After years of searching, MGMT have one answer, but questions remain

Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden were in their early twenties when they painted their faces for the album cover of their decade-defining album Oracular Spectacular in 2007. They were self-proclaimed psychonauts exploring the subconscious unknown though heroic doses of psychedelic drugs, looking to find what any twenty-year-old is looking for, the answers to life. And what did they find? The answer comes after a decade of reflection in the last song off their new album Loss of Life, which is a bit of a trip in itself.  

Listen to the interview with MGMT

Justin Barney: The album starts with this old Welsh poem from the sixth century, called The Book of Taliesyn. That poem sets up some myth-building, which there is a lot of on this album. After that you launch into “Mother Nature” and the first line in that song, “I put the groceries down on the front lawn and think maybe the children just want recognition.” Well, you make that rhyme, but I did not.

Is children in reference to the song “Kids?”

Ben Goldwasser: It could be. The album has a lot of self-referential stuff going on. In “Mother Nature” there was a tie to “Time to Pretend.” It was the first song on the album and has this sort of whimsical, come-with-me-on-my-magical-fantasy-trip feeling to it. But if it’s also a reference to “Kids,” it’s also self-aware that we’re older now. And instead of putting on fluorescent face paint and running around naked, we’re putting the groceries down on the lawn to like, shuffle the keys out of our pocket while the toddler is crying in the backseat of the car kind of thing.

JB:  Another song that goes into the MGMT lore is “Bubble Gum Dog.” What is the bubble gum dog?

BG: So it started out as just nonsense placeholder lyrics, for the song that we were working on and that just became the working title. And then our exercise when we were finishing it was trying to figure out what “Bubble Gum Dog” could actually be. And Andrew stumbled on a quote by Nietzsche that referred to his pain as his dog. So that kind of opened it up for us.

JB: That is how myths are built. There is nothing. Then you make importance around it. That’s it.

Andrew VanWyngarden: Yeah. That’s also how songs are written. That’s something that’s taken a long time to appreciate about the creative process. A lot of times in the past, Ben and I would, at an early stage at the genesis of a song, we would sort of shut things down. Like, “No, that can’t be this” or “It’s too simple” or “It’s too much like this.” And we’ve really learned to stop doing that. And I’m glad because, you really can’t tell.

I’ve realized that anything, if you really continue whittling and putting work into it, can become something. So you have to be comfortable with the discomfort in the beginning…

BG Which is what the song is kind of about too. So yeah, it’s fitting. It’s almost a song about writing a song.

JB: This is an album that asks so many questions. Instead of imbuing you all this wisdom that I have learned through your life you let us know that you don’t know everything or you ask a question about something. I think that’s so open and vulnerable. What is the power in doing that in your songs and including so many questions in this album?

AVW: That’s funny. My wife and I have this term for music that could be like a film or something. We call it “My friend” music. Where you can imagine the person saying “my friend,” like they’re sitting you down for a chat and telling you everything that they know. To us it’s like the most annoying kind of cringe-y thing. So I have a natural aversion to that.

It’s liberating to say, “I don’t know.”

JB: But there is a pressure when you have a pen in your hand, or a microphone in front of your mouth, to be like, “I must be the imbue-r of wisdom.”

BG: Especially when you’re a psychedelic rock band.

AVW: I see it more as, like, after all of these years of experimentation and stuff, we’re trying to gently express that there’s nowhere to get to. There’s no secret that you’re going to eventually figure things out when you get older. Not through psychedelic drug use.

I think the title track of our album really sums it up a lot. In terms of all these questions. You can you can go on like the deepest psychedelic, out-of-body drug experience ever and consider yourself a psychonaut who takes heroic doses and explores the outer realms of consciousness and all this stuff. And maybe I haven’t considered myself that at some times in my past, but when you actually lose somebody, when you’re actually faced with true death and the loss of loss of life, be it like someone dying or like sacrificing a former self in a way, or just having to give up things in order to change and get somewhere. It’s really something you can’t prepare for and you can’t know unless you go through it.

So what we’re trying to say is, there are a lot of questions on this album, but the last lyric is sort of like the truth. The one answer that we have found over years and years of searching and the existential kind of dread and pondering which is anyone can love. 

That’s the realm that is there and can’t really be touched. So that’s, that’s where we got to.