, he discusses how his formative years as a musician have shaped his long career as an idiosyncratic frontman and a master remixer and producer. Before he formed Metronomy in 1999, Mount had begun making music on drums and playing live DJ sets around Devon, England. He has since branched out to become something of a multi-instrumentalist, but he still most strongly identifies as a percussionist.
"The drums are one instrument I actually have some level of skill at," he says. "It was also my route into everything, the drums. I think it's interesting how many drummers end up becoming great overall musicians in their own way, because they're often dismissed at the beginning. There's a certain level of humility that comes with being a drummer."
As a listener, Mount finds the rhythm section — the interlocking of drums and bass — to be the most compelling part of most songs. By no coincidence, he writes most of his instrumental hooks on bass rather than guitar or keyboard, and his approach to constructing songs historically has been beat-centric. "But as you become a bit more mature," he muses, "you realize that your instrument isn't the center of the universe. Now I start building songs in any number of ways, maybe with more melodic stuff or chords, but the rhythm of the track always has to give me some level of satisfaction."
Mount's creative process while writing and recording 2014's relatively subdued Love Letters was a departure. Rather than working alone, he made an effort to involve the whole band and write songs entirely before recording them rather than building them piece by piece in the studio. "It was a great experience, but now I've come back to my old way of working, playing around with samples and moving things around."
Indeed, though many musicians find laying songs out with a computer grid rigid and confining, Mount says that method allows him more flexibility to rearrange elements on the fly — for instance, to take the guitar from the chorus and see how it sounds on the verse instead. "Jamming is sort of the last resort for anyone — or it should be," he says, laughing.
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That's especially true now thanks to advances in music production software that allow pretty much anyone with a laptop and some free time to try their hand as a composer. Mount says it's an amazing tool for aspiring producers and bedroom beatmakers like he was more than 20 years ago. "But you still need to have some sort of innate skill to get anywhere," he says. "It doesn't mean anyone can do it; it means anyone can try."
He returned to the lonesome approach with the spectacularly funky Summer 08. And recently, working on an as-yet-untitled sixth Metronomy record tentatively due out next year, he's been compelled to dive even deeper into electronic elements, attempting to "get into more interesting drum programming."
After all, maybe it's best for Mount that instruments aren't people: "I've always been more comfortable working alone."
House of Creatives Music Festival. With Metronomy, Alt-J, MGMT, and others. Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; 305-960-4600; virginiakeybeachpark.net. Early-bird passes cost $99 via hocfest.com.