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METZ On Performing Live To An Empty House

On the heels of Live at the Opera House the Toronto noise-rock trio are ready to tour again. 

by Luis Minvielle

Photo by Norman Wong

When Toronto-based noise-rockers METZ play live they perform in the same way they record: as a discordant, ravaging, sweat-loaded trio. Formed in 2008, the tight-knit group stand out in the musical map of the early 10s because their live and studio acts run in parallel lines. In a decade laden with successful bedroom pop projects that struggled to transpose the allure of their home recordings into an appealing live show, METZ have kept their amps cranked while staying true to their sonic ethos — both in the studio and on stage. That’s the hidden premise behind METZ’s latest, Live at the Opera House. Recorded in October 2020, their mid- pandemic live stream captures METZ at their tightest form as they perform their fourth and latest studio album, the hefty and complex Atlas Vending (2020), in its entirety.

Released as a follow-up to their 2017 LP, Strange Peace, for which the band teamed up with Steve Albini, Atlas Vending marks a return to their earliest sound: dissonant, repetitive, anxious, and complex. It’s eerie — and upsetting — that this moshpit-inducing band wasn’t able to perform Atlas Vending to sold-out venues and fired-up crowds. “It certainly is strange that we have the live album that was made during the lockdown in a big opera house that has no people in it,” guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins confesses.

On the heels of a North American tour with Preoccupations and FACS, we caught up with Edkins to talk about the band’s return to touring and the complexities of getting older. 

METZ is playing live again — something you perhaps took for granted before this forced gap. How do you feel? 

Yeah, I think you’re right. A sudden stop like this and on this scale? I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. It’s been shocking to the whole world and it’s had a pretty heavy toll on the arts. Live music has just been destroyed and it’s been a shock to our system since we live for that. We live for that reciprocal energy we get from the crowd and that we can bring to people’s lives. It’s what I loved about punk rock when I first went to a basement show, and got addicted to that. When I saw that energy, I said: ‘Oh my God, I need that in my life!’

For the last 10 years we’ve been going pretty steady and have spent a good chunk of that touring. So we’ve had to take a hard look at ourselves on a personal level, but also as a band and say: “How do you pivot from this? What do I do with my time and my day if I don’t play live music?” It’s been shocking.

Does this feeling of touring again resemble the excitement from when you first hit the road 10 years ago? 

I think that, at the core of it, it’s the same feeling. It’s almost like this childlike enthusiasm or passion, and that’s what keeps us going. If you have that, you’re in it for life. We’re lucky to have that real passion for it, but certainly so much has changed since we first started: all of our lives have changed immensely. Two of us are fathers now, and there’s different baggage now with leaving home. Before it was like: “We’re gonna party,” and now it’s more of a business. It can hurt to be away. I don’t want to miss out and I don’t want to be away from my family. So, there’s a balancing act at play but thankfully we all have family that support what we do.

But yeah, 10 years is a long time and relationships change. We’ve got shows on the books now and we’re incredibly excited for it, but, it’s totally different from what it used to be, and a lot of that is positive. I would say we’ve kind of grown as people in a good way and I think the music and the performing are better too. So there’s a lot of positive things to take away from all the change that has happened. 

Can you tell us about your experience performing and recording Atlas Vending live at the Opera House?

It was great to do and I love how it turned out. But it’s strange to have a live album that was made during the lockdown in a big opera house with no people in it. We never would have dreamed of doing something like that if we didn’t feel we had to do it out of necessity. It was sort of: “We want to try to connect with our fans and we have this opportunity to do this, so let’s do it instead of sitting around and doing nothing.” And so I love how it turned out. I think it offers a different angle on our last record Atlas Vending, but the recording of that album for the most part was quite live, so I think you do get a similar sensation from both.

It seems like, to play Atlas Vending live, the band has to be really sharp and each player has to top his skills. Do you agree with this?

Absolutely. All three of us are playing better than ever and that was the case in the studio and now we’re kind of laughing, like, “Oh, I have to change my entire pedal board and actually really practice this stuff.” There was a beautiful simplicity to the early records. I could do that with my eyes closed, kind of in a mosh pit and now it’s more intricate and there’s more involved. I think that’s good and I think that’s important: that the sound and our abilities are evolving. If they weren’t, I think it would be a bad sign — be for any musician, for any writer, for any painter.

You had to get new equipment for Atlas Vending, right?

Yeah, true. Atlas Vending has, at the very minimum, at least two intertwining guitar lines. And that was a new approach for us. That was something that got me excited for this record. Sometimes, you live with the fact that less can be more with a power trio. There’s always something that won’t show up in the live show. But one thing we have done is: “Can I use a looping pedal a couple of times throughout that live album?”

We also have Chris, who can trigger samples from a foot switch. So he loads up a sampler and triggers them. There are a couple of elements that are new to us that just allow us to make it close to the actual album without taking away any of the intimacy of a live performance. I think most guitar players do this: before a tour, you’re sculpting your pedalboard for what songs you’re going to be playing and so you’re taking things out and putting things in. I’m actually looking forward to doing that before our upcoming shows and just getting everything shipshape for that.