"We've been in Malibu for two months now, writing and recording. We rented a house out here, rented some equipment, and built a studio. It's pretty sweet. We're gonna be sad to leave it," VanWyngarden — the son of Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden — said by phone.
Not a bad life for a White Station High School graduate — the first Memphian to morph into a full-fledged pop star since Justin Timberlake evolved from a Mouseketeer.
A synth-based psychedelic duo, MGMT — which VanWyngarden formed with Ben Goldwasser during his freshman year at Wesleyan University — exploded in 2008, barely a year after they inked a deal with Columbia Records and recorded their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann at the helm. With singles like "Kids," "Electric Feel," and "Time To Pretend" gaining resonance with young audiences, the band toured with Of Montreal, Beck, and Radiohead and landed prestigious spots at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and the Austin City Limits, Coachella, and Glastonbury music festivals.
When MGMT rolls into Minglewood Hall Thursday, June 11th, however, it will mark only their second concert of 2009.
"Ben and I took a month and a half to write songs in a tiny cabin in upstate New York, close to Woodstock," VanWyngarden explained.
Afterward, they took those songs to Malibu, where they joined forces with legendary British psych-rocker Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember and Jennifer Herrema, co-founder of the American indie group Royal Trux, to complete the sessions for their sophomore release, which VanWyngarden says will be called Congratulations.
"I don't even know what 'making it' means," VanWyngarden said. "We don't feel like we've changed at all. I know every band says, 'We didn't set out to sign to a label or become popular,' but it kind of just happened. We don't feel much pressure, because we know we're not going to make songs like ["Kids" or "Time To Pretend"] again. We're not in the same space. Our music has gotten more bizarre. We're just kinda doing the same thing that we did last time around, which is make songs that come into our heads, and people can react however they want. Ben and I want people to like it, but it's not a life-or-death thing."
Pondering the secret of his success, VanWyngarden admitted, "We haven't worked that hard. We've been lucky and successful, and we don't give a shit about it, which is kind of rubbing it in. Yeah, some crazy shit's happened. All of a sudden, Weezer is covering a song of ours. While I was in London last summer, the Daily Telegraph had an article where I was dating Kirsten Dunst or something, which was completely made up."
What's not made up: MGMT's victory this spring over French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP political party, which, despite lobbying for stricter intellectual copyright laws, utilized the song "Kids" without permission both online and at campaign rallies in 2008.
"Fighting the French political party was pretty surreal," VanWyngarden said. "It was nice to win out against their blatant hypocrisy, since they were trying to pass all these copyrights against digital downloading at the same time they were using our song on their website without permission."
It's a far cry from the days when VanWyngarden played in his high school rock band Accidental Mersh, performing at the New Daisy for a hundred bucks or sneaking into the Blue Monkey on Thursday nights to listen to Steve Selvidge perform with Ross Rice.
"Steve always told me to remember my roots," VanWyngarden recalled. "I'd come back from Wesleyan and tell him about these experimental classes I was taking, and he'd give me a soul CD to keep me grounded. The way he and Ross played together informed a lot of things I try to keep in mind when I'm performing, even today."
MGMT plays Minglewood Hall Thursday, June 11th, with Kuroma.The show is sold out. For more local music coverage, go to "Sing All Kinds" on memphisflyer.com.