The Future Is Now

The Artist: Andrew VanWyngarden The Album: "Self-Titled"



Photograph by Josh Cheuse

[You may also want to read Bruce VanWyngarden's December "In The Beginning," which introduces this story, and Greg Akers'  web-only supplement to this story, The Music of Andrew VanWyngarden, Part One: "Oracular Spectacular" and Before.]

 

 

Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis. Isaac Hayes. Alex Chilton. Justin Timberlake. Andrew VanWyngarden. The first five names are well known, here in Memphis and around the world. If you know the sixth, chances are you’re under thirty, and a fan of a wildly successful indie band called MGMT. If you don’t know much about one of the hottest rock acts on the planet, don’t worry: you can be forgiven for a little while. But not for long . . . 

L I N E R  N O T E S

In a way, Andrew VanWyngarden distills certain attributes of each of the icons that occupy Memphis’ music Mt. Olympus. He has the pinup good looks of Elvis Presley, and the killer musical chops of Jerry Lee Lewis. He has the wit of Isaac Hayes, the musical street-cred of Alex Chilton, and the burgeoning celebrity of a young Justin Timberlake.

As lead singer and guitarist for the worldwide musical phenomenon that is MGMT, Andrew VanWyngarden has, well, arrived. He makes music that has been nominated for Grammys and sold millions of albums; MGMT concerts sell out overnight, around the globe. His personal life is the fodder for tabloids, and he’s as well-known among Generation X’ers and Y’s in Hong Kong as he is in Helsinki. And at an age (28) when most of his former White Station High School classmates are still building their futures, Andrew’s is right now. 

T R A C K   1
Time to Pretend

“I’ll miss my sister, miss my father,
miss my dog and my home.”*

It’s the summer of 2007, and I’m heading down Poplar Avenue. My boss, Bruce VanWyngarden (editor of the Memphis Flyer, sister publication of Memphis magazine), is driving a few of us in his SUV after lunch. He wants us to hear a song by his son’s band.

Oh brother, I think, his son’s band. I steel myself for amateur art that only a family member could love, and try to affix a facial expression that won’t get me fired.

And then Bruce hits “play,” and the MGMT song “Time to Pretend” announces out of the speakers. It starts with a simple guitar riff setting the pace; then a kind of maniacal calliope loop cranks up, a killer hook that has you tight before the percussion comes down and the synthesizer settles into a trippy gait. Then Andrew’s voice sings, “I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life.”

About a musician on the precipice of mega-fame, “Time to Pretend” is a fun, funny, tragic affair. With an infinite-mirror perspective, the character in the song writes in future tense about looking back on a career he’s fated to have. “Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives,” Andrew sings. Then: “This is our decision, to live fast and die young. We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.”

“We’re fated to pretend,” the chorus predicts — “pretend” signifying a life less ordinary, name-checking the perils of celebrity: drugs and divorce. Distant from a reality with roots in family, pets, and home, the whirlwind lifestyle is capable even of retroactively obliterating a normal childhood.

The song concludes with a nod to the destiny of Elvis or Jim Morrison: “We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end.”

All sung over one of the catchiest tunes you’ll ever want to hear. 

My put-upon smile has by now long dissolved into the real thing.

* In this story, all section-header titles and lyrics are from the songs on the MGMT albums Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations.

T R A C K  2
It’s Working

“But it’s working in your blood, which you know is not the same as love.”

Half a year later, in January 2008, Andrew VanWyngarden and his MGMT bandmate, Benjamin Goldwasser, were performing on The Late Show with David Letterman. On the show, VanWyngarden wore a King Tut T-shirt he had bought at Flashback, a vintage clothing store in Memphis. The kid from the place named after an Egyptian city was subtly promoting his hometown on national TV.

 Before 2008 was out, MGMT would open for Radiohead (arguably the biggest band in the world), Beck, and M.I.A. The band had played Coachella, Bonnaroo, and several other music festivals, and had toured extensively around the world.

