Stepping Stone Party #1 - Alex Edkins of METZ
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Thursday, August 6, 2020 - 17:41
Stepping Stone Party #1

I first met Alex in the summer of 2009 when my old group Obits played with METZ at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. Our bands played a bunch more together and, music appreciation aside, the experience confirmed what a solid human Mr. Edkins is. So for my maiden foray into rock biz journalism I decided to harangue this fine fella up in Ontario via a dozen or so questions. METZ have a new album coming out this fall on Sub Pop. It’s their fourth full-length and most expansive to date, which is to say it’s great and you should get all up in it when you have the chance.


SH: Was the guitar your first instrument?

AE: Yes. We had a family piano but, for some reason, I was only interested in guitar. I certainly regret it now, but I bypassed piano and gravitated heavily towards guitar. My mom had an old Yamaha acoustic from the '60s that I started on. Music was not a big part of our family dynamic. It was always there, but kind of in the background. I'm thankful my parents were supportive of it.


SH: Do you remember a specific moment that drew you to the guitar in particular?

AE: Nothing in particular. We used to watch The Last Waltz a lot. That was something my brothers and my dad all had in common. That The Last Waltz VHS tape. There is a photo from when I'm quite young lying on the couch, headphones plugged in, staring at The Beatles 1962–1966 (Red Album) gatefold. I think music was my obsession from pretty early on. I think MTV/Much Music (in Canada) probably had a big part in it too. Guitar music was all-powerful when I was growing up in the '90s so I was getting it intravenously. Good stuff, bad stuff, I didn't care, just consumed it all. It wasn't until much later that I discovered college radio and started going to shows. CKCU and CHUO were the two university stations that had punk shows late at night. It's a bit of a cliche at this point, but no less true, that college radio provided me a lifeline from the suburbs to the outside world. It was eye-opening to say the least and literally changed my life's course.


SH: How much do pedals play a role in your guitar sound for METZ tunes?

AE: Not as much as people think. I'm definitely not tap dancing up there. I tend to wrench the sounds out the old fashioned way, with my left hand and hilariously grotesque facial expressions. It's a pretty basic set up. I play a '62 Fender Jazzmaster through Fender Twin Reverb '65 reissues. It's a loud and clean amp (really doesn't break up at all), so I depend on a Turbo Rat for distortion. Other than that, I have a SansAmp GT2 that I use for screeching feedback, a couple basic delays, a couple different fuzzes (Tomkat, DBA) and a looper. I've used that general pedal board since 2012. With our new record (Atlas Vending) I expanded things a bit, so I'm going to have to make some changes in order to cover the sounds on the record but haven't endeavored to do it quite yet.


SH: Once you have a pedal setup that you like, do you just stick with it? Or are you a tinkerer?

AE: I'm definitely someone who sticks with what works. Of course, the song always wins, so if there is a song that calls for a certain sound I will add it, but I've been using Turbo Rats for 10 years. Are there better distortion pedals? Yes. Do I care? Not really, because it jives so well with my guitar. I've never had the urge to nerd out on gear or constantly fine tune things. I like buying guitars though! Old guitars. I prefer buying distinctive sounding guitars rather than pedals. I rely on my Jazzmaster when playing live with METZ, but break out the others when in the studio. I used a large array on Atlas Vending—I was attempting to write two separate guitar lines for each song, so made sure that every track had a separate flavour. Jazzmaster, Rickenbacker 330, Travis Bean, Copeland Jazzmaster with Lollar P90's (Thanks Matt!), Zenon ZES-170, 12-string, baritone, and even a contact mic on acoustic guitars.


SH: Is there a holy grail pedal or guitar or amp for you? Something you find yourself searching for online, late at night, just before you fall into a YouTube rabbit hole looking for live clips of The Dishrags?

AE: I had been looking for a Rickenbacker 330 for a while. I saw one come up for sale on Instagram at the local music shop (hello Paul's Boutique) and ran out the door and down the street to wait outside the shop before they opened. Just a beautiful looking and sounding guitar. Definitely one of my favorites. I bought a Hofner V3 when I was out on Vancouver Island for a show and have loved writing and recording with that one too. At the end of the day, "the" METZ guitar has to be my '62 Fender Jazzmaster. It's been on every tour and almost every song. I bought it as a Frankenstein so I have no idea where or what the neck is from, but have never been able to find anything that comes close to its sound or feel.


SH: When you're on tour and using rented equipment, what are you most picky about? And what do you bring with you at all costs?

AE: I'm very picky about renting Twin Reverb '65 Reissue amps and not Twin Reverb Silverface. I know, I know, most people would want it the other way around. The vintage amps sound incredibly different from the new ones and simply don't do what I want them to, especially the reverb. It can be a bit of a deal breaker when attempting to get the "rip your head off" shrill highs that I covet. I bring a microphone cover at all costs, for obvious reasons, but also as protection from errant mics getting kicked into my teeth. Chris and I always bring a couple of backup pedals in case our luggage gets lost in transit. Oh, and my glasses strap—can't have my spectacles falling off!


SH: METZ sound is very dense but also manages to be spacious. Your latest single, "A Boat to Drown In," really brings that forward with the first half of the song being thoroughly pummeling and then the last four minutes floats the listener off into an ethereal drone. What's some drone music that you enjoy listening to? Anything non-Western or that's not traditional rock band instrumentation that you really like?

Larajii & Lyghte - Celestial Realms

Steve Roach - Quiet Music 1-3 and Structures from Silence

Shout to Telephone Explosion records in Toronto for reissuing all the above albums and many more.

