By Jay Cridlin
Andrew VanWyngarden is calling from Amsterdam. In two days, he'll be in Paris.
This seems noteworthy, as drugs and the City of Light play key roles in the most notorious lyric from his most famous song, the rock-star lamentation Time To Pretend:
Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives . . . I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and f--- with the stars . . .
VanWyngarden wrote those lyrics long before he became a rock star himself, when he and collaborator Ben Goldwasser were still undergrads at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
"Our shtick was, we were on this tiny liberal arts campus playing house parties, but during the show, we would kind of satirize mega-pop stars, like cover a Britney Spears song," said the MGMT singer and guitarist. "There's this idea of acting like pop stars in a very ironic way. That's what the lyrics of that song are referencing, is this kind of in-joke fantasy that Ben and I had. It was thinking of ridiculous stuff that archetypal rock stars would do — move to Paris, shoot some heroin, own an island, forget about their families."
Time To Pretend hasn't exactly become MGMT's life story yet, VanWyngarden said. But the bigger they get, and the more they tour the world — including a stop next week at Ruth Eckerd Hall, during their first tour of Florida — the less outlandish it seems.
Over the past five years, MGMT has evolved from dorm-room collaboration to a Grammy-nominated electro-pop band whose danceable debut, Oracular Spectacular, was hailed as one of the best rock albums of the new century. Singles Kids, Electric Feel and Time To Pretend popped up in countless TV shows, commercials and clubs, and were downloaded millions of times.
Their second album, this year's psychedelic freakout Congratulations, was . . . well, let's just say the reviews were mixed. And VanWyngarden knows it.
"I was expecting it to get an overall better reception than it did," VanWyngarden said. "Some people, for whatever reason, just jumped on it and decided to dismiss it because it didn't sound like the first album in some ways. But none of the criticisms that I read ever seemed very valid. It was all just putting the album in the context of three singles from the first album, and not really taking it for the music that it was, which is something we're very proud of, something new and different. We're never going to be the kind of band that's just going to try to capitalize on one sound or style that was successful one time around."
Unfortunately, that's what infuriated MGMT's fans and critics the most — the idea that VanWyngarden and Goldwasser were thumbing their nose at superstardom, that they could re-create the magic of Kids, Electric Feel and Time To Pretend in a heartbeat, if only they were so inclined.
"Those songs come from a period when Ben and I were trying to write the catchiest music we possibly could, but in kind of a sarcastic way," VanWyngarden said. "Yeah, we could go to a studio and do the same thing . . . but I don't think it would feel very honest.
At least one British paper has reported MGMT is planning a return to Oracular Spectacular-sized singles on its next album. VanWyngarden wouldn't go that far, but he did say fans shouldn't expect another Congratulations. "We haven't even written anything for the next album," he said. "We definitely haven't made any sort of conscious decision to make it sound like the first record at all, and I don't think that it will. I don't think it'll sound like either record."
Again, we turn to Time To Pretend:
This is our decision, to live fast and die young . . . We've got the vision, now let's have some fun . . .