INTERVIEW: Alex Metric (2013)
With a plethora of productions and left field remixes, Alex Metric’s creativity is as vivid as his vibrant personality. He’s the bloke who can make cool synth-pop, disco house, electro, or progressive and determine which is the right sound for the song as well as what he is feeling. It is that emotion which he brings to his massive single “Safe With You,” as well as to his brilliantly executed DJ sets (whether they be primetime bangers or discofied progressive opening sets). Chatting with him before he opened for Zedd in Nashville, I felt like I had found a doppelganger who uses music to express emotions, with such a wide variety of musical experiences that he is never at a lack for the optimal sound.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: How did you meet up with Stuart Price?
Alex Metric: I met up with Stuart through a mutual friend called Starsmith. Fin had worked with Stuart on the Kylie Minogue album and he knew that I was a fan of his. Stuart actually wanted to start DJing again, so he asked Fin if he could come out to the club with us one night. Stuart hadn’t really been to a nightclub in a while because he was producing pop music for years and years. Stuart knew of my music, so Fin told him that he should meet me and we went out to dinner and had some drinks. The first time I meet Stuart, who is kind of my musical hero, he came to watch me DJ which was a scary experience. The funny thing about the gig was that it was the first time that I played my remix of The Whip – “Secret Weapon” and with that remix my aim was to do LCD Soundsystem meets Stuart Price. As soon as I played it I felt a tap on my shoulder and Stuart asked me “what’s this record?” It was so weird because I had deliberately tried to channel Stuart on this record and he came up and asked me about it. We had a great night and we stayed friends. A couple weeks later I decided to eMail Stuart because it’s always been one of my aims to work with him, and if you don’t fucking ask you don’t get. So I eMailed him and told him that if he ever wanted to get in the studio we should totally do it. He was like “yeah that sounds like fun let’s do it,” and a week later we were in the studio doing “Safe With You.”
RS: When the two of you work in the studio do you fight over the keyboard, how does that work?
Alex Metric: No, not at all. I know that Stuart is a much better keyboard player than me, so I let him play it quite a lot. I think that when you work with someone that you have so much respect for, you could feel like you have to let them be right all the time and feel a bit conscious of their status and their talent, but the refreshing thing about working with Stuart was that there was none of that. Stuart would send me some ideas for the track when we were working remotely, and the fact that I was comfortable being able to tell him that I didn’t like something helped me learn a lot. I think the best and most interesting thing about working with him was that there was no pretension and no bullshit, just two creative people making a record together.
RS: What do you think that he learned from you?
Alex Metric: He may have learned something from me, it was not a one-sided thing and it all was very fluid. He commented to me that he couldn’t believe how much work I was doing on it. He said that when he has worked with other producers in the past, he has had to do all of the work. He hasn’t worked with a lot of other producers before, mostly just bands, so maybe it was nice for him to work with someone that was competent and had ideas about making club records. I think that when you work with bands, you are relied upon to bring all of the ideas whereas with a producer you both have the ideas.
RS: I am guessing that Malin vocal came from the Niki and the Dove “Mother Protect” remix that you did with her band?
Alex Metric: Oh, 100%! When we did the track, we were playing the remix out a lot and trying to think of who we could get to sing on it, and she just made sense to me, she is an amazing vocalist. I think that it became clear that we were trying to make a more pop, crossover dance record without falling in to the trap of what a lot of those records do and to keep it original and have some fucking soul to it. We wanted a real song, rather than a song that is chucked on top just to make the kids jump up and down.
RS: Did she write the topline or did y’all collaborate on the topline?
Alex Metric: The way that Malin did it was that she sang about 8 minutes worth of lyrics, lots of shit and so much information. From there me and my friend Bnann, a guy from the band Infadels, went in and filtered that down and wrote a new song out of what she gave us. It was a heavy filtering process, you should have heard it, I had 8 minutes of all different lines, harmonies, and vocals! I spent so long on that record trying to get the vocal right that I had to get Bnann in on it. Stuart and I were so burned with it that we needed an outside perspective, and he came in and we found the hook and looped it up. Sometimes you need another pair of ears, I was so close to that tune and worked on it for so long and wanted it to be good, but I needed Bnann to come in and give another opinion.
RS: How did it feel when you found out that Tiesto played your record at Creamfields?
Alex Metric: Oh my god, the production was fucking incredible! What made it so good was that you could tell from that show that he didn’t just decide on a whim to play the tune. He made it a point to have it be one of the moments in the set. It was amazing to have a DJ from a different world on such a big scale with such a big audience actually want to make that one of the main moments in his set. Plus, he played the 8 minute vocal version, it wasn’t the dub remix that Stuart and I did or one of the bigger house remixes, he played the full vocal version. It was validation and a real moment, aside from keeping our fans happy we have definitely hit a different crowd. We never made a conscious decision to do that but as the record went further on we knew that we wanted to try and do something on a bigger scale.