“Time to Pretend” appeared in episodes of the TV shows 90210 and Gossip Girl and the film 21. Rolling Stone had named the song #3 on its list of the “100 Best Songs of 2008.” The magazine would later name “Time to Pretend” the 11th best song of the decade, and, just like that, #493 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” All time. British publication NME considered the song the second-best of the 2000s.

Almost overnight, MGMT was an international sensation. And so was Andrew VanWyngarden.

MGMT: Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser

T R A C K  3
Flash Delirium

“Mass adulation, not so funny.”

VanWyngarden on the flip from obscurity to fame: “It was very quick. It was crazy.”

Memphis magazine: “How did you deal with that?”

VanWyngarden: “I don’t know. We were forced to deal with it. We were pretty naïve about what happens when you release an album on a major label; the promotion, that constant touring. It took us off-guard a little bit. In December 2007, we were playing with [Brooklyn band] the Fiery Furnaces in tiny shows; sometimes there were 10 or 15 people there. And less than a month later, we were playing David Letterman, and in the spring we were playing [California music festival] Coachella. It was all just a wild ride. We learned a lot really fast.”

 

T R A C K  4
Kids

“A baby is born, crying out for attention.”

Little AndrewAndrew VanWyngarden was born February 1, 1983, in Columbia, Missouri, the son of Bruce and Frances VanWyngarden.

The family moved a few times in Andrew’s childhood, to Washington, D.C., in 1985 and to Pittsburgh in 1987, where Andrew started elementary school. A bright kid (according to his father), VanWyngarden was always into nature and discovery, turning over rocks to see what was underneath. The boy often brought home snakes and salamanders and the like. He was active in YMCA outdoors programs, and the family frequently went canoeing, camping, and fishing. He always said he wanted to grow up and study science. He went hunting once over Christmas break, but didn’t care for it. He tried to miss the ducks on purpose.

When VanWyngarden was 10, the clan moved to Memphis, settling in Midtown in the neighborhood northeast of Overton Square. Andrew went to Lausanne Collegiate School in seventh and eighth grade. Beginning his freshman year, he attended White Station High School.

Memphis magazine: “Did you like high school?”

VanWyngarden: “Yeah, I think so. I don’t know. Like a lot of people, I never really found a particular group or style to hang out with. [But] White Station was really good for me.”

Active in the Latin Club, the school newspaper, the Pep Club, Mu Alpha Theta, the math honors group, and the National Honor Society, VanWyngarden was an honors student. He was also active in sports, playing hockey, baseball and golf, and into rollerblading and skateboarding. In Memphis, he played hockey at the Mall of Memphis and the Mid-South Coliseum. One of his opponents was Matt Cain, a young man who would go on to be a star athlete at Houston High and who today pitches for the San Francisco Giants. 

VanWyngarden wanted to go away to college, in the Northeast. He went on a tour of colleges, and his visits included Wesleyan University. He enjoyed the visit, and after graduating from White Station in 2001, he moved to Connecticut.

 

T R A C K  5
Electric Feel

“Plug it in and change the world.”

I have a great memory of going in the basement [in Pittsburgh] with my dad,” VanWyngarden says. “He had a big amp, a Fender Twin Reverb, and he plugged his guitar in and started playing. It was my first experience with an electric guitar.” The song was The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.”

Something clicked musically for him in the fifth grade, when his father taught him a few chords. Bruce was a musician, having played in rock and party bands until about the age of 30. He had retired from that life by the time his son was born, but there were still lots of guitars around the house, and Bruce frequently played acoustically. Furthermore, Andrew’s great aunt was a Metropolitan Opera singer, and his paternal grandfather was a Big Band jazz trumpeter. Music was a common thread in the family fabric.

 

T R A C K  6
Found a Whistle

“Yeah, I found a whistle that works,
closes my mind every time.”

For Christmas in the seventh grade, VanWyngarden got an auspicious gift: a Les Paul guitar. (He still has it.) He took it upstairs and started playing. Later that year, he won a talent contest at Lausanne, playing guitar on “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers with a classmate, Chad Rodgers. From then on, all he ever wanted for Christmas was musical instruments; future seasons saw a drum set, a banjo, and a mandolin. 

