Toronto noise-punks Metz have a well-earned reputation as one of the most consistent and uncompromising bands in alternative music today, being championed by everyone from Courtney Barnett to Idles.
Unrelenting, often nihilistic and always tense – it’s fitting that the band is releasing a new album at the back end of a tumultuous 2020.
Exploring seemingly disparate themes such as paternity, crushing social anxiety, addiction, isolation, media-induced paranoia, and the restless urge to leave everything behind, Atlas Vending serves as an appropriate soundtrack for modern times.
Despite the uncertain and difficult year the music industry has experienced, guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins is focusing on the positives as the band release their fourth album.
Firstly, congratulations on the new album – how you are feeling about it now it's about to be unleashed upon the world?
"I’m feeling good. You know, it's been a long time coming and it's the strangest thing in the world to be releasing music in these conditions, but I'm still trying to keep positive and to celebrate it. Because we're really proud of this one and can't wait for people to hear it.
"This one feels like we've taken a pretty big step forward in production and writing and performance things. I'm obviously coming from a different vantage point than everyone else but I’m really, really, in love with it."
One thing I really like is that you kind of know what you're gonna get from a new Metz album, to a certain extent, and I mean this in the best possible way.
"Well, thanks. Yeah, it's funny. I think we have a sound that is very true to us and we obviously play in a certain way and I think it kind of comes from Hayden [Menzies, drummer]. His approach to drumming is quite singular – and as much as we think that every single one of our songs is very different – I can see how people hear it is being very consistent or cohesive across all of our albums.
"But we've sort of been continuously morphing and evolving over time to where I think if you listen to the first album and to Atlas Vending I think you can hear some pretty huge changes.
"But that aggression and that physicality and that loudness – it's certainly there. And it's there because, frankly, if we were to take that out of the equation I think we'd be dishonest.
"I think there's a beauty to the simplistic style, and also the physical and aggressive style we have and I don’t need us to make Kid A to make us feel like we’re progressing. Atlas Vending is a progression for me, and we don't need to jump the gun in order to please other people."
I'm surprised that you described it as simplistic because your playing doesn’t sound quite like anything else. You aren’t using any conventional chords, right?
"No, never. You kind of come up with a guitar chord palette... at least I have for Metz. There's like five or six shapes that I think have almost shaped the sound of Metz, I guess. Early on, it was about avoiding proper rock ’n’ roll chords, no barre chords and no open chords.
"I think by the simplistic nature, I was referring to maybe the first two records and the kind of banging over the head short songs. I certainly see that changing, and if playing them live is any indication, they're starting to get more complex now because we're certainly pushing our skill set to the limit. More and more I find myself like, 'Ooh, I'm gonna have to actually practice that!'"
What was the experience of recording Atlas Vending like?
"It was two weeks spent in Pawtucket (Rhode Island) at a studio called Machines With Magnets, and I would say I think that's the fastest we've ever done a record, like front to back. We walked out of the place with a mixed album.
"When we were working with [Steve] Albini [on 2017’s Strange Peace], we took the tapes home and we kept on working on them, we've always been a little bit weird that way so records can drag on.
"This time, we slept at the studio, we just lived and breathed the record and then walked out of there. It was super-intense, you know, but it was also a lot of fun and it allowed us to just focus."
What gear were you using on this album? I’m guessing the Jazzmaster is still your main guitar?
"Yeah, the Jazz is the same one. It's been on every Metz record, every Metz show I think ever, it's my baby. It's like a Frankenstein neck but it's like a ‘62 jazz body. It's been through hell and back. I’ve just never been able to find anything that even comes close to sounding the same with my pedal chain and with my amp.
"It's just one of a kind, kind-of-thing. I think it's had a pretty big part and steering the sound of the band over the years actually. But for this one, I was also using a Rick 30 [Rickenbacker 330] for a bunch of things and we even had an acoustic with a contact mic on it, just trying to get interesting textures.
"In terms of pedals, it’s always been quite basic. I use a [ProCo] Turbo Rat as my main distortion and then I've got a couple overdrives over the top of that, a couple of delays, a chorus and a [Electro-Harmonix] Freeze. With this new album I’ve got a looper now because I'm having to layer some guitar lines to play these songs live."
Speaking of live, you guys are doing a livestream to celebrate the release of this album – what can we expect?
"I think there's a magic to a live performance that can never be replicated, especially not on the internet. But for us, we just want to make something special, and something that people who care about our band can check out and hopefully take something away from.
"I think music is just an escape, and I think we need an escape more now than ever from where we're at as a society, like the political situation and the pandemic situation. Let's get lost in some music for a little bit. I think we could all use that and take something positive from that. "
Metz will be live streaming a performance of Atlas Vending at The Opera House in Toronto on 15 & 17 (opens in new tab) October. Each ticket will be entered into a draw to win a special edition Atlas Vending Boss DD-8 Digital Delay pedal.