Interview: Metz guitarist Alex Edkins discusses the band’s new album

The BIRN’s Ruben Radlauer talked to Alex Edkins, guitarist and singer of the band Metz, before their show at The Sinclair in Cambridge. Here’s what he had to say:

Ruben from The BIRN: Is this [Strange Peace] your first album doing it all live band in the studio?

Alex Edkins: Yeah. The first two records we did in I guess more of a modern way, which would be to get the drums finished and then layer everything on top. This time we got more or less what our show is like on tape all at the same time, except for vocals. It was cool, it was a lot more fun and a lot more easy than what we used to do.

R: Is this your first time meeting or interfacing with Steve Albini?

A: We know Bob Weston from Shellac a little, so we had met Steve once or twice before, but very much in passing, so this was the first time we ever got to work together, or have conversations.

R: Was that experience as you expected it to be?

A: I didn’t really have any expectations. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, and that was part of why we wanted to do it, and part of why it was exciting. I had no idea if it was going to be a drag or not, because he’s kind of a larger than life person and his reputation is very mixed. Anyway, our experience was great, and he was super cool to us, and really fun to work with. He brought a lot to what we were doing.

R: Do you feel like the live tracking method affected the songs in a way you weren’t expecting?

A: Yeah. It definitely sounds different to me. It sounds more raw, and it also dictated a little bit of how songs progressed, because we didn’t really have the luxury to overthink it, and maybe edit things and change things like you tend to do if you’re working in the computer world. It’s really easy to say “let’s move that here” or “let’s cut that like that” and we didn’t have that. With three people like us, it works best that way when you have limitations because we’re the kind of people that if we have the option we want to at least hear it or try it and just go crazy and don’t know where it stands, so this was great for us.

R: Were you recording with the gear you normally use?

A: Yeah, I think we were all really open-minded, to see [what other options there were]. We weren’t married to the idea of using just our live stuff, but that was sort of Steve’s idea. He was like “play me what you usually use,” and he just stood in front and said “I like that, I like that, I like that” and I think at the end of the day, it

makes a lot of sense to go with what feels natural.

We certainly, in the overdub portion of the recording, tried a lot of different guitars and pedals and instruments, that we don’t usually play live, so that added different textures. For the most part, it’s the amp that I’m using tonight, the guitar I’m using tonight and most of the same rig. I think Chris might have tried a couple of different basses, depending on the song. I think he played a P Bass on a couple of things that he doesn’t play live.

R: Is the gear you’re using right now the same that you were using when the first album came out?

A: Yeah, same guitar, yep, same amp. Not much has changed that way. I played this sketchy, Japanese guitar on the recording of a couple songs, a Rickenbacker and a jag as well, just trying different things, but usually the go to is the old Jazzmaster. It’s been through a lot.

R: What are some of you and the band’s influences that are outside of the sphere of aggressive, noise based guitar music?

A: I’m really kind of partial to the stuff like The Pretty Things and The Kinks and stuff like that, that’s like garage/beat music. I know Chris is really heavy into cinema and soundtracks. That’s where he nerds out. He gets into horror movie soundtracks and everything. Good country music, good songwriting, good pop music. I really got into Grouper, sort of more ambient stuff. It’s all over the map and every time I’m asked that, I go blank.

Deep down, I think we come from a melodic music background, just growing up on the Beatles; it’s just what our parents were listening to. That’s where it started, and then went in every direction. We certainly don’t listen to a lot of heavy music when we’re in the van. It’s just not that interesting to us. I think we like to pull from other places and then put that through our blender, but we can’t help but play a certain way.

R: Has there been an album that has been your go to on this leg of the tour?

A: Uhh.. what did we listen to today? The Toronto band Alvvays that’s sort of like a twee pop band, we listened to that. A little Protomartyr. We like this band Ex-Cult a lot. They’re more of a loud punk band but they’re really cool. I love Angel Olsen, we like to listen to her a lot. That kind of stuff.

R: How did you guys meet?

