Feature Interview

MGMT On Experimentation And Expectation

Any journalist, writer or average human really, will tell you that it’s no small feat talking to, let alone interviewing, your favourite band in the whole wide world and Shai Rama is no exception to this rule. Shai fanboys for MGMT almost as hard as The Plastics and when the opportunity to interview Ben Goldwasser was presented to him his reaction was, well, priceless.

From questioning their most outrageous backstage requirements to their creative process, Shai puts his nerves aside and gets down to business from the get go. Check out his full interview below.

Shai: So it’s your first time playing on African soil, at Rocking The Daisies and Vodacom In The City, how does it feel to be playing in South Africa?

Ben: Great! I mean it’s always exciting to play for a new audience and I’m sure there are people there who have been waiting for us to come there for a while.

S: Did you know you had such a large fanbase in South Africa?

B: I’ve heard that, yeah. It will be great to finally make it down and there were a lot of times we were going to play there but it didn’t work out, for some reason. Yeah, it’s always fun for us to play in a new place and I think it adds a certain amount of energy to what we do and it should be a good show.

S: What other activities are you planning to do while you’re here?

B: I don’t know, uh, a friend of mine told me that I really need to try make it out to the Kruger Wildlife Reserve. But, I don’t know if we’ll have time while we’re out in that direction. I think more of the time we have off will be closer to Cape Town, so I’m hoping we’ll get some good hiking in or something like that.

S: So, your new album is possibly much more esoteric than your first album and it’s quite different to Congratulations as well, how do you find the equilibrium and incorporate all three albums into one setlist?

B: It’s actually something that’s come together pretty much on its own. Like, it’s pretty much an equal mix of songs from all three albums that we play live. I think just over the last couple of years we’ve found a mix of songs that works really well and it’s been good.

S: Was it always your intention to create this sort of experimental, more psychedelic album when you first went into the studio?

B: No, not at all. The experimentation on the album, just uh, you know we weren’t trying to make anything obscure or not accessible. We were trying to just have a good time in the studio and see what happened and I think that we felt a lot of freedom in the studio and we wanted to try a lot of new things and that’s what happened. It was more fun to make something that sounded crazy and new and that was more fun than to fit it into some sort of musical category.

S: At your shows, do you feel obligated to play your more ‘poppy’ songs?

B: I wouldn’t say obligated, because you know, in the end, we don’t have to play those songs and I’m sure life will go on. But especially at festivals, or any shows that we play, we’ve recognised that there are certain songs that people are really excited to see when they see us live and that’s something I can identify with too, like when I come to see a band, I might not be completely familiar with that band’s back catalogue of music and that’s okay and I wanna hear them do the big song, and that’s only to be expected. We want to give people a good time when they see us play.

S: Which artists, would you say, influenced you the most in the new album?

B: It’s hard to say, I know I was listening to The Stranglers a lot while we were recording but I don’t think that any of the music sounds like them. I think a lot of the inspiration for the music came more from the instruments that we had and figuring out a way to make a live arrangement with just the two of us. We got way more into analogue, outboard equipment and composing in the studio with this album and, kind of, learning how to navigate that just pushed us in certain musical directions and we just let it happen. The outcome of that was music that didn’t necessarily sound like what we were listening to.

S: In your song writing process, did you and Andrew write songs together? Or did you write songs separately and then come together or what was the arrangement?

B: It was a little bit of each – One of us will have a little idea that we would develop or an idea of a song that would be about something. Some of the stuff just came of jamming. That wasn’t any process that carried over from song to song and it was kind of different every time.

S: You guys have been on tour for quite a while now. You were in Russia a couple of months ago and you’re going to Mexico as well. What is the funniest or absurd thing that has happened to you while you’ve been touring?

B: That’s a good question! It’s hard to answer that, the moment that I’m thinking of, there was nothing funny about it at all, except for the fact that we just hadn’t slept for a very long time. It was a few years ago in South-East Asia and it had just been a really long month and at one point we were drinking so much coffee and everything was funny to us. It was one of those totally absurd moments that didn’t make any sense. It was an absurd thing. I guess that it’s still real life but it’s a very different kind of real life.

S: If you guys weren’t rock-stars, if you weren’t touring and constantly making music, what would you guys be?

B: Uh, I think it would be really fun to make instruments for people. You know, something to help people make music. I like the idea of something that is still creative exercise but it’s not necessarily about yourself, but instead for other people to be more creative.

S: Some artists ask for some crazy shit on their rider, the stuff backstage, what do you guys usually ask for?

B: We have a pretty minimal rider these days but one thing we always ask for is a piece of ginger backstage. Just in case somebody has a really bad sore throat or is sick or sort of thing but usually we never use it, and more often than not it ends us becoming some sort of an animal like we turn it into a horse or something like that.

S: That’s pretty interesting. Anyway, I’ve got one more question. Would you rather be a blade of grass in a field or a tree in a dense forest?

B: I think I’d go for the tree. I’m just more comfortable in the forest so if that had to be my existence. I’d feel less exposed.

S: Cool! Well thank you, I can’t wait to see you guys in South Africa! It’s going to be super cool!

B: Yeah! Looking forward to it!

Now to celebrate MGMT’s imminent arrival, I’m giving away two double tickets to Vodacom In The City, all you have to do is drop a comment on this post and tell me which MGMT track is your favourite and why. Winner will be announced via email on Froday the 19th of September.