Two days before the release of their spectacular fourth album – “Atlas Vending” – I called Alex Edkins – lead singer and guitarist of Toronto based noise rock giants – METZ. Despite early hours in Canada, he told me a lot about youth, paternity, looking back and the importance of live music. A huge supplement to the GREAT album.
First of all, congratulations on the new album. As it’s your fourth one, you’re not a “new band” anymore, so it’s a good time to reflect on your career.
Uhm… Wow, you know, I don’t really think about that. I usually just focus on what’s coming next… You know, I think, all three of us feel really lucky to do what we do and we certainly never take it for granted that we get to sort of live our dream and make music, tour and share with people. I think we’re feeling fortunate and also just striving and working really hard to make the best of the situation. Make the best we can make, play the best shows that we can. I never really thought if it’s “career” in a long-term kind of way so I’m trying to live every day thankful for it. You know, it can stop at any time – it’s a really fragile thing. I’m not even talking about the pandemic – I mean, it did stop, right? But just being in a band with few other people and maintaining that relationship, maintaining that spark that makes you want to keep on creating together is very difficult. To be able to stay friends, be motivated and still have that love for this music and this band.
I’ve interviewed Chris [bass] and Hayden [drums] after the previous album and they joked that the next one may sound like reggae. But “Atlas Vending” is even more intense than “Strange Peace”.
(laughs) Yeah, i think in moments I agree. I think the production is cleaner and actually punches harder than ever before. So that’s part of it. That has to do with working with Ben [Greenberg] and Seth [Manchester] and also just consciously deciding to sort of clean it up. The amount of distortion on the guitar is far less than ever before. We just wanted to let all the instruments have space and to let it breath. I think we really found the great combination of heavy and those moments of beauty and moments to get down and keep everyone interested. We definitely wanted to make it a sort of a journey – for a lack of better term. We wanted to take people on a trip from front to back. There’s a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns.
It has that life-cycle structure. Was it planned from the start?
No, not from the start. It started to look that way more and more when I started sequencing it. In my mind I was connecting all these interesting dots… To me it even has that miracle narrative where “Pulse” is birth and it goes through someone’s life until “A Boat To Drown In” where they make their escape – run to the hills and escape this sort of oppressive system, oppressive big city lights and get out of there. In my mind I like to think of it as a bit of a story that way but it was never the intention. The songs all lived separately and then when it came to sequence, I was really pleased with how I thought they all connected in an interesting way.
How much of your life is there in your lyrics? Are you writing about yourself?
I think I’m sharing more and more as I grow older and become more confident in the band. There’s a side of me that’s like “fuck it” (laughs) When you’re younger in times you want not to share as much. But that being said, on this record I really did write from other people’s perspective as well. I think the songs that sound like the most revealing about me are actually written from someone else’s perspective. Someone that I know. So it’s not all about me in that specific regard but it is about my life, you know. It’s about people I know. About what they’ve gone through.
Aren’t you tempted to write some more “political” stuff?
Yes, absolutely! I think it’s just not necessarily the thing that comes naturally to me. I fully support that way of writing. I think when bands do it, it’s beautiful and special but my way of writing is very personal. It’s sort of me working out things in my mind and it’s not so much about saying “This is the answer. This is what we should do. We should rally around this.” It’s more about asking questions and working out some minutiae in life as opposed to bigger, systemic problems we all should admit we have and share. But yeah, being able to tackle those things in a song… I find it a quite daunting idea.
You’ve mentioned growing old. You described “Blind Youth Industrial Park” as an “ode to youth”. It caught my attention, as I’m going to be thirty soon and I think a lot about youth, growing old and stuff. I suppose everyone has these thoughts at some point. How do you cope with that?
Yeah, I think the only way to cope with it is trying to live the life that you want to live (laughs). I think it’s hard for everyone and that song specifically is about how this is it. This is your one… Not to sound like an Eminem lyric or something, but… This is your one shot to do things you want to do. There’s no going back. I look back on when I was younger and I really cherish those times. I don’t have many regrets in that regard, but everyone has a few. So this song is about coming to terms with the fact that you can’t go back and fix the mistakes you’ve made, but you can still fix yourself now, moving forward. You can become a better person now, but you can’t go back and fix it. It is sort of a celebration of youth while at the same time it is a question about memory. When I think back on those times, am I only thinking about the good things? Is my memory sort of painting it in a way that is helping me get through? Is my memory telling the truth? It’s the existential question. And sometimes I think it is but sometimes I think my memory is really selective and it just reminds me of good things to help me, you know, not go crazy basically.
