Pretending to be obnoxious rock stars in the belief their band would never get noticed only became a problem for Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser when they suddenly became famous.
For the two core members of the psychedelic New York-based band MGMT, sharp and fast fame brought by the success of their 2007 debut album Oracular Spectacular also tested a friendship formed at university.
“It was a running joke for us when we would perform in college that we’d adopt these fake rock star personas when we played live, thinking that we were never going to get noticed,” said Goldwasser.
“But then we got noticed. And then we kind of freaked out.”
MGMT embarked on an Asian tour that began in Japan on Tuesday.
That will be followed by appearances in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Hong Kong and South Korea, having navigated the tricky follow-up to a successful debut album.
Fame, fortune and recognition as indie heartthrobs has drawn a complicated response from the band formed at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, a liberal arts and sciences school where the pair met as freshmen in September 2001.
An early song, Time to Pretend, was both a fantasy and satire of rock stardom written at a time when neither took seriously the idea of being in a band, Goldwasser says.
But Columbia Records thought differently and signed them, forcing the two fans of uncommercial psychedelia from late reclusive Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, or self-destructive Dan Treacy of indie band the Television Personalities, to take life a little more seriously.
Which in part meant not playing the Ghostbusters theme for 45 minutes straight, as was reportedly their wont to do during early live shows.
Most musicians would dream of a record deal being handed to them, but keyboardist and co-composer Goldwasser says he and VanWyngarden, both 28, were troubled by the idea despite it parachuting them from students into stardom.
“We were in denial about it for a long time and didn’t believe it was real,” he said.
The band won audiences the world over with a debut album packed full of intricate pop melodies with a nod to psychedelia, rock and electronic music. Oracular Spectacular has sold more than one million copies worldwide.
But Goldwasser says he and VanWyngarden found themselves instinctively shrinking back from their success.
“We were getting bigger and bigger crowds but we felt it was just a phenomenon and not actually about what we wanted to be doing,” he said.
“It felt like it was getting out of control,” he adds. “It did affect our friendship – we had to take something seriously that for such a long time was just a way to blow off steam for us.”
Last year began amid accusations MGMT were about to commit commercial suicide with their follow-up album Congratulations and that they sought to pare away the fame and fairweather fans that their debut had brought them.
But it was far from the disaster predicted by some corners of the music press, instead a slow-burning homage to the band’s core – albeit distinctly uncommercial – influences.
“There wasn’t any sort of analytical or calculated side to it, we weren’t trying to throw off fans,” said Goldwasser. “That was kind of a tough period.”
Congratulations went on to receive positive reviews from fans and critics, and Goldwasser says he and VanWyngarden have come to terms with the knowledge that ideas they might not take seriously nevertheless have a mass appeal.
“Having all this turn into a big deal was a test on our friendship but now we agree how ridiculous it all is. We know to keep at the back of our minds that no matter what happens, none of this is supposed to make sense.”