The Toronto three-piece provide the punk-rock jolt we’ve all been pining for.
“Man, this week we’ve played four shows and I’m already sick.”
A glance across Toronto noise-punk luminaries METZ’s touring schedule is enough to make you feel a bit ill yourself. As we speak to guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins, the trio (completed by bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies) are in the van headed for four sets in as many days in Brooklyn in the name of the CMJ Music Marathon, before hopping on a flight for their first ever UK date in Leeds, a brief jaunt around the country including a much- anticipated set at Shoreditch’s Old Blue Last, a hop across the channel to Paris, then back US-wards for an extensive run seeing them through until late November. It’s a hell of a jolt into the limelight, a sudden introduction to life as one of the bands of the moment. “We don’t know how it’s gonna turn out, to be honest”, Alex honestly reveals. “It’s a whole bunch of firsts for us; the first time we’ve ever toured for this long and done so much bouncing around. We’re really excited, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little terrifying too.” If the band’s self- titled debut revels in a raw, live sound, then that’s because this is a live band in every way.
As well as embracing life in the van (seemingly a far more amicable place than many bands report, where everyone splits driving duties and “whoever calls shotgun gets to be DJ”), METZ’s writing process is one of collaboration, and of creating music in a ‘live’ environment. The hours spent in the rehearsal room smashing ideas into each other has crafted a sound where bass and guitar pummel as one in an assault of three chord riffs and driving, single note downstrokes which plough into skewed, bent strings. You can almost hear songs taking shape, parts allowed to develop and grow in accordance with each other. “It’s whatever time we can make for it”, is Alex’s simple description of METZ’s writing process. “Usually we have to work in the days, or we just do stuff on weekends, but we go in there for three or four hours and half the time we walk out with nothing and go get a beer.” He continues that “it’s trial and error. When we do have something, it tends to have that particular sound, with that live energy and cohesion to it, which is why we do it the long way.” He paints an intriguing picture of the practice room where so much of what makes METZ special takes place. It’s a space they share with fellow revered Torontans Fucked Up, pioneers of far grander, though no more vital, contributions to the punk rock canon. “We’ve been in the same building for almost as long as we’ve been in Toronto. It’s just the worst!” he laughs. “Walls of amps and carpets on the ceilings and shit everywhere, it’s pretty gross.”
That one of the most celebrated and one of the most rapidly rising bands of their ilk share a rehearsal space is a microcosm of the consistently surprising and ripe musical breeding ground of Toronto. While it seems trite to comment on the wealth of music coming from a city with a population of over two-and-a-half million – it’s a big place – there is something about the variation and quality of output which is striking. We’re talking about Holy Fuck, Crystal Castles, Peaches, Azari & III, Broken Social Scene, Drake, DFA1979/MSTRKRFT, The Weeknd, as well as the aforementioned. Alex cannot place a common thread running though the city’s sound. “I can’t put my finger on it”, he says. “I would definitely agree there’s amazing stuff coming out of Toronto right now, and a lot of those people are our friends, but I don’t think musically there’s necessarily anything in common. I think people are generally happy to focus on their own thing. They’ll come out and support other bands and will take influence from other bands, but as far as a scene or a type of music coming out of Toronto, I can’t pick just one.” METZ are an embodiment of an embracing attitude which goes beyond genre working with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh and Crystal Castles-affiliated engineer Alex Bonenfant on the album. There is no reason to associate these acts beyond the Toronto connection. “It’s just a pretty welcoming community”, says Alex. “There’s a lot of collaboration and hanging out.”
That’s not to say life in Toronto is all shits and giggles. In fact, much of what turns this charming fellow into the howling, endlessly frustrated frontman of METZ stems from the occasional grind of life in such a vast, at times faceless city. “I definitely think a certain amount of it comes from that”, says Alex. “I’m originally from a smaller city, and I moved to Toronto five years ago. I think, like with anyone, on a good day you love it and on a bad day you can really pick out the things that start to piss you off. You can blame it on whatever you want, but I would sometimes blame it on the size and the speed of the city and those aspects of the modern way of life that I sometimes find a little overbearing.” The often tough-to-decipher content of his desperate yells cannot, though, solely be attributed to the trials of city life. “Another thing with the lyrics and the theme of the record is I write them after the music, and I think the music in a lot of ways dictates the subject matter and the tone. Whenever I sit down with the tunes there’s no way in hell I can sing a love song over something like that. Because it has a certain aggression and a certain darkness to it, it calls for a certain type of lyric.”
