Alex Edkins sounds like a very gentle, polite Canadian gentleman over the phone, but when he’s singing and playing guitar as a member of the ferocious Toronto post-punk trio METZ, he sounds genuinely unhinged, like a recently released mental patient who spent the last decade in a cell padded with cut-outs of old Steve Albini rants. And yet his band’s self-titled full-length debut is one of the starkest, bleakest and most exhilarating albums of the year, a forward-thinking blast of gnarled guitars, pounding drums, haunting screams and deep, ribcage-bursting bass.
After spending years honing his musical talents in Ottawa’s punk rock scene alongside drummer Hayden Menzies, the two formed METZ with bassist Chris Slorach upon moving to Toronto. “They were just basement bands,” says Edkins of his old groups. “We’ve all played in several different bands, but this is the one that feels best for all of us.”
Calling from his home in Toronto last week, Edkins explained the origins behind his band’s graphic song titles, how they got the bass to sound so intense on their record and why it was an honor to be featured in the New Yorker, but he has a (polite) bone to pick with whoever drew their cartoon.
METZ – Headache by SubPop
You’ve spent a lot of time touring, and it has taken years to create this album that’s only now being released. Did you always plan on taking so long to release your first full-length album?
No, definitely not. I think it’s really just a combination of a couple things and factors that made it take longer than usual. For one, we were all working day jobs and doing the band on the weekends and at night. That’s one factor, and another was the way that we write music is a little bit odd in that there’s not a lot of working separately. We usually do all of our writing collectively in the same room at the same time, in hopes of getting something that has a different energy or a sort of immediacy that you don’t get if you’re working at home separately on your computer or something like that. On top of that we didn’t have a label at the time, and we were just making sure that we were confident in the material and happy with it, just trying to make sure that the three of us were satisfied. There was no pressing date, so we didn’t really see a reason to rush it. We just went about it when we could.
When were most of the songs on the album written?
I’d say at this point probably a year ago. The recording of it was done probably about four months ago, and then we had to get slotted into the release schedule, so it’s been about a year of work and then a couple months waiting, but certainly not straight through. Like I was saying before, we would do a session one weekend, and then a few weeks would go by and we’d do another session. It was done whenever we could find the time.
You worked with producers Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) and Alex Bonenfant (Crystal Castles). What specifically did those two people bring to the recording process?
They were both incredible to work with. The way it happened was just kinda flukeish because the Toronto music scene, as big as the city is, the scene is quite small. So we were introduced to those guys through mutual friends, and Graham actually reached out to us first, saying, “I heard you guys are working on some stuff. I know a place where we can go for a week and get stuff down on tape.” We jumped at the opportunity because we figured this guy doesn’t usually do this kind of music, and I think all of us were excited about that, the fact that he’s coming from a different angle, coming from a different background, that we might be able to get something interesting done together. We didn’t want the record to sound same-y or to sound like a traditional rock or punk record, so that was really cool. We certainly didn’t have any expectations of working with anybody at first. It kind of just happened that way.
We spent a week with Graham, and he had another gig that he had already committed to, so we took what we’d done with him, and on the recommendation of a friend, we went in with Alex and basically finish the record up with him. As far as the sound goes, I think the three of us in the band had a really, really good idea of what it needed to sound like, so those two guys were basically the ones who came in with the technical know-how and they helped us get the sound that we heard in our heads down on tape. That’s where they came in, for sure.
I can’t remember the last time I heard bass tones on a record that sounded so visceral. How did you guys record that?
The bass was actually really tough because we’ve got our live sound down to where we’re happy with it. We use volume to get some of the stuff across, and that doesn’t always translate on tape. Chris would be using the same tone, the same gear, but when you put a mic in front of it, it doesn’t really do the same thing as it would if you were in a room and it was blasting out at you. It took a couple stabs at it to get that sound down. On a couple tracks we actually double-tracked the bass. Sometimes we had to turn down the volume just to get it more controlled because it was wilding out a bit. There was a whole bunch of stuff, but really it is basically a mic in front of a cabinet for his stuff and a couple distortions, and depending on the tune we had to tweak it a bit.
And now the album is streaming on the New Yorker‘s website. Did you guys find that odd?
Yeah, it kinda blew our minds. We never would’ve expected a publication like that to showcase our music. In general, any kind of positive response is somewhat baffling to us because we’ve been so close-minded really. We wanted to make something that we liked, and we didn’t pay attention to anything that was happening in music now, like trends or anything like that. For anyone to relate to it or to like it is a really cool thing, and we’re really pleased about it. The New Yorker did it on their own accord. I’ve never met any of them or anything like that. It just kinda happened after they heard the record.
You guys even got a little cartoon in the magazine. Do you think they did a good job of capturing your likeness?
I was definitely excited. I ran out and bought a couple copies of it. I think they got Hayden’s hair color wrong, but we’re not complaining at all. It was really quite amazing.
The record’s coming out on Sub Pop, and they release so many different things, most of which doesn’t sound like the type of dark, angry music you guys create. What was the initial appeal of signing to that label?
I don’t think we ever got off the label since we were teenagers. I think it comes back to us being obsessed with that label when we were younger. When it came to discussing people we’d like to work with that was the first thing that came out of our mouths, so that was the first one we contacted. I personally think it’s cool because I like the fact that they put out so many different styles of music. To me it illustrates that they’re music-lovers through and through, and that’s how I think of us. We just like good music in general, so it’s a good place to be, and they’ve been super supportive of what we’re doing, so that feels really good.
You’ve also played with a lot of iconic bands before this record has even come out. Did you learn anything from those other bands?
Yeah, we’ve been lucky enough to play with some of the bands that we’ve looked up to for a long time. I’m not really sure how that’s happened, but it’s been great. You get to meet so many people, like the guys in Mission Of Burma or the guys in Mudhoney—meet them and get to know them, which has been amazing. You just kind of see what they’re all about, their work ethic. What I take from those legendary bands is their uncompromising approach to what they’re doing. They’ve been doing what they’re doing for the right reasons for as long as they’ve existed, and that’s what we try to take from them. At the end of the day it’s really about making sure that we’re doing exactly what we want to be doing and not compromising our music for silly reasons.
The titles on the album are so violent and evocative. Where do those emerge from?
My rationale is this: We write the music in the same room together first, and then I usually go home with it and I do the lyrics. To me the subject matter and the titles are just products of the music. I find it really hard to sing about anything lovey-dovey or positive when I’m hearing that music, so it kind of just comes from that. It’s definitely a byproduct of the sounds we make with the three instruments. Also, I’d say that the last couple years living in Toronto were a main source of lyric [inspiration] too, just the modern way of life in the big city and some of the pressures that come with that. It’s a combination of those two things.
You’re also playing CMJ next week, and I know you’ve played New York in the past. What do you guys normally do when you come to New York?
We’ve never really had too much time. We try to catch up with some friends. What did we do last time? Oh, we went bowling a couple times. We like to do that to kill time. Like, before playing Death By Audio we went bowling nearby in Brooklyn there. That’s something. We haven’t really been able to see the sights yet, which is a shame. We’re down there for CMJ for four or five days, so maybe this time around.
Is there anything you’d like to see?
Hayden is a visual artist, so I think he’d like to go to the MoMA and stuff like that. I think we’d all be into going and checking that stuff out.
I feel like you guys could go to the Met too, cause then it’d be “METZ at the Met.”
Yeah, that’d be cool.