"Death is something we think about a lot." Metz have always found happiness in the darkest places, and new record Up On Gravity Hill sees them contemplating The End with joy in their hearts

A portrait of Metz on a pink background
(Image credit: Vanessa Heins)

For music fans who grew up listening to joyously chaotic underground rock, Metz's self-titled debut album, released on Sub Pop in October 2012, could have come with a sticker declaring 'Your New Favourite Band'. And with their stunning fifth album Up On Gravity Hill, the follow-up to 2020's Atlas Vending, the Canadian trio - vocalist/guitarist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies - have transcended their impeccable influences to deliver a piece of art that is kaleidoscopic, nuanced and rather beautiful, offering meditations on life, love and loss that help illuminate the abyss and shine a guiding light into brighter tomorrows.

Joining Louder over Zoom from their respective homes in Toronto, the trio explain why they feel that, right now, they're making the best music of their lives.

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Your last album, Atlas Vending, was released during the pandemic. Did you feel that record got a proper chance, especially given that you couldn't tour it? 

Alex: "It definitely felt different. The timing was bad, and we didn't get to feel that reciprocal energy from going out and playing it for people. Chris' line was, 'It feels like we just took a record and threw it into a river and watched it go downstream.' I thought that was really fitting."

That's quite poignant...

Chris: "Yeah, I'm full of lines like that. It came out at a strange time, when people really needed a cathartic outlet. But as with pretty much everything in the world these days, things aren't always going to be perfect, and you just have to roll with it."

So let's go further back. With the influences you had, I want to ask you how it felt when Sub Pop said, 'Come join us', because that sounds like it'd be a dream come true for a bunch of kids raised on punk rock.

Chris: "Can I I tell you a funny story about that? We made our first record independently initially. And the three of us were joking around saying that we were gonna send it to Sub Pop, because it seemed like the perfect home for the record, and that if they didn't want to put it out, we were just gonna call the record Sub Pop. It was a joke, but I think about it all the time when we're making new music."

Alex: "I think Sub Pop was the top of our list of dream labels. We all grew up influenced by Dischord Records, Touch and Go, SST, that side of punk, and Sub Pop was right in there, too. We'd discuss, like, 'Hey, wouldn't that be great if...' but I don't think we ever considered it a real possibility. I don't think anyone was that naive!"

I remember reviewing that first record for Kerrang!, and the press release said that it was for fans of Fugazi, and The Jesus Lizard, and Helmet, and Nirvana, and Unsane, or whatever. I don't think I've ever put an album on so fast...

Alex: "Yeah, that were the stuff that we would listen to, and so it all went into the blender when the three of us got in a room. But, and I joke about it sometimes, when that record came out, it was like the furthest thing from cool."

With the new record, the Sub Pop press release makes mention of the fact that you're expanding your sound. Have you had your first 'sell out!' condemnations yet?

Alex: "We probably got that for signing to Sub Pop! You know, some people can never be happy. In my mind we have been evolving as a band, and as people, and as musicians since 2007 when we started. And I think if people are listening closely to our catalog, you can hear that. If you were to just compare the first record to this one, you might go, 'What the hell!' but our sound has been morphing gradually, at a glacial kind of speed, for as long as we've been around. I guess the new record might make some people unhappy, but at the same time we've always lived outside the lines of genre, and so I don't think anyone's gonna be pissed off because we've never been the flag bearer for any clique. So far there hasn't been any condemnation, but then again, the new record's not out yet..."

Chris: "If you don't read the Internet, you don't have to hear about the condemnation, you can just continue making whatever music you want. That's my goal."

You've described Up On Gravity Hill as "a record about death, the way all art is ultimately about death". Is that something that's been weighing heavily on your minds in in recent years?

Alex: "Chris and I are both fathers now, and I think when that happened it changed our perspectives. Death, and how short life is, is something that I think about a lot. And I think that's made its way into to our music in this record especially. We're not a young band, we don't pretend to be, and so, yeah, life coming to an end is definitely a lyrical concern on this record, and the title itself is referencing the idea of death."

Alex, in recent years, you've been working on side-project stuff [Weird Nighmare, Noble Rot) and scoring music for TV and films. Has that increased your confidence in your abilities, or taught you any lessons that you were able to bring back to Metz?

Alex: Yeah, definitely. Stepping away from the band and doing other projects was really exciting. And the thing that was really cool about it was that it also made me appreciate Metz that much more. When you've been doing something for so long together you can take it for granted, and also it can get stale if you don't take care of it, and keep things moving forward in in a meaningful and creative way. Doing scoring and making records that were scratching a different itch really made me go, Oh, man, I love this stuff, but I really love Metz too. What the three of us do together is distinct, and there's a real magic there, if I dare say that, that you don't find every day. It's definitely rekindled my love for our band."