VanWyngarden was also always listening to music, especially with his sister, Mary. Like so many other kids of his generation, he found Nirvana and Phish, forming a deep love for the latter. He grew long hair and was kind of a hippie.

One day while he was in high school, he says, “I went into the attic and found boxes of records warped from the Memphis heat.” His parents’ record collection would fuel the son’s musical tastes: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, 1960s psychedelia, and some more obscure stuff: It all went into the gumbo pot. He got a record player with an auto arm, and he’d replay a favorite side over and over again.

T R A C K  7
The Youth

“Lock the parents out, cut a rug,
twist and shout.”

Andrew's White Station HS Annual Picture from 2001In high school, VanWyngarden formed his first band with his friend, Dan Treharne. Dubbed Glitter Penis, the group was essentially the young men with a computer, “just making songs,” VanWyngarden says. Ironic and funny, Glitter Penis was the first dipped toe in the pool.

The dipping became a little more serious, and certainly more public with VanWyngarden’s second high school band, Accidental Mersh. Massively popular, as Memphis high school bands at the turn of the twenty-first century went, Accidental Mersh saw VanWyngarden and area students Hank Sullivant, Nick Robbins, Charlie Gerber, and Wyeth Green forming a rock group.

Accidental Mersh was influenced by local bands such as Big Ass Truck and played sizable gigs, full of massive numbers of high-school kids, at Newby’s, the Overton Park Shell, and the New Daisy. 

But Mersh broke up as high-school groups are wont to do during the great collegiate diaspora. VanWyngarden went to Wesleyan, where he met a freshman from New York, Benjamin Goldwasser. They were in the same dorm and, VanWyngarden says, they were kindred spirits with similar backgrounds and musical tastes and, as it turns out, talents.

Goldwasser, a keyboardist, and VanWyngarden, the guitarist, made their debut as a band called The Management at a college party, repeatedly playing the theme song from Ghostbusters. The band’s original concept? An ironic, sarcastic take on mainstream pop music.

MGMT née The Management was a fixture of the Wesleyan social scene, playing frat parties and on campus whenever they could. They developed the songs “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” during that time, released a self-produced EP on Cantora Records in 2005, and toured with the indie rock band Of Montreal to support the EP.

VanWyngarden had a lot of firsts at Wesleyan. Among them, he says, was the first time he ever took mushrooms. “September 24, 2001,” he recalls specifically, almost 10 years later to the day, where he sat at the base of a campus building’s limestone wall and gazed into inner space. “Nothing happened,” VanWyngarden says. “Everything happened.”

His original intent was environmental studies, but instead VanWyngarden graduated with a degree in music in 2005. After graduating, he moved to Brooklyn to be with his girlfriend. She had a 9-to-5 job, and VanWyngarden took some time to figure out what his next step would be. While his girlfriend was at work, he says, he’d “wake up about 11 a.m., get a piece of pizza, and ride my bike around Prospect Park.” He carried a notebook around, but there wasn’t much writing in it. He looked for odd jobs that he might have fun doing, such as a dog walker. “It was a typical post-college life,” he says with a laugh. VanWyngarden and Goldwasser thought MGMT might be played out. 

That’s when Columbia Records came calling in 2006. An executive at the label had heard the duo’s EP and began wooing the young grads, making them a six-figure offer to sign with the venerable label.

Bruce VanWyngarden recalls Andrew calling and asking for advice about the Columbia offer. Andrew and Benjamin were torn between remaining a true indie band or signing with a major label. Bruce remembers saying, “Sign with Columbia. If it’s good enough for Bob Dylan, it’s good enough for you.” Andrew later used that line in a couple of interviews.

 

T R A C K  8
Siberian Breaks“Silver jet plane, making a turn.”

MGMT’s first major label studio album, Oracular Spectacular, produced by David Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney), was released by Columbia in January 2008 to critical acclaim and strong sales. Spurred on by three singles — “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel,” and “Kids” — the album would go platinum or gold in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand. Oracular Spectacular was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist (losing to the Zac Brown Band). “Kids” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance (losing to the Black Eyed Peas).

