Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser formed MGMT in 2002 while attending the artist-nurturing Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. They were signed four years later by Columbia A&R rep Maureen Kenny. Vanwyngarden points out that half of the tracks on "Oracular Spectacular" were written during the pair's experimental college days, when they were "super-idealistic pranksters who just wanted to mess with people." The remaining songs were "fueled by paranoia after signing to Columbia Records and not knowing what the fuck was going to happen," he adds.
With "Congratulations," however, the members have had more time to reflect on the direction they would like to take as songwriters and artists. And they don't feel the pressure of living up to the success of "Oracular Spectacular."
"We're not that concerned with having a No. 1 record or anything like that," Goldwasser says. "Of course, there are probably people at our label who would love to have a No. 1 record, but we try not to think about things like that."
Vanwyngarden concurs. "We never set out to be as big as possible. It was kind of a fluke, in a way," he says. "And we never felt completely comfortable with success, so it allowed us to make something that didn't have that in mind."
Columbia executives say they're supportive of MGMT's expansive new musical approach, which will ultimately "solidify them as career artists," Webb says.
NPR, 'LETTERMAN' ON DECK
Now, with less than a month before the release of "Congratulations," the primary challenge for Columbia is getting fans to hear the new music. The label recently began a marketing plan that aims to get fans to listen to the album in its entirety. To accomplish this, Columbia set up the Web site WhereIsMGMT.com, which is launching in six U.S. cities and eventually expanding to other worldwide markets. The site provides clues on a designated day to a location that will allow a select number of fans to hear "Congratulations" -- the first listening session in New York was held in a 15-person passenger van -- and then later write a review on MGMT's Web site.
MGMT also plans to appeal to its following's more offbeat sensibilities by selling a limited number of "Congratulations" with a scratch-off front cover (designed by cartoonist Anthony Ausgang) that includes a custom metal coin and a 32-page booklet of photos and lyrics. Thirty thousand copies of the scratch-off version will be available in the United States for $13 apiece, according to Webb.
Additionally, for Record Store Day (April 17), the band will release 2,000 copies of the lengthy track "Siberian Breaks" on 12-inch vinyl.
In late March, fans across the globe will be able to stream "Congratulations" in its entirety on NPR.org, and a number of music videos will follow in the next several months. MGMT is also scheduled to perform on "Saturday Night Live" (April 24) and "Late Show With David Letterman" (May 11).
To raise awareness of the album internationally, MGMT embarked on a four-week promo tour that began March 15 and was scheduled to include stops in London, Berlin, Paris and Australia. A key market for the group is the United Kingdom, where it played a club show March 18 at Heaven in London.
Columbia U.K. managing director Mike Smith says his focus will be getting songs from "Congratulations" heard on U.K. radio. "If we do that, everyone will fall in love with this album," he says, noting that MGMT was scheduled for a BBC Radio 1 live session with Zane Lowe in mid-March. "It isn't something that I expect people to get after one listen."
MGMT will spend the remainder of 2010 touring the world with its live band. Several concerts are already booked in Europe and Australia, and the group will spend the summer touring North America, beginning with a second-stage slot at next month's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. Other confirmed U.S. festivals include a co-headlining performance at the Bamboozle festival (March 17) in East Rutherford, N.J., and an appearance at the Sasquatch Music Festival (May 2) in Quincy, Wash.
MGMT North American booking agent Heather Kolker at the Paradigm Talent Agency says a summer headlining tour is in the works. "The venues will range from very small, special moments to a couple of bigger ones," she says, adding that MGMT will play a handful of college campuses in April. "It's a work in progress."
Ultimately, only time will tell if all of these promotional efforts will lead to album sales. But if all else fails, MGMT can always revert back to what made it popular in the first place. "Our next album is probably going to be completely different from anything else we've ever done, but maybe it will be an electronic dance-pop album and everyone will be happy," Goldwasser says with a laugh.
Additional reporting by Richard Smirke in Manchester, England.