RS: Your new record isn’t out until October 6th, how do you keep a record playing and keep promoting it in a way that people don’t lose interest in it and still buy it the first week? How do you keep that balance going?
Alex Metric: Ministry knows what they are doing in that respect. They have been drip-feeding different mixes of it, the video and the Mind Vortex remix. We still have the Marcus Marr from DFA remix to drop as well. Keep in mind that at the moment we are still only working the UK, you guys are getting this via the internet and there isn’t even an American release date set at the moment. We are talking to who we are licensing it to, but I feel like the record has a long shelf life and that it is going to be a gradual record as all the different territories come on.
RS: I’ve been playing the record and it has the same kind of vibe as iiOs’ “Rapture.” When I first played it, it has the feeling that it grows with every listen.
Alex Metric: More than any other record that I have done in a long time I feel like this one is taking a lot longer to sink in. I feel like when people get their heads around it, hear it, and get into it it’s going to be great. I have a really great feeling about it, and I think it is going to happen in a different way than any other record that I have done before.
RS: Where did the idea for the ice skaters come from?
Alex Metric: We got sent a lot of treatments that I wasn’t into- the song isn’t serious and po-faced, but I didn’t want a joke video. I really wanted to work with Clemens Habicht on it and the original treatment that he sent me was the best treatment we had, but it was so fucking mental, it was stock footage of North Korean processions. They have this day where they do this procession for Kim Jong and have very elaborate marches and parades and he wanted to use stock footage of that. In a similar way that he did with the ice skaters, he put it on top of itself and made kaleidoscopic images out of it. I wasn’t really comfortable with the North Korea thing, not that it was ever going to be overtly militaristic or anything, but I wasn’t trying to make a political statement. Clemens went away and thought about it and with the essence of the song he came up with ice skating, since you must have a lot of trust in your partner. You are basically working with someone that is spinning around you with blades on their feet. He took the idea of trusting someone and the relationship between two people and came up with the kaleidoscopic, psychedelic idea. It reminded me of that Chemical Brothers “Let Forever Be” video with the gymnastics girls. I just wanted to do something that wasn’t a joke and was warranted repeat viewing. Just like with everything else in my career, I wanted it to stand out- which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Some people are probably like “what the fuck, ice-skating,” but if you watch the video till the end it goes fucking batshit and there is a real payoff for it. Clemens is an amazing director.
RS: In my club sets I do video remixes and the first time that I played it, people didn’t really get it but now it’s starting to sink in.
Alex Metric: Great, again I think that it is a slow-burning video. I have seen it about 30 times and the first time that I watched it I was like no, and then we did some changes and now every time that I watch it I notice the tiny movements of each dancer and the repeated things, there is some depth to the video.
RS: Did this Zedd tour come about through the OWSLA hookup?
Alex Metric: I have toured with Zedd twice before this, and I think that it came through AM Only since we were on the same agency… and probably because I started putting records on OWSLA. This is probably the 3rd Zedd tour that I have done now, but each tour we’ve gone bigger and bigger.
RS: Great job on the Empire of the Sun “DNA” mix. I’ve noticed that you don’t do a lot of remixes like the other guys do, how do you choose which remixes you go for?
Alex Metric: I turn down about 4 times as many remixes as I do. I tend to only remix songs with lyrics, which is my general rule. I don’t really like doing club remixes of club records because all you are doing is just moving some sounds around to make another rhythm. If I choose a song, 9 times out of 10 it will be because there is a lyric in that song that actually has a fucking meaning to me. Although it is a remix I do sometimes feel like I am writing another song with their lyrics. For example I am splitting up with a girlfriend at the moment, and in the “DNA” song there were some lyrics that I could relate to and made me feel like I had an emotional connection to their song. That was the reason why I did it, if I can tweak those lyrics and make it feel like it has a meaning to me then you flip it on its head and it is going to mean something to someone else. I think that all of the best remixes that I have done in my career have always happened at times when I have had personal things going on and have related the songs to my life. It sounds like a weird way of doing it, but 90% of the time that’s the reason because it means something to me. The “take me away” part was perfect, because I was literally feeling like “get me the fuck out of this situation.” I think that is a good way of doing it and it gives an extra depth to the remixes and feels less like fucking with someone else’s song and more like something that you feel and is real to you.
RS: Moving from something emotional to something really cheesy, there was recently an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Billboard club chart in the United States, do you ever look at charts to gauge how your music is doing? Do you just look at hypem?
Alex Metric: I have really tried recently to not look at all that stuff too much. I would love to be one of those artists that can lock away for 6 months after I make an album and not read anything or listen to any music. That is the thing with being a DJ, you are always hearing another track that everyone is playing and killing it. I think that the combination of constantly getting music and opinions on music can be very detrimental to making records and make you feel like you should go a certain way with your music. I do read comments and I wish that I didn’t, I can remember making music and putting records out before there was Twitter. I have been doing this for quite a while and it was way easier then. The immediate feedback is awesome sometimes, but at the same time it can also be something that you don’t want. I think that you should just believe in your convictions as an artist and follow that. In this internet day and age, sometimes it is hard to do that because there are so many different voices telling you that something is great or isn’t. You always take the negative shit on board a hundred times more than you take the positive.