Note drone, but trippy and meditative:

Craig Leon - Nommos

Midori Takada - Through the Looking Glass


SH: Based on covers you've played and songs you've posted on your excellent Nuggets playlist, it's safe to assume that you're a fan of Captain Sensible and Greg Sage, but what other punk/underground guitar players do you think are noteworthy and perhaps under appreciated?

AE: These guys are by no means under-appreciated but big influences nonetheless—Bob Mould, Greg Ginn, Andy Gill, and John Reis.

My favourite more current guitar player is Luciel from Drahla. Her style is very non-traditional, lots of great open chords and tunings, I think? I really like when you can't tell what someone is doing. A lot of people ask me what tunings I use and are surprised when I say Standard. I think it's the biggest complement, just means you are approaching chords in a different way.


SH: Speaking of John Reis, you guys did that great collaborative single with him in 2016. Is there more from that session? It was fascinating to hear both METZ and John so clearly in the mix and also mesh so seamlessly together. Did you take anything from that experience that you've applied elsewhere since?

AE: We only did those two songs. We were playing the Casbah in San Diego and in walks John, cigar in the corner of his mouth, drinking tequila (at least that's how I remember it) and he says, "I booked a studio for us, can you guys come back in two days?" As you know, most tour itineraries do not allow for flights of fancy like this. However, this time, we were actually able to backtrack and return to San Diego to do a session with John and Ben Moore. Drive Like Jehu was/is a big favorite for all of us and there was no way we weren't going to do that session. It was an honour, to be quite honest. We just hashed it out together in the studio. I think it's quite clear what song started off as a METZ idea and what song started as a Swami idea, but I think we definitely rubbed off on each other and it turned out cool. When I think of that 7" we made, two great John Reis quotes come to mind: "You guys are always on tour. Your work ethic is really uncool." and "Great show guys. All those people are gonna start really shitty bands because of you."


SH: There's a METZ remix on A Place To Bury Strangers' Re-Pinned album. How did you approach doing it?

AE: It's always fun to desecrate your friend's music. I really enjoy the process of remixing. It allows you a very intimate look at other people's recording process and how the record was engineered. It's like watching one of those "classic album" documentaries and dissecting Bowie's backing vocals on "Satellite of Love." Very eye-opening. With APTBS, the song they sent me ("Execution") was very sleek and refined. Very small metallic sounds. So, naturally, I did my best to explode the sounds and make them huge. I even had the audacity to add vocal harmonies. I think they liked it? Not sure. We recently made the stems from one of our songs ("Lost in the Blank City") available to anyone who wanted to remix the music. It was part of an initiative called ISOLATE/CREATE started by a bunch of great musicians/bands during the onset of COVID and, I gotta say, the remixes that were sent to us were just incredible. Totally impressive and inspiring. Thanks to everyone who took the time to work on it and share their work.


SH: How did LIDS come about? Obviously those other guys are local pals, aside from being fellow rock'n'roll stormtroopers, but it's an interesting combination of people. Will there be more LIDS?

AE: Doug (Constantines), Brian (Holy Fuck) and I used to frequent the same bars, so we would always make plans to write/record music together. To everyone's surprise, we actually followed through on the lip service and even played a few local shows. There will be more LIDS. We have some unreleased music that will see the light eventually.


SH: Occasionally I will see a band or someone solo and be surprised by how technically good they are, even if not always by music school standards. Off the top of my head I put Robyn Hitchcock, Stephen Malkmus and Shayne Carter from the Straitjacket Fits into that category. Who do you think of when you conjure inspiring contemporary fret foragers you've witnessed?

AE: I usually avoid technical proficiency in music. That's not to say I don't love some Carcass or Chopin once in a while, but I'm certainly drawn to the more scrappy side of things when given the choice. I prefer a good song played poorly compared to a bad song played perfectly. I think Alan and Dan from Girl Band play their guitars in an interesting way. They approach guitars almost as triggers for their pedalboards. It makes for something different. A modern approach to guitar music.


SH: For punkers outside of Canada who may only know the bigger exports like D.O.A., SNFU, Doughboys, Nomeansno, Subhumans, the Nils (Sell Out Young! is a personal favorite of mine), are there some hidden classics that we should be equally familiar with?

AE: Pointed Sticks, Viletones, Teenage Head, Fifth Column, The Diodes, The Demics. I always like to mention the Ugly Ducklings who were a great 60's garage band. Their song "Nothin'" is one of my favourite '60s garage bangers. Very 13th Floor Elevators. Of course the Ottawa hardcore scene had some real gems—like Shotmaker and Okara, too.


SH: Speaking of SNFU (RIP Mr. Chi Pig), do you have an SNFU-related memory you can share?

AE: I remember seeing them just kick ass when I was younger. So good. One of the best Canadian punk performers ever. My last memory of Mr. Chi Pig was a sad one. We were loading into the Cobalt in Vancouver and this man came around asking if we wanted to buy a drawing. Hayden (a fellow artist) said, "Sure!" So this man sat down, scribbled out a drawing real quick and signed it "Mr. Chi Pig." Hayden and I were shocked. He was unrecognizable to us. We had both seen him front SNFU when we were younger and we couldn't recognize him. His battle with drugs and schizophrenia had taken such a terrible toll. It was very sad to hear of his passing. His music will live on. RIP


SH: Last but not least, Boner or Fartblossom?

AE: What?????

Sohrab Habibion
Sohrab Habibion

Sohrab Habibion lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, their son and a cat named Sparkles. He sings and plays guitar in the post-punk group SAVAK. Before that he was in Obits, who released 3 albums on Sub Pop. Before that Edsel, a ‘90s post-hardcore band based in Washington, DC. And before that Kids for Cash, a 7-Seconds-inspired hardcore band named after the BGK song. He also has an extensive archive of shows online that he videotaped as a teenager. He works as a graphic designer for Akashic Books.