By John J. Moser, Of The Morning Call
6:32 p.m. EDT, August 3, 2012
With electronic band MGMT's third disc in the works for months and an expected late 2012 release date already off the table, its label is clearly anxious.
So it's understandable when a Fenway Records representative asks that a reporter not ask any questions about it during an interview with lead vocalist and guitarist Andrew VanWyngarden.
But that's hard when that's what VanWyngarden wants to talk about.
"What do you want to talk about?" he asks with a laugh. "Maybe soccer?"
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So despite the publicist's warning, VanWyngarden offers up details.
"We haven't done any sort of press for the album at all yet, but it's nothing too dramatic. Ben [Goldwasser, band co-founder] and I are just having a great time making the new album. … It's been going great. We're really enjoying it. We're kind of getting back into eating a lot of ice cream while we record, which helps the creative flow," he says with a laugh.
He says he and Goldwasser are working with Dave Fridmann, who mixed the second album and co-produced the first. He says the band has done three recording sessions — it expects to return after a show Sunday at Musikfest's Sands Steel Stage.
He indicates the new disc will have a sound close to the last album, "Congratulations."
"I think we're making good songs," he says. "We've got a good bit of material so far, and we're just going to keep writing until we get to a point where we feel like we've figured out what our album is going to be. So this album is just kind of like we've been able to do whatever we want.
"It seems like we're in a much freer, kind of more liberated state of mind, and not really anxious or paranoid about much these days. And I think that's the result of having both been through the experience of the first album, with the kind of unexpected, crazy buzz and everything that followed in 2008, and then the second album, which wasn't difficult for us, but because people called it a difficult album, even though I don't know why till this day."
The subject of the new album is particularly touchy because, after the runaway success of MGMT's catchy 2007 debut disc, the electro-pop "Oracular Spectacular," there was a backlash when its sophomore 2010 disc offered up very different psychedelic rock.
"Oracular Spectacular" went gold and produced the Top 10 alternative hit "Kids" and the Top 25 "Time to Pretend" — both of which made Rolling Stone magazine's Top 50 songs of the decade and the latter its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The disc also got the group three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist.
"Congratulations" actually charted higher, hitting No. 2 on Billboard's albums chart, but was such a departure that there was a fan backlash, and band comments were misinterpreted as meaning even MGMT was disappointed with the disc.
But VanWyngarden says nothing could be further from the truth. He blames that on the band's twisted sense of humor.
"I think that we were a little bit naïve going into the promotion and marketing and the initial interviews that we did for the album," VanWyngarden says. "Ben and I have a healthy amount of kind of just taking things a little bit lightly and not being really serious about the music we're making because we feel like music should be fun.
"I think things got a little bit twisted when we were doing our initial interviews. And somehow it got … reproduced in multiple magazines that we had intentionally committed career suicide or made something to distance ourselves from our fans with a super-experimental. And that was just pretty unfortunate and not fun to have to kind of always be back-tracking and dealing with that in interviews."
VanWyngarden says he doesn't think "Congratulations" was as different from "Oracular Spectacular" as has been suggested.
"I think it was the kind of people that really only in their minds associated us with 'Kids' that have no idea where the second album was coming from," he says.
But if there is a difference, he says. "I think that that it's cool and special that a band kind of documents its real feelings of what's going on. … I'm so happy that we didn't go into making a second album and try to recreate the kind of style of the popular songs from our first album. That would have been, not career suicide, but soul suicide in my brain."
The band played one new song, "Alien Days," at shows in South America this spring. The only other new MGMT music to surface recently is a tune for "Just Tell Me That You Want Me," a Fleetwood Mac tribute album, due out Aug. 14. MGMT plays the title song to that band's 1971 album "Future Games."