MGMTThe headline of a Reuters dispatch upon the release of MGMT’s second album, Congratulations: “Justin Bieber, MGMT lead U.S. album chart.” With 66,000 units sold upon the album’s release, it was MGMT’s best week ever, commercially. Congratulations charted and sold well around the world.

This album was a departure for MGMT, though. After touring and playing songs like “Kids” over and over for years and doing it karaoke style, MGMT wanted to make an album that was music that they felt good about that wasn’t overly serious but wasn’t joke-y either.

“I don’t think ‘Kids’ is a joke song, but I think it does have that air of sarcasm about it,” VanWyngarden says. “We figure if we’re going to try to make a career as musicians, we want to do it in a way like the Beatles or Rolling Stones, who make music for music. To not be overly serious or pretentious about it, but write about stuff that means something. We still don’t take ourselves too seriously, and in the live shows there are a lot of goofy moments. And we realize that that can be a form of psychedelia, when the audience doesn’t know if the band is serious or not. We play with that a little bit.

“We had the three big singles from Oracular Spectacular,” VanWyngarden says before repeating with an emphasis and a self-deprecating laugh, “The big singles.” 

He continues, “Those were already written; those were old songs. Any pressure we felt was to sculpt an album around those because the label wanted those on the record, obviously. But we felt a little bit anxious or paranoid about not knowing what was going to happen. We didn’t have any expectations, good or otherwise, about Oracular Spectacular. And obviously it took off in a crazy way.

“That was the feeling before the first album: anticipation and wondering what was going to happen and nervousness in some ways but excited,” he continues. “With the second album, Congratulations, we had toured a lot and seen the major label system from the inside, and seen other bands and how it affected them, so it was much more a diary of the album. It was personal. A lot of relationships went in the lyrics, between musicians or romantic relationships. But I feel it’s more cynical in a way.”

Despite the opening week’s sales, on a micro level, Congratulations did not share the success of Oracular Spectacular. It didn’t have those three big hits — or any, for that matter. As MGMT began its tour to support the album, some critics ripped them, and the fans didn’t respond to the new material live at first.

That changed over the course of a year-plus of playing sold-out shows around the world. In May 2011, after recently completing a leg in Asia, VanWyngarden was excited about how fans were responding to Congratulations. “By then it had come full circle and we were playing some of the best shows we’ve ever played, and the crowds were singing along to all of the new songs. It’s turned into a really positive thing.”

 

T R A C K  9
Lady Dada’s NightmareInstrumental

MGMT sounds like what a 1960s band might have sounded like if the ’80s happened first. Frequently psychedelic, the music is nevertheless rooted in electronic sounds and synth pop heaven. It invites and in some ways confounds the listener.

 

T R A C K  10
4th Dimensional Transition“I feel your racing heart, my liquid
silver arms extended.”

YouTube videos with titles like “Andrew, come here! Please, please, please etc”; “me and Andrew from MGMT (KISS!!!!)”; and a 50-plus-minute, five-part opus “The Many Words & Faces of Andrew VanWyngarden” are a token of the effect the Memphis native has had upon the public and his legion of fans.

 

T R A C K  1 1
Congratulations

“You look down from your temple,
as people endeavor to make it a story.”

This past summer, a paparazzo photographed VanWyngarden with his arm around starlet Vanessa Hudgens. She is caught smiling, and VanWyngarden is laughing about something in his hand that Hudgens has apparently given him. Drugs? The headline from the website HipsterRunoff.com says it all: “Andrew VanWyngarden spotted canoodling with Vanessa Hudgens. New couple alert?”

Memphis magazine: “Is canoodling the private and select domain of the famous? And can you define canoodling for me?”

VanWyngarden: “I don’t know what canoodling is. I found myself standing beside her, and she gave me a little cupcake. I saw the photographer, and it was funny because I could see the moment happening.”

Memphis: “How do you act when you know you could do something tonight that will end up in the press?”