RS: Brilliant, great response. When you are spinning live are you on CD or laptop?
Alex Metric: I use USB stick, so CD-Js with USB.
RS: I see on your Twitter that you use the word brah a lot, is that the British version of bro?
Alex Metric: I thought that was how you guys would say it! Vaughn and I have been watching a lot of South Park and there is a classic episode where Randy goes “come at me, brah” and I figured I couldn’t put bra because that is a bra. How would you say it, I was trying to read between the lines and make that the American spelling of it. Maybe its bruh but it definitely has an “a” in there so I don’t know, it is just my own spelling of it. We don’t even say bro in England, we say mate.
RS: Are you into antiques?
Alex Metric: Am I into antiques? That is the weirdest question ever.
RS: Well because you tweeted that you were at the American Pickers store.
Alex Metric: Oh, I am into the American Pickers and I liked the antique road show growing up. Whenever I am in a hotel room and there is nothing to watch online, I just put on the Discovery Channel because there is always something that is vaguely interesting on. I remember on my last solo tour every time that I got to the hotel, American Pickers was on and I would lose days watching it.
RS: How is this bus tour different than your big festival dates?
Alex Metric: I would say that these crowds are more in line to a festival crowd than a club crowd. The sets I am playing at the moment are more towards a festival crowd, but at the same time since I am on first I am getting to set the tone for the room. I am getting to play like 15-20 minutes of disco before I start to ramp up the energy. That is why it has been good to dabble in that and not feel like it has to be high energy the whole way. I would like to play a bit more disco, maybe I will tonight.
RS: Since you are playing the opening DJ, what advice do you have to other opening DJs out there, most of them suck.
Alex Metric: This is why this tour has been so great, I love being the first one on. I think one of the worst things about being a touring DJ is having to deal with the aftermath of some dickhead that plays before you. I’ve grown up a lot as a DJ on the road over the last 6-7 years and I know what to do. An evening should gradually go up in energy and this day in age with the technology it is so fucking easy for someone to get Traktor and some MP3s off Beatport and go on stage and be the dude that smashes it out and gets the crowd hyped. It is not about that, it is about setting the tone and getting the energy of the evening ramped up. Fair play to Anton (Zedd), because that is lost in a lot of American club culture and in these big shows. That is why Zedd booked us, because he wants the evening to be diverse musically and to grow in energy and that is how it should be. There is obviously pressure on the opening DJ to get the crowd jumping, screaming, and clapping, but at the same time you have to hold them and leave something for the next guy. I have had people fucking play my records before I come on and they just nod at like “yo dude, fucking love your stuff, I am going to play your tune,” there is nothing worse! Even if you are an opening DJ for a headline DJ you need to look at the DJ mixes, don’t play tunes that they are playing in their DJ mixes. For the headline DJ to have a good show he needs to feel 100% comfortable with what he has to do and what he is about to do. It is not about the warm-up guy it’s about the headliner, there is nothing worse that someone banging out too much and playing all the tunes that the headliner wants to play. Vaughn, Oli, and I play very different music than Zedd, so we aren’t going to play any records that he wants to play. It is perfect for him; he doesn’t have to worry about anything. Being the opening DJ is an art and I don’t do opening sets apart from sometimes doing a 3 hr. set where I get to set the evening and play through the whole thing. Some of the best DJs are the guys that can just kill the warm-up sets but not everyone wants to be the warm-up DJ, you want to be the headliner as well. It is a different vibe here than how the culture has developed over in the UK, especially with the new kids that have come into the EDM thing. To them it is all about coming in and blowing the shit out of it and it being all energy and it’s not really about that in terms of the bigger picture.
RS: I saw a picture of you and Batman, have you thought about going as Jack Nicholson as the Joker for Halloween?
Alex Metric: I don’t do fancy dress; literally nothing in this world makes me more nervous and upset than having to dress up in fancy dress. I hate it and the few fancy dress parties that I have been to I have hated. All of my friends know that I would never do it; nothing can make me more nervous than being invited to a party that is fancy dress!
RS: Regarding the events at Electric Zoo and the opening nights of the tour, what is your take on drug use in the EDM scene?
Alex Metric: I am not here to tell people whether to do it or not, that is your own personal decision. I would say that if you do it do it in the safest way possible, know to drink water and know when to stop. I don’t think that anyone can judge anyone that wants to do it, people have to make their own decisions and I guess if you can avoid doing it then don’t.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Alex Metric: Thanks for being so great on this tour and for going with it. Thanks to all of the new people that we have picked up along the way and to all of the new fans I have made. Without the fans I wouldn’t have been doing this as long as I have and I wouldn’t be on tour in the States for 6 weeks. I couldn’t be more appreciative, there is a lot of good shit to come, thank you!
Interview conducted September 2013. Special thanks to Big Life Management for arranging this interview.