“I never thought I’d live in Brooklyn Heights,” muses MGMT front man Andrew VanWyngarden, as he strolls down the leafy streets of the neighborhood where he resides, and where MGMT are finishing work on Congratulations, their follow-up to 2007’s neopsychedelic smash, Oracular Spectacular. “But it’s a nice place to come down off tour.” VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser weren’t always seeking domestic calm. They formed MGMT in 2001 when they were freshmen at Wesleyan and living in a party dorm. The idea of rock stardom seemed entertaining, so they donned neon hippie outfits and assorted headbands, wrote songs sarcastically glorifying the debauched rocker lifestyle, and moved to Brooklyn. Several hit singles (“Time to Pretend” and “Kids”) and two years of near-nonstop touring later, “people think we’re associated with Lady Gaga or something because we have a dance song that we wrote when we were 19,” VanWyngarden says, laughing wryly. With Congratulations, slated for release in March, they plan to set the record straight. Sort of.
What’s the new album shaping up like?
BEN GOLDWASSER: Kind of a mixture of depression and excitement.
ANDREW VANWYNGARDEN: I would add “confused” in there, too.
GOLDWASSER: We’ve always been into a lot of weird music.
So, you’re making a weird, depressing, confusing album?
GOLDWASSER: Yeah. Nobody’s going to like it!
Can you be more specific?
VANWYNGARDEN: We can debut the name of that new song of ours. It’s called “Brian Eno”; you heard about it here first. It’s kind of a vampire-punk-rock song about finding Brian Eno in like a cathedral in Transylvania. He’s like a dark wizard. We originally asked him to produce the track, but he hadn’t heard of us.
What are you listening to right now?
VANWYNGARDEN: I don’t really know the music of the other [New York] bands that well. I only listen to older music. I have a record player, and I always play Rolling Stones—the second Hot Rocks collection is really good. And the Beach Boys. Surf’s Up is my favorite. Also: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Do you ever go read about yourself on the Internet?
VANWYNGARDEN: Sometimes, if I feel naughty, I’ll read comments on BrooklynVegan or something, and then I’ll get really down on myself. No matter what band you are, if you pop up on BrooklynVegan, people are going to start talking trash. It’s kind of annoying. I feel like most of those people don’t even live in New York.
What characterizes the New York scene right now?
GOLDWASSER: I think a lot of people from outside New York looking at New York bands think of it as this obnoxious fashion-hipster scene. But from the inside, it seems like a very anti-fashion thing going on. Most of the bands I see in New York don’t really seem like they are trying to find “It,” they’re not looking for something current to latch onto. They’re just fiercely independent.
But that’s a kind of hipster snobbery, too.
GOLDWASSER: There is a lot of exclusion maybe in a negative way—a lot of people and bands who want to show that they’re a part of something and you’re not.
VANWYNGARDEN: I just don’t feel like I’m part of anything enough to know. I don’t ever go out. I don’t really leave my house. I’m intimidated by the Brooklyn scene.
So you would never go see a show at the Market Hotel?
VANWYNGARDEN: No way, I would never go see, like, Grizzly Bear play, because they’re too cool. I have serious social anxiety. I’m not cool enough. I found my apartment in Brooklyn Heights on Craigslist. My favorite thing to do is play records, smoke a joint, and watch movies.
As uncool as you may feel, you realize people think otherwise?
VANWYNGARDEN: It’s the ultimate irony.
All that said, you have exhibited some rock-star behavior, apart from just getting high at home.
VANWYNGARDEN: I wore a headband for a year. I lost it at a show in Paris. We were a year and a half into the tour, and we were being the rock cliché. We were like, This will be really funny, let’s do it: just taking Vicodin and Ecstasy all the time and missing meetings with the label. Good thing we got out of that.