Rock Star Son
A father reflects on the worldwide success of his kid’s band, MGMT, which makes its Big Sur debut Wednesday.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Electro-pop psych-rockers MGMT gained mainstream attention and acclaim in the blink of an eye. Shortly after Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden signed with Columbia Records in 2006, the duo began to appear on top ten lists with everyone from Spin to Rolling Stone to Billboard magazines. The pair – who formed the band as freshman at Wesleyan University – has even said that they weren’t even really trying to put a band together at first, they were just hanging out and showing each other the music they liked. When they first got a call from the A&R department saying there was interest in their music, they thought it was a joke.
So, needless to say, that made MGMT’s sudden rise to fame, which includes a sold-out stop at the suddenly must-do-concert-spot Henry Miller Library this week, much more unexpected. Even VanWyngarden’s father Bruce – chief editor of Weekly alternative newspaper cousin Memphis Flyer – was, and still is, flabbergasted.
“You can never predict success, especially at the level that MGMT has achieved,” he says. “But I love how they’ve continued to forge their own way and don’t give a s*** about pop success.”
Congratulations, the duo’s follow-up to its widely loved debut Oracular Spectacular, is proof that stardom hasn’t hindered their desire to continue to do what they want without becoming slaves to their record label: The sixth track on the album, the 12-minute-plus “Siberian Breaks,” is a serious departure from the radio friendly synth anthems for which MGMT has become known.
“It’s kind of like eight different songs strung together into one, and the general theme is about surfing in the Arctic Circle by Russia,” Andrew told Spin.
“Siberian Breaks” also pulls from a variety of musical inspirations and gives listeners a peak at the stuff that has helped shape the Grammy Award-winner’s sound.
“[Andrew] liked a lot of stuff, the ’60s and ’70s music that his mother and I listened to: Dylan, the Stones, Neil Young,” VanWyngarden says. “When he was just a small boy, he loved the Talking Heads album True Stories. Later, he obviously started digging into older music on his own. He collects a lot of old psychedelic vinyl these days.”
Last April, the duo began work on its third LP, which Goldwasser described to American Songwriter as something he hopes will “have a decent number of songs that can easily be extended or have sections that could turn into a really trance-y, repetitive thing live.”
All in all, VanWyngarden says fame hasn’t really changed his son.
“He’s still the same Andrew and still a good guy, sincere and smart-alecky and good-hearted,” he says. “I think he’s handling success quite well.”
But for VanWyngarden, MGMT’s success has affected his life slightly.
“Lots of people want access to Andrew through me or [free] tickets to gigs,” he says. “Sometimes people read my name on my credit card when I’m buying something and say, ‘Are you Andrew’s father?’ I always say ‘Yes, and Mary’s (his sister), too.’ Also, lots of 16 year olds follow me on Twitter, which is weird.”
MGMT plays 7:30pm (doors at 6pm) Wednesday, Aug. 10 at Henry Miller Library, a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant on Highway 1, Big Sur. Sold out. 667-2574.