"Local kid makes good" is always a nice story. So when a White Station High School graduate's musical duo made the swift rise from a Wesleyan University dormitory to the upper reaches of the international pop-music scene, you'd think it would be worth quite a bit of attention in these pages.
Not so much.
The story of MGMT has been an awkward one for us at the Flyer, because that White Station grad turned singer/songwriter/guitarist is Andrew VanWyngarden, son of our editor, Bruce VanWyngarden.
And though some who haven't quite grasped the magnitude of the band's success might disagree, we've minimized our coverage of the band's rise for that reason. But, at this point, with two albums, eight singles, and innumerable national television and feature film appearances under their belt and making their debut on one of the big stages at the Beale Street Music Festival, we felt it was finally time to give MGMT proper acknowledgment.
The band's debut album, Oracular Spectacular, was named the 18th best album of the past decade by Rolling Stone and yielded Grammy nominations in 2010 for "Best New Artist" and "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group" (for the song "Kids"). The band began 2011 by playing in front of 40,000 fans on a beach in Argentina and will soon begin work on their third album.
Right now, VanWyngarden is probably our most significant contemporary Memphis-bred musician — non-Justin Timberlake division. And there are legions of local fans interested in the band and its Memphis connection. With that in mind, I talked to VanWyngarden (pictured above left) about coming home to play and about how Memphis shaped him:
Memphis Flyer: Where are you now?
Andrew VanWyngarden: Coachella. We're not playing. I'm doing some DJ-ing. It's nice to be able to go and see bands and not have any pressure. It's been a pretty good time. I've seen Wire, Big Audio Dynamite, Lightning Bolt.
What kind of stuff are you playing?
I'm trying to do all vinyl. I just started DJ-ing. I found a bunch of early 2000s house records in Brooklyn, and I've been playing with those. Kind of slowing them down.
I'm guessing a lot of MGMT fans, even locally, don't think of you as a Memphian. In high school, you played in a band called Accidental Mersh.
Yeah. Looking back, it was so illegal. We would play these places off back alleys downtown that were full of high school kids. Everybody drinking. But it was fun being in a high school band. I remember one time we played the New Daisy Theatre and filled it up.
We're going to be back early and have a rehearsal before the Music Fest show, and we're using the New Daisy. Back then that stage felt huge.
Was that the first band you were in that really played anywhere?
Pretty much. The big thing for me was that [bandmates] Hank [Sullivant] and Charlie [Gerber] were really knowledgeable about indie music, compared to me at least. I was still listening to whatever my sister was listening to and ska and Rancid and related things. I was just starting to listen to the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd and classic rock.
We were all obsessed with [contemporary Memphis band] Big Ass Truck too. That's the band we really looked up to. After I was in college, when I was home, I would go to the Blue Monkey to watch the Ross Rice Band. That was amazing, seeing Steve Selvidge just wail.
Didn't you take guitar lessons from Steve when you were in high school?
No. We hung out a few times and played guitar together, and he would show me some stuff. It was never formal. My dad took guitar lessons from Sid Selvidge.
Your other high school project was called Glitter Penis. Was that strictly a bedroom recording thing?
No. That was literally bedroom recordings. That was just me and Dan Treharne, a friend from White Station. He had a pretty basic recording program, and I had never recorded anything before. We just goofed around writing songs. But Dan and I have stayed good friends. He got involved in filmmaking, and he's been with us over the past year at a lot of the shows documenting the tour. We're not sure yet how we're going to use it.
This will be the third MGMT show in Memphis. The first two were at the Hi-Tone and Minglewood Hall. What was it like to play a home show for the first time?
I really liked that Hi-Tone show. It was fun to play a packed bar show, to have a lot of my high school friends there. It was pretty sweet. The Minglewood Hall show ... that was a weird time for us. We were about to record our second album, and Minglewood was our last show.
Any favorite haunts when you're in town?
I go to Shangri-La Records, and I like going to Flashback. I would go straight to Huey's, but I've become more vegetarian recently.
You were in an odd situation where your first real single, "Time To Pretend," became a huge hit. It was a song about the tradeoffs that come with fame — "the boredom, the freedom, the time spent alone," how ridiculous it can be — written before you really had to confront that. What's it like to play that song now?
I wrote those lyrics when I was 22 or something and still in college. It was sarcastic and funny to us. It's strange thinking about writing those lyrics and then singing them on, I dunno, David Letterman or something. Or hearing people sing along to it in Kuala Lumpur. It's really bizarre.
Friday, April 29th
Horseshoe Casino Stage, 9 p.m.