It’s an aggression which has at turns been compared to the likes of the twisted noise-punk of Texan legends The Jesus Lizard, the dissonant clang of Steve Albini’s Shellac and the jagged stomp of Ohians Brainiac, a commendable yet ugly lineage to be placed amongst. But despite this form of expression, the band is in no way seeking to present something violent or negative. “No, never”, is the sharp reply. “I think it’s more cathartic. All of us enjoy playing so much; we could never look at it as a negative thing. We’re not about that, we’re just so excited about music.” As brutal an impression as the band’s live and recorded work might make, Alex stresses that “we’re a bunch of softies when it comes down to it. It’s just one of those things that when we get in a room, this is the music that naturally comes out. We don’t deny it, we just go with it and hopefully people can get off on that energy.”
METZ’s surge to national acclaim has seen them appearing on the same line-ups as such legendary names as Archers Of Loaf and Hot Snakes. “That was a real treat for us, to be able to meet people who have been responsible for some of our favourite music”, is Alex’s thrilled summary. “Not only meet them, but share the stage and have a couple of beers. Totally amazing. We really never anticipated anything like that.” It’s something the band has doubtless found intimidating, though not overwhelming. “You definitely don’t wanna blow it, y’know. You wanna put your best foot forward for sure, especially if there’s someone who you highly respect in a musical sense.”
To be sharing the stage with Rick Froberg and John Reis seems particularly apt, and Alex confirms, “we think the world of them.” From Drive Like Jehu’s extraordinarily powerful, extended post-hardcore jams to the more focused, melodic and driving sound of Hot Snakes, their influence is certainly pronounced. And indeed, listening to METZ’s earlier releases, which often revel in an atonal darkness, and its progression to a more structured, honed vision on the full-length release, perhaps even the band’s evolution mirrors that development. “I think it’s us just really getting better,” is Alex’s assessment. “Just slowly evolving into better songwriters. And also knowing what we like to do live, what we like to play. I think sometimes when we wrote these kind of sprawling, convoluted songs, they weren’t even that fun to play. Sometimes you’d get up there and just be like, ‘oh god, do we have to do this whole thing again?!’ So we tried to hone it down and do something really from the gut, that’s what feels best for us.”
METZ’s debut has also garnered significant attention for its release on Seattle’s god-like Sub Pop imprint, the turn of events that truly heralded their arrival at the top table. When it came to looking for labels, there was only ever one for the trio. “I think it was sort of our teenage hearts and minds acting, to be completely honest”, says Alex. “When we were talking about who we’d love this to come out on, we all simultaneously said it because we all grew up obsessing over that label. There are so many great labels doing great stuff, that’s for sure, and we’d be honoured to work with any of them. But luckily for us, it never got that far.”
With the backing of one of the world’s most esteemed alternative labels, METZ continuous rise seems almost inevitable. The first UK visit that followed our conversation was purely a glimpse; a chance for a lucky few to witness what has heralded such unanimous praise and left venues in tatters on the other side of the pond. General reports are that they were phenomenal, recreating the stunningly explosive basement shows which have made them so valued in their native city, summed up as “around 150 people, just totally crazed and fun. That’s what we’re into”. The short saunter across the Channel also felt appropriate. Alex reveals that a visit to a certain North Eastern French town sparked the band’s eye- catching monicker. “I mean, it’s a nonsense name, but it definitely came on my radar after a memorable drunken evening in that city, and I think the name stuck with us.”
With word spreading about a more substantial UK run in 2013, and an album that has flung the celebration of noise firmly back onto the wider agenda, it’s a name we should all get used to hearing.
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METZ is out now via Sub Pop
Words: Geraint Davies
Photo: Elinor Jones