Ben Goldwasser, the ‘overlooked one’ from the US electro-pop band, takes on critics of bonkers new album Congratulations
Time Out Dubai staff
We catch up with Ben Goldwasser in San Francisco, birthplace of hippies and the Summer of Love. Both Goldwasser and his frontman, Andrew VanWyngarden, are surprisingly introverted for trippy-dippy merrymakers. After global success (2008 major-label debut Oracular Spectacular sold in the seven figures), they retreated into the baroquely batty Congratulations, an album borne of exhaustion, CS Lewis and an allergy to the spotlight. Goldwasser tells us more.
Are you aware of your UrbanDictionary.com entry? Really? No! What does it say?
‘The other half of brilliant psych-pop band MGMT. He is totally overlooked.’ Then there’s a usage example: ‘OMG. Andrew VanWyngarden is so hot. Ben Goldwasser is pretty sexy himself.’ Wow. That’s good. It’s kind of nice being overlooked. I’m fine with that.
Congratulations, then. You had to know people would either adore this record or rip it. We weren’t trying to make an album that was polarising. We were surprised at how strongly people reacted to it. [Critics are saying] it’s this 180-degree shift. But we put out [14-minute single] ‘Metanoia’ a few years ago. That was a clear indication where we were going – for whoever heard it. I guess most people only heard our dancey pop stuff.
The 12-minute ‘Siberian Breaks’ is the centrepiece of the new album. Is it truly about surfing? Well, the song is about a lot of things. But the title came from the notion of surfing in the Arctic Circle.
What made you think of that? We did a lot of recording in New York in the winter, then we went to Malibu for a couple months. We wanted to juxtapose those two different feelings.
How did you kill time in Malibu? I went to the beach a lot. There was a cool trail behind the house we were staying in. You could walk up to an isolated waterfall with salamanders swimming in it. We didn’t want to be in LA, or any city for that matter. We wanted to be isolated, to get lost in a little world, and not have friends stopping by all the time.
‘Siberian Breaks’ has a definite early-’70s soft-rock vibe. That era of the Beach Boys was a big inspiration for this album; records like Surf’s Up. People get confused with that song because it’s so long, and people associate it with prog rock. The new album is more influenced by The Mamas and the Papas.
Here are some iTunes comments: ‘This will be a huge hit with retirement homes.’ [Laughs] That’s like… That’d be amazing, though, if this became a huge album with everyone in retirement homes. We listen to so much older slow music, to us it sounds totally normal. To a lot of people maybe it sounds boring.
Okay: ‘MGMT are the Soulja Boy of indie rock.’ I wish I could say I understood that. Congratulations is available now in stores.