Very Ape: METZ take Sub Pop back to its punk rock roots

Oh Christ, it’s another ‘new Nirvana.’ But come back – there’s more to hard-hitting Toronto trio METZ than a misty-eyed flashback to the glory days of grunge

Feature by Chris McCall | 06 Mar 2013

It's difficult to square the fact that the band we see bouncing off the walls and writhing around the floor of a Glasgow basement is the same group of gentlemen who, just an hour before, were quietly articulating why they do not deserve to be labelled ‘a new Nirvana.’ METZ are a post-hardcore band based in Toronto, signed to Sub Pop, and steadily amassing an army of followers in each city they play – and these guys play a lot of cities.

The Skinny meets with guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins and drummer Hayden Menzies (bassist Chris Slorach is temporarily engaged elsewhere) on the second night of a marathon tour that will barely pause for breath before the summer. In that time, they will cross Europe, jump over the pond to play annual Texan riot South by Southwest, and race around North America before heading back across the Atlantic.

Despite only just releasing their self-titled debut album last October, by the time we sit down with the band it’s already their second Glasgow gig in the space of three months – and they’re already booked to return in May for a perfect union with fellow Canadian punks Fucked Up and abrasive New Jersey nutters Titus Andronicus at SWG3, before going on to support Mudhoney at the O2ABC just a week later.

Much like their music, which has drawn favourable comparisons to such leaders of the old school as Melvins and Mission of Burma, METZ are a band living life at a ferocious pace, hurtling around the globe like one of Menzies’ thunderous drum intros. Yet in person they are relaxed and engaging company, looking forward to the long months of touring that lie ahead with optimism and an acceptance that they have a job that needs to be done.

“Touring this intensively is a new thing for us. It’s exciting,” explains Edkins, smiling broadly as he opens another beer. “We’re definitely excited to have the opportunity to go play all these new places for all these people. It’s something we didn’t really anticipate.” So the prospect of a 40-plus-date tour mapped out before them doesn’t intimidate the band? “Well, we love playin’ so it’s kinda a dream come true,” Edkins continues. “The only bad part is being away from home so much, but we’re slowly getting used to that.”

“It was never something we were striving to do,” Menzies acknowledges. “But it’s not something that we would ever shy away from if the opportunity came up. We’ve always been of the mind-set that if it seems appropriate for what’s going on, then sure, we’ll rise to the occasion, or vice versa – if the record had come out and nothing was really happening then we wouldn’t be doing it."

But something obviously has happened, or none of us would be sitting here on a dreich winter’s evening in Sauchiehall Street. The rock’n’roll world is waking up and taking notice of METZ as they are that rarest of bands – a fully-formed kick-ass unit which arrived seemingly out of nowhere. In reality, the trio, all of whom are in their early 30s, have been playing live together since 2007 when Edkins and Menzies, both natives of Ottawa, moved to Toronto and quickly hooked up with Slorach.

METZ the album was recorded with assistance from Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh and Alex Bonenfant, producer of Crystal Castles amongst others. Going well beyond a mere studio capture of their live show, it was mixed with precision for maximum dynamic impact. It’s heavy as fuck; less than half an hour in length, METZ has both an energising and draining effect on the listener. “From the get-go, we wanted to try and create our own blueprint,” explains Menzies. “There are records that I love, you can just tell from the sound of the snare drum who did it. We wanted to create something like that.”

METZ were happy to take their time making a record that they wanted to hear, their confidence boosted by some early encouragement from the enduringly brilliant Sub Pop, the long-running Seattle label responsible for giving an early leg-up to a gamut of alt.rock titans ranging through the likes of Afghan Whigs and Smashing Pumpkins in its infancy 25 years ago, to a vast and diverse stable which includes experimental hip-hop crew Shabazz Palaces and Scotland’s own Mogwai in its present day.

Edkins continues: “The label heard some demos, and they were kinda like, ‘sounds good, but we’d like to hear more when it’s done’ – which was ideal, as it meant that we could make the record with no one else in mind but us. Luckily, at the end of it, they were into it.”

Sub Pop was, of course, also responsible for releasing the debut album from another power trio, led by a skinny, long haired Washington State native by the name of Kurt Cobain. Fans of the famous early 90s Seattle sound have been quick to draw comparisons. It’s fair to say that if METZ had a penny for every time they’ve been asked about Nirvana, they could at least afford to upgrade their flight to the next destination.

“It never ceases to boggle my mind,” laughs Edkins. “I almost feel like it’s doing an injustice to them. I mean you can’t mention us in the same breath, it’s just not right. I think we play the same instruments, I think we play them loudly… but we love that band, and most people do. I just don’t see the similarities, but it’s definitely not a problem we have.”

“I think if we had an extra member, people wouldn’t even say that,” cautions Menzies. “It’s only because of the Sub Pop thing, and the fact there’s three of us.” It’s not much of a stretch to hear similarities between METZ and the primal roar of Bleach-era Nirvana, but what the two Sub Pop signings really share in common is the fact that they are both products of cities which are blessed with thriving DIY punk scenes.

Edkins' and Menzies' hometown of Ottawa has a sleepy reputation in comparison to the band’s bustling base of Toronto, or the more bohemian Montreal, home to the Canadian Parliament and the legions of civil servants which it employs. But it has also long provided a launch pad for musicians and attracted bands from across the continent to play at its many venues.

“It was definitely an underground scene,” Edkins confirms. “But once you found it, you could easily go to a gig every night. Once you were tapped in, you would listen to college radio and wait for them to announce a show. It seemed at the time that it was modelled on the DC hardcore scene. All those Dischord [virtuoso DC label, founded by principled Fugazi/Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye] bands were coming up. Oddly enough, Ottawa was a stop for a lot of hardcore bands at that time in the late 90s, early 2000s. They’d come and play an art gallery or something. Because people were craving it; they wanted to hear that music at that time.”

So they didn’t have to look far for inspiration in their youth? “Not at all,” says Menzies. “There even used to be a phone number you could call – 234PUNX – and it would list all the shows for that week.” So what drew them away to Toronto? Edkins ponders. “It offers a huge variety of music and extreme amounts of talent, I think. It’s the place to go for musicians in Canada. It draws people in. The music in Toronto right now is wild. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s there.”

Menzies, who works as an illustrator when he’s not pounding seven shades of shit out of his drum kit, sees even more advantages. “It’s not New York or LA, where you go to make it big. You go to Toronto because it’s a healthy environment to be a part of. It’s encouraging and inspiring and it makes you not want to be a lazy shit. If you want to do something there are plenty of like-minded people around that are going to push you in the right direction.”

The direction they are heading in right now is back down the stairs to Broadcast’s basement room, where they’ll perform a thrilling live show that burns with a heartening intensity. Playing to this standard is what sets METZ far apart from so many of their contemporaries. And thanks to their relentless work ethic, your opportunities to see them slay are arriving thick and fast.

METZ play SWG3, Glasgow with Fucked Up and Titus Andronicus on 28 May and support Mudhoney at O2ABC on 5 June. Their self-titled debut album is out now on Sub Pop.