MGMT, it's fair to say, aren't the duo most envisioned when they emerged on the scene with the psych-pop hits that were 'Time to Pretend' and 'Kids'.
Congratulations, their follow-up to debut Oracular Spectacular, was a less immediate venture and more like the band they really wanted to become.
With their third album coming, Digital Spy met up with Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden to chat about what fans can expect from their new record, if we'll ever see the MGMT 'of old' and, ahem, listening to David Guetta in the car...
Hi Ben, Andrew. Your new album is self-titled - does that mean it's the all-defining MGMT record?
Ben: "The name is more of a reference to the stereotype that a band's third album is a return to form or their definitive statement. We thought it would be funny to call it MGMT."
Andrew: "We were playing on the cliche of a band to have a self-titled album as their third."
So you're being tongue-in-cheek in calling it MGMT...
Ben: "Yeah, but I think it actually ended up ringing true. I think this is the most comfortable we've ever been - it seemed very uninhibited and the whole recording process had a nice flow to it. I think we ended up actually fulfilling [the title]."
Andrew: "It's not the ultimate sound that defines our band but we're getting as close as we've come to something that combines all our different styles since college."
I've read that you tried to uncover a new sound in pop with this album. Was that hard? Were you ever concerned you were making something that wasn't completely original?
Andrew: "It's never gonna be completely original and we did a cover song on the album, and that's obviously been around. We just wanted to force ourselves to try different things and go out on different limbs. It's also just what was coming out of our heads naturally in 2012. We improvised and jammed and there was this happy feeling, falling on the floor laughing over a synthesiser sound. But then we'd be like, 'Now we have to write our album', then, 'Why can't this be the album?' That's kind of how it happened."
Ben: "We didn't judge what we were doing against a lot of other music. We've played around with making really obvious references to different styles and eras of pop music [before]. We always want to make accessible music and even though the structures of the songs aren't straightforward, it's still a very inviting record. It's not trying to be obscure."
Your last album Congratulations was much less immediate than your debut Oracular Spectacular, but I listened to it more as a result. How can you tell that your songs will grow on people like that?
Andrew: "You can't ever be certain. Our goal is to make the songs sound completely different every time you listen to them, and follow a different path each time. I guess some people will say that's scary cos people's attention spans - these days they only listen to the beginning of songs!"
Ben: "If it has that [growing] effect on us, we're happy. We're not too concerned with what other people are going to think of it. We just hope that if it's music we like, it'll find an audience."
What about your fans? Do you ever worry, 'What if they don't like this new sound?'
Ben: "The thought occurs to us once in a while but it's not something that we really draw on. We have a really good relationship with our fans and it seems like at this point, they're really excited to see us do something different each time."
'I Love You Too, Death' and 'Mystery Disease' from MGMT both have that aura where they sound so fluid but you can tell much hard work and effort was put into editing them down. Was the editing this tough to do?
Ben: "It was a learning process. We'd never worked like that before, where the songwriting was recording ourselves playing. A lot of the tracks on the album are just edited versions of that."
Andrew: "For 'I Love You Too, Death', [the editing process] was at times tenuous as to what the song was. We added all these elements and we wanted it to sound like a train that starts off slow and keeps going."
That feeling of relief when you realise what the song should be - is that the best part of being in MGMT?
Ben: "I think that's when we're the most comfortable. We love playing shows and figuring out how to translate to a live audience. But I think we're probably more comfortable in the studio experimenting with sounds."
Is MGMT a response to current chart music?
Andrew: "In part, I think. When we first met, we were listening to mainstream pop radio and singing along with Avril Lavigne, and we covered a Pink song. That appreciation for all-out mainstream pop music was always incorporated into our sound. I think there is a little bit of that spirit left in us now, but this time it was more of a reaction to every single song on the radio being about going out and drinking like it's the last night of your life. Ben and I were in agreement that if somehow you knew it was the last night of your life, the last place on earth I'd wanna be is in some s**ty club drinking vodka!"
Ben: "[The new album is] not necessarily a direct response [to chart music], but I think we were more conscious of making something that was current. Maybe in the past we've had more nostalgia for older music and this ideal of 'how music used to be', but I think this album seems more like current music to me."
Do you still follow the charts like you did when you first met?
Ben: "Every now and then. The production a lot of the time is really cool and impressive. But it's hard for me to identify with a lot of the lyrics. So much of it seems to be about completely forgetting any sort of responsibility and having fun. It's nice that people have that music to turn off the world to, but it doesn't have the kind of staying power that I crave."
Andrew: "I do a lot of driving cos I'm 45 minutes outside of New York and I switch on Top 40 radio a lot."
Anything ever take your fancy, Andrew?
Andrew: "Not really and I don't even know most of the names of the songs... What's that huge song - I don't actually like it cos I get so furious when it gets stuck in my head - 'I am titanium...'"
David Guetta featuring Sia?
Andrew: "Yeah. It drills into your brain!"
That is quite a confession! It's been three years since Congratulations - at any point making MGMT were you afraid you'd been away too long?
Ben: "A little bit. But when you see how bands come and go, and certain bands find favour with the press then a year later no-one cares about them, that happens so much we don't feel entitled to people paying attention to us every time we do anything."
Andrew: "At the end of 2010, we were playing shows that for us were really big and the crowds were so enthusiastic about the new songs. We were seeing this different world than a lot of people associated with our album... people thought we were trying to distance ourselves from our fans. We're both 30 now and it's our third album on a major label, but [that experience] didn't have the effect of us going into the studio, 'We have to write a hit song now!' As cool as it would be to have that, it wasn't coming natural. I hope one day in the future we can have some awesome ripping pop song like David Guetta!"
There's a mystery to the band, as well. Fans probably only see you when you release and tour an album. How much of this is intentional?
Ben: "I think we're both private people in a way and not really into the whole rockstar image. We're more into making music and finding people who like it. It's hard for us to explain [the music] in words - it's not about one thing in particular or trying to accomplish a specific goal. We're not trying to be obscure by being mysterious in any way - we'd rather people figure out what it means on their own."
Andrew: "It's not like we're wearing masks. I think that's what's so incredible about Daft Punk, how complete their myth is and impenetrable their image is - it's pretty amazing. That's not where we're at, but I'm happy that there is some mystery and questions around our band."
Do you think bands give too much stuff away now, on their Twitter and Facebook pages? And do their fans now expect that?
Ben: "Yeah, that stuff really bothers me. And people have come to expect that from the artist, that they should be sharing every aspect of their lives. It dilutes the whole thing in a way, and I don't know if it'll ever be the same again where there were people like David Bowie. Who really knew anything about David Bowie? He was able to craft this mysterious image that wasn't really him but this character (Ziggy Stardust) he created. You don't know how much of it was him or the character. That's something that is getting lost."
Andrew: "We started tweeting really late, in January . It felt so cool. But we're about on our hundredth tweet."
Lastly, is there anyone out there you'd like to collaborate with?
Ben: "I think all the people I'd wanna collaborate with wouldn't wanna collaborate with me! Most of the time I hear about a collaboration, it seems pretty contrived."
Not Guetta, Andrew?
Andrew: "I think he actually has maybe approached us."
MGMT's new self-titled album is released on September 17.