VanWyngarden: “I try not to think about it. It’s not good — it gets in your mind and affects how you act.”

Memphis: “What’s the worst part about being famous?”

VanWyngarden: “That’s the worst part.”

 

T R A C K  1 2
Song for Dan Treacy


“You flip the glass and watch
the hours quickening.”

The best part about being famous, VanWyngarden says, is touring and getting to travel.

Memphis magazine: “On a scale of 1-to-10, how hedonistic is an MGMT tour?” 

VanWyngarden: “One being Hanson before they were famous and 10 being Mötley Crüe? … I’d say a 6.3 while touring for Oracular Spectacular. Now it’s down to a 3 or 4.”

He doesn’t deny drug use for himself or the band but insists that it’s never become a problem. “All of the band members are good,” he says, “and don’t have drug problems. We’re on kind of a health kick right now. But I’ve never had to say ‘no,’ and I’ve never gotten overwhelmed with it. We’re all very grounded.”

MGMT has ensconced itself firmly in the pop culture cosmos. Beavis and Butthead riffed on MGMT’s “Kids” in the show’s inaugural return to the airwaves in October. MGMT has been on all the television late shows, including Saturday Night Live, and their songs have appeared in video games and movies.

In November 2011, MGMT performed two shows at the Guggenheim Museum in New York at its annual gala and on the occasion of its exhibition on Maurizio Cattelan. The band customized a performance for the venue and event, playing new material — a kind of sonic art.

 

T R A C K  1 3
Someone’s Missing

“All the closed eyes start to glisten.”

For an international musical superstar, VanWyngarden seems something of a shrinking violet. Consider his recent solo set in the variety show “John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders.” The event, at a trendy SoHo restaurant/music venue called City Winery, was a highlight of a hip September weekend’s New York music scene. The showalso featured Eleanor Friedberger (the Fiery Furnaces), famed producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), Dan Zanes, comedian Todd Barry, and author Jami Attenberg.

 Andrew at BSMF, May 2011, Photo by Justin Fox BurksVanWyngarden was the star of the show, judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic response. He performed the MGMT song “Congratulations,” which got a loud cheer after each chorus. He also played “Someone Who Cares” by the Only Ones, “House on the Hill” by Epic Soundtracks, and “Life of a Tree” by the Beach Boys.

During introductions, he stood on stage exhibiting classic protective body language, one hand holding an elbow. He often sings songs with his eyes downcast, and his between-song banter seems frequently directed at his band mates rather than the crowd — or when it’s at the crowd, it seems presented as a message from the band rather than from himself.

When asked about stage fright before his Memphis in May show — the largest local show he had ever performed — VanWyngarden says, “I’m a little nervous, yes. It’s a big home show.” And before his solo performance in September, he admits he was nervous, too. “I haven’t played a solo show in front of people since probably middle school.”

Memphis magazine: “Do you get nervous before every show, or have you gotten over that?”

VanWyngarden: “It’s not really nerves. I guess I’ve gotten more of a kind of anxious feeling developing over the past year or so, I don’t know why. I used to not get stage fright at all. 

“I think it came from the period after we released Congratulations. ,” he continues. “We were getting a lot of pretty nasty criticism from music journalists [when we were] playing in England, and the people didn’t know the songs yet, so I would kind of close up. I kept that a little bit, but I’m not too nervous.”

Is Andrew VanWyngarden shy? Is that why he uses so much humor in his performance — to deflect? Is that why he dresses up so frequently on stage — to hide?

Is this too much pop psychology for your taste? It’s only a song.

 

T R A C K  1 4
 Brian Eno

“I followed the sounds to a cathedral.”

Memphis magazine: “Whose music career would you like to have?”

VanWyngarden: “David Byrne, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Bob Dylan: They’re all still relevant and making music that is important to them but commercially viable too.”

Memphis: “Are you ever star-struck when you meet another musician?”

VanWyngarden: “Not really. . . . Actually, I was star-struck with Trey Anastasio from Phish. We opened up for them in California, and Trey came back and was talking about MGMT songs he liked. All I could think was, ‘That’s Trey Anastasio!’”