With you all having had some time away from the band, have there been any conversation where any of you said, 'We've had a good run, so maybe, if everyone's cool, we can leave this on a high, and can walk away from it.' Was that ever a consideration?

Alex: "No, I think we're all pretty obsessed with this thing that we do, so that that's never really crossed our minds. There's certainly been highs and lows, and I think the pandemic was certainly a time when you were forced to take stock of things, and also like, realise that it's not a guarantee that you can do this: going out and playing this music for people is a privilege. If you come to a Metz show, you'll know we put everything out there every single night like it's our last show, and that's always been our head space. So, no, there's no signs of letting up, and right now we're making the best music we've ever made."

The reception given to the first two singles from the the record, Entwined and 99, suggests that there's a real appetite for the new album, and a sense that people have grown with the band, and are up for the journey ahead, wherever that may lead.

Alex: "You know, I'm glad to hear you say that. I think like anyone who's putting their neck out there - if you're a writer, if you're a painter, if you're a musician - of course you want people to enjoy what you're making. But at the same time, we are pretty unwilling to pander to any kind of expectation other than our own. But, just like any kind of craft, you continue to learn, and you continue to refine your craft, and hopefully that leads to better records, and better shows. Hopefully, Metz is like a fine wine at this stage."

Musicians tend to hate this question, saying that it's like being asked to select their favourite child, but i'll ask it anyway: for each of you, if you could pick one song on the record, that's really speaking to you or moving you right now, tell us which song it is, and the reason why you've selected it.

Chris: "I'll go first. I flip flop back and forth between the opening track, No Reservation and the last track, Light Your Way Home. Both of them, I think, have elements that we hadn't really used in our music in the past, and they both make me excited about the ability for us to move forward with our songwriting."

Alex: "Great songs..."

Chris: "They're okay songs. [Laughs] They could be better, you know?"

Hayden: "For me, there's two in particular, and Chris already said them. But if I had to choose, I would probably choose Light Your Way Home simply because there's a different conversation there being had between us as the people who are playing it. It seems to bridge this gap between places we've been and where we want to go, and seeing those things merge and become its own thing is kind of a special thing. I see that one as a sort of an accomplishment."

Alex: "I've heard people say that they saw the video and cried."

Hayden: "Wow."

Chris: "I never heard anybody say anything like that. Nobody talks to me."

Alex: "Those two songs are first and last on the record for a reason, because we think they're strong statements, but I also Iike Entwined. To me it's got some of the Creation Records elements that we all love with the guitars. But, like you said, this is like picking your favourite child. We're happy that the songs all work together as a piece."

There is a real resurgence of love for shoegaze music now which there wasn't in the '90s when I was first listening to it. There's an apocryphal story about Oasis' Noel Gallagher refusing to sign to Creation unless they dropped Slowdive, and one of the guys from Manic Street Preachers famously said that Slowdive were worse than Hitler. When did you discover that music, because that's obviously a slightly different world from the Dischord, Touch and Go, Amphetamine Reptile world?

Alex: "I guess I don't think of some of those bands as being shoegaze bands: like, when I think of The Jesus and Mary Chain I think of a punk band. And I think stuff like Dinosaur Jr. and Swervedriver are closer than you think. But what do you guys think, I feel like you saw a lot of those bands, Chris..."

Chris:" I did. Dinosaur Jr., when I was a teenager, was my favourite band, and You're Living All Over Me is still a high water mark for music for me. I would read any interview I could find with J. Mascis, and I think the first thing I read was an interview with Kevin Shields, and it turned me on to My Bloody Valentine, and was that like a gateway drug to a number of other acts: Spiritualized, Spacemen 3, Swervedriver... I still think Mezcal Head is top notch, it's a fallback record for me, and it's aged amazingly.

Alex: "There is a resurgence, like you said Paul, with shoegazing, but I do want to be clear that for us it's not like that, we've been on this trajectory for a long time now, and I would be a little surprised if people used that term when when thinking about us."

To round things off then, in an ideal world, what would you like listeners to take away from Up On Gravity Hill?

Hayden: "It's hard to answer that because we have such limited, if any, control over how people perceive it, so it becomes dangerous to speculate. But I think we would love for people to see this as a loving endeavour that brings joy to people, sonically and otherwise."

Alex: "I think you nailed it. I think this record is about happiness and joy. It might sound weird to say, but we all turned to music to feel something, and to make our days better. And that doesn't mean that it has to be beautiful music, it can be crushing grind music, it can be whatever makes you happy, and so I hope that this album can bring that feeling to other people, because it brings it to us. That would be a great outcome, that would be killer."

Metz's Up On Gravity Hill album is out on April 12 via Sub Pop.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.