“We’re not the most animated performers,” Benjamin Goldwasser admits. Which is why MGMT is unleashing its “Optimizer” on tour.
Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT bring their five-piece band to the Sound Academy on Saturday
Published on Wed Dec 04 2013
To the relief of MGMT fans everywhere, Andrew VanWyngarden is healthy again.
After dislocating his shoulder for the umpteenth time (as a result of a fairly innocuous frolic with a pet kitten), the singer and guitarist decided to undergo surgery back in June and alleviate the problem once and for all.
“It was the kind of thing where it was fairly easy for it to pop out again,” reports band mate Benjamin Goldwasser, who sings, writes lyrics and plays keyboards for the Connecticut neo-psychedelic indietronica/indie rock outfit he founded with VanWyngarden back in 2002.
“He had to have surgery on it and wasn’t playing guitar for awhile. But now’s he back to full strength.”
VanWyngarden’s convalescence resulted in an unexpected boon for longtime MGMT fans: original touring guitarist Hank Sullivant, who left in 2008 to form his own band Kuroma, returned to help out his compadre as the band toured through the summer to push its eponymous third album.
And even though VanWyngarden is fully healed, Sullivant has remained and will be on stage when the group headlines a sold-out show at the Sound Academy on Saturday (not coincidentally, Kuroma is opening the show).
“We’re now carrying three guitarists,” notes Goldwasser, whose lineup has expanded to five for the tour.
The other added dynamic is the incorporation of the Optimizer, a video accompaniment to the band’s latest self-titled album that was included as a free download, into the live performance.
The Optimizer, created by the band’s lighting director Alejandro Crawford, offers computer-generated animation of weird, fantastical creatures, futuristic landscapes and other imaginative visual delights, designed to accompany those who were streaming the music on their laptops and wanted something to look at.
“We’ve conceded that we’re not the most physically animated performers, and we’re okay with that,” admits Goldwasser over the phone from a North Carolina tour stop.
“We’re happy to concentrate more on playing the music, but we understand that at a show, people want some kind of a spectacle. So it’s taken the pressure off of us in terms of that.”
Speaking of the music, Goldwasser concedes that the latest album was a reaction to what he and VanWyngarden — the two architects of the MGMT sound — felt they were turning into as they delved further into the business.
After breaking out with 2008’s Oracular Spectacular and notably the hits “Time to Pretend” and “Kids,” with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev founder), the band switched its eclectic gears for 2010’s Congratulations and found themselves getting bogged down in the business side of things.
“We were starting to feel burnt out after touring Congratulations,” says Goldwasser. “We hadn’t really taken a break between the two albums, and we just wore ourselves pretty thin. So we took a year off.”
But they didn’t stay out of their Brooklyn studio, gradually getting together for jams and realizing that they had to get back to basics.
“It was more about getting back to the mood we were in when we started the band,” admits Goldwasser. “We weren’t really thinking about what we were going for. We were just having a really good time playing music together, and I think that — just having to deal with a lot of aspects of being in a band — the touring and the stress of that and playing music as a business, kind of got in the way. So we tried to block that out as much as possible and have fun.”
These free-form jams eventually led to a reunion with Fridmann as producer and creating the album from scratch at his Texas studio.
“We have a really good working relationship with him and he brings out the best in us,” Goldwasser explains.
“One of the things we felt like we really needed to work on is that we have a tendency to over-analyze things or stop something before it really has a chance to flourish.
“So we wanted to try to say ‘yes’ to as many things as possible and not limit ourselves in any way.”