T R A C K  1 5
Of Moons, Birds & Monsters

“The falling apart made me a shadow
in the shape of wonder.”

Memphis magazine: “Okay, everyone talks about your musical influences, but what about literary?”

VanWyngarden: “I’ve recently been reading more poetry. I think that’s going to come into the lyrics of the third album. But I don’t want to ever come off like a rock poet.”

Memphis: “Jim Morrison?”

VanWyngarden: “I love the Doors, but some of Morrison’s lyrics are really awful, and some are really good.”

Memphis: “I see a lot of Whitman in your song ‘4th Transitional Dimension.’” 

VanWyngarden: “I was reading Leaves of Grass a lot during the first album. Also a bunch of conspiracy new-age stuff like Robert Anton Wilson and some Carl Jung. There’s a book about Jung’s writing called The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. I didn’t read the whole thing but the stuff he wrote about dream symbolism is pretty cool.

“Poetry-wise, I’m pretty new to it, but John Ashbery — I really like The Ice Storm. I just found James Tate at Burke’s Book Store. My dad was really into him, as it turns out. The Anthology of French Poetry, too.”

 

T R A C K  1 6
Weekend Wars

“I can amplify the sound of light and love.”

Memphis magazine: “Memphis is known for musicians, of course, but for producers too. Do you have any ambition to produce other people’s music?”

VanWyngarden: “Yeah. I’d love to. Ben and I really like working in the studio. We are pretty particular about the way we want things to sound, and we’d like to work with other bands and play around in the studio. We want to keep up that thing with the third album and produce it ourselves.”

VanWyngarden says he and Goldwasser can spend hours with an equalizer on a song that won’t even be relevant in the end, but studio toys don’t overwhelm them, he insists. They mostly do it because it’s fun.

For the most part, the band will craft the songs, and lyrics will form over it during the process. “Songs will oftentimes be complete instrumentally and musically before the lyrics are written,” he says.

VanWyngarden has spent a lot of time thinking and talking about music-making from a philosophical point of view. He and Bradford Cox of the band Deerhunter have even talked about “a spirit of rock-and-roll,” as something that is living and can be tapped into, he says. “It is a thing. Some people may not feel it, but I do.”

 

T R A C K  1 7
Future Reflections

“And one day I’ll appreciate the rush of blood and the washed-out beat of the shore.”

Memphis magazine: “Do you think that how Congratulations was received will affect how you approach the next album?”

VanWyngarden: “Yeah, but not in a negative way. We’re going into writing it with a feeling of freedom. We took a chance with the second album, doing it our way, not thinking about taking the band to new levels of success but doing the music we wanted to make. Now I think that’s working in many ways, and we can do whatever we want again.”

MGMT started as a duo and has morphed into more of an organic five-piece band. “We’ve gotten comfortable with each other, and that feeling will come into the next record,” VanWyngarden says. The band has found its niche, and the label lets them do what they want.

“I think now it’s completely different from [the first two albums]. It’s much more positive and happy, and we’re glad to have the jobs we have,” he says with a laugh. 

“We’re ready to make more music,” he continues. “People expect on a third album from a band like us to maybe go with a big-name producer and make some kind of super-polished thing. But maybe the coolest thing would be to do it in an old-school way and record an album really quickly and write lyrics really quickly and take a different approach to it.”

There are no promises, of course. The previous quote was from May 2011, and as of press time MGMT has yet to enter the studio.

Memphis: “When I first listened to Congratulations, it seemed like such a departure, but in hindsight there were definitely songs on Oracular Spectacular that pointed to what you were going to do next. Are there songs on Congratulations that point to what you might do on the new album?”

VanWyngarden: “It’s too hard to say since we haven’t started. I think the songs won’t be too far off from the first two albums on the new album, but when we were making Congratulations, it was a pretty specific time. I don’t think we’re going to get back into the mindset of being these prankster musicians on a college campus, being like 18 years old wearing American flag diapers at a party and chugging whiskey. When you’re 26 or 27, you don’t really have that anymore.”