A: Hayden who plays drums: we grew up in the same city, this place called Ottawa, Canada. We kinda just ran in the same circle. It was a pretty small, but active punk scene and music scene, and I just saw his bands play all the time, and he saw some of my bands play, a mutual friends kind of thing. That’s how we met, and we decided we were going to make music, but it all sort of started when his band was about to go to Europe for a tour, and the singer and guitar player, for personal reasons, couldn’t go. They had everything booked, and they really wanted to go on, so he asked me if I would learn their songs and more or less stand in for the singer and guitar player, and that’s what happened. I said “well never been to Europe and I’d love to go” so I kinda just jumped into it and it was great.

Obviously that band kind of broke up that moment when [the singer] couldn’t go on that tour, so when we got back, Hayden and another guy in the band, Chuck, started Metz, and we started working on that as the main focus. We had been in Ottawa for a big chunk of our lives and I wanted to leave, so I moved to Toronto and Hayden followed. We had the intention of continuing on, but Chuck was playing bass in that version of Metz and was like, “I’m not coming. I gotta stay, I’ve got a job,” and we’re like “that’s great, that’s cool”. We kind of showed up in Toronto with the intention of finding someone to play bass and the first person we met was Chris […] and it quickly started to mesh well and that was it. It was good fortune.

R: Where’d the name come from?

A: It’s a stupid name that has no– it’s intended to be abstract, to mean nothing, really. On that tour that I talked about, we did play that city in France called Metz, and I think that is where we saw it for the first time. That’s where it comes from, but it’s not intended to exactly reference it.

R: When you started the band were you intending to go in this direction? How did that work?

A: I think it was just what came naturally. Hayden and I kind of clicked on a musical level really quick, and had similar influences. He was super into Fugazi and Hoover, and those Dischord kind of bands, so we brought a lot of that. I think when we started we were a lot slower and groovier, and that was partly because Chuck, who was playing bass, was into those sort of rolling bass lines and stuff like that. It started off as something and it grew and we did a couple 7’s with Chris, and that was sort of a stranger type of music than what it is now. It sort of streamlined itself. I think it’s constantly moving. Not in drastic ways, not intentionally, but just because that’s what happens over time. You just want to expand what it is you are doing.

R: What’s the least appropriate space you’ve played?

A: I mean, we just played on a boat last week. It was for Protomartyr’s party with Preoccupations and Tyvek. It was in Detroit. We’ve played from boats, to in the middle of the woods, to squats in Germany, to skate parks and basements, and then huge halls and huge festivals, so it’s like, you name it. I feel like all of those are mutually inappropriate. They’re all strange in their own way.

R: How did the woods one work out? What was that?

A: It was a college show in Upstate New York, I think – (R: Was it like Bard or something?) – Yeah, I think so. This was with a band called Pissed Jeans, and it was in a shack in the woods, and it was freezing cold, and yeah, when I pictured it, I pictured it actually being outside, but it was in this little kind of covered area, but it wasn’t a room because it didn’t have walls. But it had a roof. I don’t know how that came about. That was just something they did at this college and it was pretty wild, pretty interesting.

R: How does the relationship with Sub Pop work?

A: I think it’s pretty standard. I don’t think of them as a standard record label. I think they’re heads and tails above a lot of what I hear about. They’ve been great to us, and they seem to not get too bogged down with some of the nonsense industry stuff. I feel lucky to work with them and they’ve just supported us 100% from day one. They don’t get involved in what we do, they just put out [our records] and help [us] any way [they] can. That’s kind of it. We’re sort of a self- perpetuating little machine, the three of us. We’re self-managed, and we do almost everything other than that. We’ve got a booker and a label.

R: Do you play with a setlist?

A: Yes. Hayden usually writes one up and it’s usually just to stay sane, and keep things interesting. Maybe for the first year we were touring, the first record, it was probably just something we knew that worked, and had a good ebb and flow, so it wasn’t necessary, but now we’re playing for an hour plus, and we’ve got three records worth of material – well three records, and then a slew of other releases – so yeah, there’s more to it now, and we’re trying to mix it up as much as possible, to make it interesting for us, and for the crowd.