There’s also “Hail Taxi”. As you said – the song about looking back at yourself. Who do you see when you look back at yourself from the beginning of the band?
I see someone who’s really driven but also has the blinders on. Someone who’s focused on one thing. Someone who’s in love with music but also, you know, naive about the bigger world. Someone who didn’t know that much. I’ve learned a lot over the years. But I also think – I’m almost forty – but I feel so similar to that person. Still. I think you can relate or other people can relate – i don’t feel very different. Maybe after a show my body hurts more, but other than that – you are the person you are at the core. I don’t think it really changes all that much. I think you learn and grow but that person is still there from birth. I’ve learned that with my son. He came into the world a fully formed person. He’s got a personality, attitude, the way of talking, way of being that is like… you know, he’s there. So, I think I’m that same person, looking back.
And if your son would come to you and say: “Dad, I want to be a professional musician”, what would you say?
I’d say that’s a really bad idea if you value money. (laughs) But, you know, I actually think that my parents were cool about it. They said: “Do it, but don’t expect for anything to happen with it.” Don’t give up, don’t stop doing what you love, but also, I think… As i said earlier about being lucky – even if you’re super skilled , it doesn’t really mean that you’re gonna be able to do it in any kind of professional way. That’s where the luck comes in. There are so many factors that have to be launched for it to happen. And in a huge way it’s totally out of your control. The fact that we get to do this is kinda crazy and I would make that clear, but I certainly want to support whatever he wants to do.
Paternity is also a topic on this album. How being in a band impacts your family and the other way?
Uhm… That’s pretty much interwoven at this point. I have a hard time leaving home when it’s time to tour. I do find that difficult. I just feel no-one should be that lucky to be able to do that and to have a family that is supportive of what I’m up to do. My wife is a musician herself and she fully gets it. I’m so lucky for that. I think, if anything – having a family makes me not take the band for granted. Obviously, I think anyone who travels a lot can relate to that – in a way that cliche of “distance makes the heart grow fonder” is not true. At the end of the day there’s only one thing that matters in life – it’s your friends and family. The people around you. Leaving home allows me to see that quite clearly.
You said that you’re not satisfied with your new music if it isn’t a step forward compared to the previous albums. Was there an exact moment, that you felt that this album is indeed a step forward? Are you particularly proud of any moment on this album?
I think there’s a couple of specific songs that I feel it’s a really obvious step forward. One is “Framed by the Comet’s Tail”, “A Boat to Drown in” is another. Songs like “The Mirror” are where we’re definitely going somewhere that is more demanding on a musical level, which is cool. “Pulse” is the first song I brought to the guys in a demo and right away we kinda knew that that had a different vibe and it would be a great opener to the record. It sorta led the way. The three songs I’ve mentioned previously – most people can audibly hear that there’s progression there. I think that production-wise this is the best sounding record we’ve made and I also think, like you’ve mentioned, my heart is a little bit more out there on my sleeve. The lyrics are not quite as metaphorical. All of that is us moving forward. You can never really anticipate where it’s gonna go, but this is where we went and it feels good. We are really proud of it.
You’ve recorded that album with Ben Greenberg and Seth Manchester. What was the difference between working with them and working with Steve Albini who produced “Strange Peace”?
This time it was much more laid back – that probably comes as no surprise. Steve is very cool and I love him very much and I’ve enjoyed that, but working with him is very business-like. It’s like “get in, get out, get a take”. With Ben and Seth we’re closer friends and there’s a lot of laughs and eating meals together. We slept in the studio… So it was more fun and we took as much time as we wanted to explore sound. I’ve tried, like… six guitars on one song and amps, pedals… We were just trying everything we wanted. With Steve we had it planned out before we got there. He just records and you get a take. I love that approach – I think there’s a lot of value to it, but this time we didn’t rush ourselves and we didn’t put any limits on where to go.
You were supposed to play in Poland touring this album, but obviously you had to cancel. How do you feel about it?
I honestly can’t remember anytime we canceled shows in ten years. It means the world to us. We do everything in our power to get to the show, make it happen and play the best show we can. This has been a really difficult time for all musicians and for all people in the music industry. You really start to realise how much you are depending on live music as a source of happiness, really. For me it’s socializing – I don’t really go out that much if it’s not a show. I go out to shows, but that’s about it. So, with that ripped away from you, you go “wow” (laughs). I don’t even see anyone so much other than my family. It’s really hard to get used to. I don’t want to get used to it. To be honest, I’m trying just to… cope and hope we’ll get through it so we can come to Poland and play.
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