 

T R A C K  1 8
Pieces of What

“They got the city surrounded.”

Today, VanWyngarden lives in Brooklyn. A lot of Wesleyan grads come to New York after college — part of the reason he didn’t want to live there. He always had in mind somewhere more like San Francisco.

He says he doesn’t get recognized very much in Brooklyn, and definitely not in his neighborhood, which he describes as full of “families and old people.”

His favorite pastime is surfing, which he picked up only a few years ago. He frequently goes to Rockaway Beach. It’s not the most natural of surfing waters, he says, with trash floating by. “Some days they close the beach,” he says, “but the surfers are still out there.”

VanWyngarden leads a fairly quiet, frugal life — when the press is not snapping his picture and he’s not showing up in tabloid rags and websites guessing whom he’s dating. He says most nights he gets together with his friends and listens to weird songs and records.

He’s had two long relationships, one that started in college and one post-college with an Irish model. He’s dated people you’ve heard of, the kids of people you’ve heard of, and people you’ve never heard of. He’s not dating anyone right now (as of press time). 

VanWyngarden leads both the life you would expect and the one that people who knew him “before” might expect. He’s the same and he’s different. He’s got “set for life” kind of money. He gets calls such as the one asking for his band to play a show on a beach in Argentina for six figures. But he drives a 1994 Buick Roadmaster “Woody.” He has many of the same friends he had in college.

MGMT at BSMF, Photo by Justin Fox Burks

 

T R A C K  1 9
The Handshake“People always told me, said don’t forget your roots. I know I can feel them
underneath my leather boots.” 

VanWyngarden and MGMT played last spring at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival, an event he went to every year as a kid. On stage, he wore a Tony Allen/Chris Vernon Show “All Heart. Grit, Grind” Memphis Grizzlies T-shirt. 

VanWyngarden now comes back in town about two or three times a year. In May, he did a lot of record shopping, at Goner Records and Audiomania. “I got a ton of really good shit on vinyl,” he says. “I went to a Redbirds game with most of the band. It had a really relaxed feeling, and it’s such a pretty stadium. It’s cool.”

Memphis: “Do you get recognized here?”

VanWyngarden: “It happened once. We were walking downtown and some kids were driving by and they yelled out, ‘Flash Delirium!’” He laughs.

Memphis: “When people ask where you’re from, where do you say?”

VanWyngarden: “Memphis. I always say ‘Memphis.’”  

Reader Comments:
Dec 1, 2011 08:01 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Lord knows how many hours I have spent watching MGMT's interviews, reading their interviews, and listening to their music. LOL. Seriously the best band, hands-down, of our generation! Come back to California soon, MGMT.
P.S I consider Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters the best song of all time.
Kittens

Dec 1, 2011 08:02 pm
 Posted by  SixtiesRevival

Lord knows how many hours I have spent watching MGMT's interviews, reading their interviews, and listening to their music. LOL. Seriously the best band, hands-down, of our generation! Come back to California soon, MGMT.
P.S I consider Of Moons, Birds, and Monsters the best song of all time.
Kittens

Dec 2, 2011 09:13 pm
 Posted by  KatyTremont

I listen to mgmt religiously,I really respect mgmt's work and reading this article I can see how andrew loves his work and take care about it,I can see that andrew went through a lot of stuff but he still do what he wants with his music (And damn,it's so good) and he has fun,which it's kind of similar..because if you do what you want,that makes you happy,simple logic. Reading this it makes me happy ,Basically because I love mgmt but it shows how important music is to andrew..My favorites songs are: The hanshake,someone's missing,siberian breaks and Lady Dada's nightmare..I would like to believe that mgmt will come to Venezuela But I don't think that's going to happen..So,hopefully I'll see mgmt in Brazil..

Dec 2, 2011 09:18 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

MGMT has been of the best things to happen to me, in high school.

Dec 17, 2011 11:07 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

FYI, Stephen Pope, of the band Wavves, and Andrew Vanwyngarden went to the same high school, and were both there together during Stephen's freshman year and Andrew's senior year- now they're at award shows together and both in Indie Rock bands- small world- and says a lot for White Station High School!

