Inside the Making of METZ's 'Strange Peace' with Steve Albini
The Toronto band marvel at working with the recording legend, and are mystified by his eating habits — or lack thereof
Published Sep 20, 2017Fans clamouring for the new METZ record, Strange Peace, are in for a refreshing treat, as the Toronto noise rock band have taken more chances with their arrangements and musical attack, even adding some subtle, synthesized sonic textures as well.
Among the most obvious markers of change is that METZ left their social circle and home base, hiring noted engineer Steve Albini to record Strange Peace at his Electrical Audio facility in Chicago.
"We were there five days, recorded for four days and we did 14 songs, which is incredibly fast for us," singer/guitarist Alex Edkins tells Exclaim!
"It was the most productive week of my life," adds bassist Chris Slorach. (Strange Peace features 11 of those 14 songs, which could mean more material from these sessions is coming.)
"Yeah, we did it live-to-tape off-the-floor with Steve and he was a lovely guy," Edkins continues. "He's a total genius; the precision and knowledge of his room and his equipment is pretty wild to witness."
Albini's own band Shellac have played a few festivals with METZ, so he was familiar with their music.
"I enjoyed it," Albini says. "They seem to be part of a contemporary tradition of noisy rock bands where there's a sense of fun about what they're doing, despite it being abrasive and heavy-sounding at times."
Because he's worked on a million sessions, Albini has seen it all. But, by his reckoning, METZ were a rare joy to record.
"They were really well-organized, relatively speaking," he says. "It was clear they weren't going to pump the album out in one sitting. They did a bunch of work when they got home with the basic session. But when that's the brief on a record, normally the sessions are pretty poorly structured, because it means that people don't have their shit together. They seemed to have their shit together to a better degree than most bands that do that.
"A lot of bands come into the studio for the preliminary stuff and then take it back to fiddle around with it at home and the end result sounds nothing like the performances from the studio," he adds. "It ends up showing the destructive effect of infinite power and infinite time in the home studio environment."
In METZ's case, they did bring things back to their friend and frequent collaborator Graham Walsh (an engineer in his own right and member of Holy Fuck) and so something like "Drained Lake" has a synthesizer part that was added in post-production.
"When I listen to the finished record," Albini says, "it sounds convincingly like it did when they left the studio, which means they had their aesthetic in line when they came here rather than fucking around endlessly at home in the following sessions."
In turn, METZ were both impressed and a little mystified by Albini's working methods.
"One of the things that's so cool is that he's just all business," Edkins says. "He's there at ten in the morning, we'd record until ten at night — then boom, 'See you later.'"
"The man never eats," Slorach marvels.
"Yeah, never saw him eat a meal," Edkins concurs.
"I don't eat during the day," Albini explains. "Typically when I say 'during the day' I mean while I'm at work. I get up in the morning, I make breakfast for my wife, I come to work, I work, then I go home, I make a big meal, I eat with my wife, and then I go to sleep. That's been my habit for the better part of 20 years.
"And I if I eat during the day, I get lazy and sluggish and that's bad for productivity. So I don't eat during the day. I presume that it's unhealthy for me to live this way. But I have done it for so long that I'm just used to it."
This is not to suggest that food isn't on his mind at work.
"He constantly looks up things about food, but you never see him eat anything," Slorach recalls, the incredulity still simmering like a pot on a stove, full of food that won't be eaten. "He never eats."
"I mean, I have a normal interest in food," Albini clarifies. "Like I cook for my wife and we have a really productive garden and I have a curing cellar where I bake hams and bacon and things like that. And I have a smoker where I smoke all manner of things, and I make a lot of pickles and can a lot of vegetables every summer.
"So, I'm into food," he says. "It's not like I don't like food. It's just that I don't eat during the day."
Strange Peace is out September 22 on Royal Mountain/Sub Pop.