WESTPORT - When Ben Goldwasser was growing up in Westport, being part of a Grammy-nominated band was never part of his long-term plans.
Still, a rather remarkable series of events has plunged this 26-year-old and his bandmates into seemingly instant stardom on an international scale.
Goldwasser always had an inclination for music, taking piano lessons from age eight. He would often perform music in talent shows at school or get together with friends after school to play music together.
"I always thought music was something I would do for fun, and it would never turn into a a career," Goldwasser said.
After graduating from Westport Central School in 2001, Goldwasser went to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. to study Physics, though he later switched his major to Music. There, he met Andrew VanWyngarden, a fellow music major who quickly became a close friend. Together, they formed a band named "The Management."
"It just started out hanging out playing music together," said Goldwasser. "The line between having it be a band and just hanging out together was always kind of blurred."
Their early performances were a two-man act that involved hooking up an iPod to an amplifier and speakers and singing along with their pre-recorded music.
"We never decided to take any of it seriously," Goldwasser recalled. "It was just something we were doing for fun."
Still, they continued to perform after graduating from Wesleyan, going on tour to open for another popular college band called "Of Montreal." Eventually, they shortened the name of their band to MGMT since another band named The Management already existed. They also added a drummer, guitarist and bassist to produce more of a live sound.
The fun of touring soon gave way to financial needs, however, and the band parted ways. Goldwasser took a job building straw bale houses near Oneonta.
Meanwhile, some of MGMT's recordings found their way onto online music sharing sites. Maureen Kenny, a manager at Sony/Columbia Records in search of fresh talent, discovered some of these recordings and sought out the pair with an offer to sign them to a recording contract.
"I kind of thought it was a joke at first," said Goldwasser. "We really didn't take it seriously because we never really did anything to put our name out there. We hadn't played anywhere besides a few college parties. It came as a pretty big shock at the time, and I think we're still trying to figure out how to deal with it."
Their first CD, "Oracular Spectacular," was released digitally in the fall of 2007 and MGMT gained a strong following on an 18-month tour through Europe, Australia, and elsewhere overseas.
Along the way, they made television appearances on David Letterman and other late night talk shows, and opened for Radiohead, Beck, and Paul McCartney.
"Oracular Spectacular" has since been named as Best Album of 2008 by NME, a leading British music magazine, and recently passed the 500,000 unit mark for sales, earning it certification as a gold album. Their quick rise to fame has been astonishing, even to Goldwasser himself.
"Hopefully it has more to do with people recognizing that there are real people behind it," he said, noting their willingness to avoid conforming to prevailing yet fleeting trends in the music industry.
"We've just been doing the same thing we've always done; making music that we like and not worrying about if it's commercial or not. We realize that may not always work out, and we're prepared to deal with that."
"It's still surprising," he added. "We've just had to have a sense of humor about it."
Still, the biggest surprise for the band may have come Dec. 1 when MGMT was announced as a 2010 Grammy nominee for Best New Artist. In addition, their song "Kids" was nominated for Best Performance by a Pop Duo or Group, and will compete with recent hits by Hall and Oates, Bon Jovi, The Fray, and The Black Eyed Peas.
"Andrew and I were big fans of Hall and Oates in college," said Goldwasser, "so it's especially weird to be nominated for a Grammy alongside them."
Goldwasser said he's somewhat "disenchanted with the whole Grammy thing."
"I don't remember the last time an artist I really liked won a Grammy," he said, noting how the awards have traditionally recognized the more commercial products of the music industry. Still, he said some of that may be beginning to change.
And at the same time, MGMT will be looking to the future as well.
"We're trying not to get stuck just doing one thing," Goldwasser said. "We want to keep growing and evolving as people and as musicians, and enjoy it as long as it lasts."