Feb 17, 2012 09:32 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I'm a German girl, 32 years old. I was one of the so-called "Generation X", listening to Nirvana, the Doors, Radiohead, Blur, Air, Pulp, Beck etc. I grew up with my Dad who's been a drummer for 40+ years, so I'm influenced by psychodelic music as well.
Between 2000 and 2009 I experienced long years of "nothing" coming from the music industry. There were a lot of pop songs and hip hop, but nothing that touched me. I even felt like wanting the 90's back. But then came MGMT. I instantly loved them! I bought their first album, then I bought their second album. To be honest, it took quite a few listenings to get the magic of Congratulations, but I won't miss both albums! They mean so much for me, I totally have moments where I feel that MGMT songs are some kind of perfect themes for things happening in my life.
I feel so unbelievable lucky to have discovered MGMT, and I would lie if I didn't say that I'm happy that they still seem to be so down to earth and that they didn't sell their souls for sales volume, money and a super(ficial) celeb status. I'm so very thankful for these guys to make music because that is what they love, and it obviously is their destiny.
I was the happiest person alive when Andrew answered me a question on the legendary Valentine's chat on Facebook last year. :D
I hope I can meet these guys one day, I'd love to just hang up with them, talking, making jokes and listening to records. I love their interviews on YouTube, they are messing with people's brains. I love MGMT. Genius!
- Nina Cullinson

Feb 17, 2012 02:30 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

*haha, hang OUT is what I meant. ;P Hang up would be a bit creepy.
- Nina

Dec 18, 2012 10:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am 18 yrs old a south girl from alabama who fell inlove with MGMT! I have got caught up on every song and listen to them all the time electirc feel is my all time favorite! Andrew you really open up my eyes to alot of things...really wish that you and Ben would write and suprise your fans with some new hits that i know we will all love! Please consider it! Trust me a number one fan would like to hear a new song, and maybe show the world that you are out there and what you are up to because we miss you!
Your biggest fan- Savanna Raine
svraine24@aol.com

Feb 1, 2013 04:53 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am 16 years old and my goal in life is to become Andrew Vanwyngarden's wife. I've been listening to mgmt for longer than I can remember. The first time I saw a picture of andrew I fell in love. There's no doubt about it, I know I'm in love with him. I've been basically stalking his interviews and pictures for more than two years and yes, I know this doesn't make me sound good, but I love him. He is so beautiful, charismatic, stylish, with a astonishing voice. Every song I hear of his band mgmt amazes me. I even love his music from glitter penis hahah :') His college days were so cute, he was so playful and gahwgwujfsfed I love him. I don't want to become one of those annoying fans on the internet that take a picture with him and spread rumors about being his girlfriend/wife. Rather, I want to meet him one day and have a deep conversation with him, and for us to keep in contact and one day for me to become more than just a friend to him because thats how much I love him T_T. Hopefully one day this fantasy of mine can become more than just a dream :'( I would have patience with him, make him smile and laugh, take care of him when he's ill, let him have freedom, and I always be there for him. I really hope one day this can come true.. I'll try to become famous enough for him to acknowledge me (I'm trying to be an artist/model)

-Isabella, his most love-struck admirer, a fan with a dream and ambition.

Apr 7, 2013 11:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Greg---Just want to say that this article was really fantastic. I spent a good hour or so hanging out with my pugs and occasionally going to make a peanut butter cracker and milk as I read each little chapter. Very, very heartfelt and well done!

I'm so proud of Andrew! I met him with some buddies before the Detroit show in 2010 and my friend Nick said, "It would be cool if you played Congratulations the whole way through" Andrew chuckled and I said it would be awesome if they played Metanoia and he said "Yeah that would be cool." Low and behold, they played it right after Kids in the Encore. That spirit of rock and roll is definitely alive. Psychadelia!!!!

Growing up a massive Oasis fan it's been great to have a band like MGMT that really sort of set a good example in a good ol' American way.

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