“I DON’T know what’s going on in the British music scene,” admits Joe Mount, the singer, songwriter and leader of electronic pop group Metronomy.
Since moving to Paris a couple of years ago, the Devon-born musician feels he has gained a whole new perspective as a writer and performer.
“It was love that brought me here,” he says of his adopted home city. “I met a girl. When you are touring you don’t need to live anywhere in particular. I took it as an opportunity to live here”
Now aged 31 and with a ten-month-old son, he’s quite happy in the City of Light. It’s opened his eyes to how “British-centric” the music scene is across the Channel.
“When you are somewhere like here making music you you’re more from a central position looking out. England is like Spain or Germany – it’s not the centre of Europe, it doesn’t even want to be part of Europe. It’s nice to get a bit of perspective, in a way.”
Love Letters, Metronomy’s fourth album, arrives this month with considerable expectation following the commercial success of its predecessor The English Riviera, which in 2011 was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Where its predecessor seemed rooted in his native Devon, the lyrics of Love Letters have a sense of transience and dislocation.
“That was the idea,” Mount says. “[When they were touring the last record] the point came very quickly where people would ask me, ‘What are you going to do next?’ I would say, ‘All our current experience is travelling. It’s the only thing I know about or can speak about with any authority.’ It was an amazing time but you end up missing your partner or birthdays or a birth. All this stuff happened when I was away. I figured I would use that as a starting point – not writing an album about the woes of a touring band but making something relatable.”
Mount has also experimented more with character-based songs on the new record. “I remember getting quite stressed out about lyrics,” he recalls. “I even spoke to other people about writing stuff for me. Sometimes I don’t feel able to put myself in that frame of mind. But as the album progressed I realised the more free I was about doing stuff, the easier it became.”
Exploring the mindset of other characters when he was singing he found made for “a far more interesting song”.
The loose-slung, funkier feel to this album owes much to the influence of Sly and the Family Stone – filtered via hip-hop.
“It’s funny, the first time I heard Sly and the Family Stone was on the Beastie Boys’ album Paul’s Boutique,” Mount says. “They used little sections of his music as samples or tiny fragments of a bigger thing.”
It was that approach – picking out exciting segments as a starting point for something else – that he wanted to incorporate into his own songs. “Listening to [Stone’s] music, there are things he does that are really great. There were a few moments when I wanted to do similar things – but imagining doing them in a Beastie Boys way, where you are taking an idea as a bit of a song. Some of [Stone’s] songs are quite boring but they always have moments in them that are really interesting and pretty cool.”
Metronomy began in 1999 as a solo project. Although over the last two albums, Nights Out and The English Riviera, it has expanded into a four-piece band, it seems Mount retains a fair amount of control.
“I write the music – I always have done – I think that’s something I always will do, really,” he says. “But when it comes to the actual performing on the record I think I do about 50 per cent or maybe less. A track like Love Letters, for example, the only thing I do is play the tambourine and sing. It was recorded live, really. It varies in its degrees of inclusivity.”
If Mount was “surprised” by the success of The English Riviera, it has certainly raised expectations “as far as the record label is concerned” for Love Letters. The singer himself is cautiously optimistic about its reception. “My attitude is I would always want something to be successful – that what I’m hoping for, at least,” he says. “When I’ve done something I really like I want other people to enjoy it. Once the Mercury thing happened it certainly kicked off a little more than I expected, but essentially I always want something to be successful. We’ll see if that happens.”
Although Mount recently admitted he is something of a “control freak”, it hasn’t stopped other artists seeking his services as a producer. Among his clients have been Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. “People ask me about being a control freak,” he reflects. “I was reading this article and someone left [a remark] in the comments section saying I was not but everything in the article was saying I was. As a producer I’m employed to be in control. I think the ‘freak’ part of it, it’s a bit of a strange word, anyway. If your job is producing something it’s not surprising that you should be in control. When I’m working with people you have to lead them, you have to have a firm grip on their hand. It’s like having one of those dog leads that you can snap to bring the dog back to you – that’s what producers do. It does not mean you have to be like Phil Spector, holding a gun in your hand. You just have to try to suggest things.”
March 18, O2 Academy Leeds, 7pm, £15.50. www.ticketweb.co.uk