The Irresistible Allure of Alex Edkins' Weird Nightmare
METZ's frontman Alex Edkins discusses stepping out on his own with his new solo project Weird Nightmare and how the pandemic provided the perfect impetus to actually do it.
Over the past few years, METZ vocalist and guitarist Alex Edkins composed a handful of songs that didn't quite fit his brutal noise-punk band. After wrapping up the recording of the Toronto power trio's last full-length album, Atlas Vending in 2020, Edkins wanted to take risks and step out of his comfort zone; leading to the creation of Weird Nightmare. Edkins' new solo project embraces distorted garage-punk epics with a strong dose of fuzz-dripped power pop melodicism, venturing between '80s Flying Nun (Tall Dwarfs, The 3Ds, Jean-Paul Sartre Experience) and Halifax's pop explosion in the '90s (Sloan, Thrush Hermit, The Flashing Lights). Whereas METZ is all about its ear-bleeding harshness and roaring one-two punch, Weird Nightmare is all about classic pop structures with a melodic attitude and an endless supply of hooks. Take for instance lead single "Searching for You," which takes an insanely catchy, yet simple riff that builds towards an endless spiral. "Sunday Driver" is driven by its angst-ridden narrative beside spiky riffage and a bleary guitar solo, while The Who-esque "Lusitania" embodies Edkins' signature roar over his self-loathing lyrics. There's also some guest appearances including Canadian alt-pop genius Chad VanGaalen who adds his unmistakable touch to the highly intensifying "Oh No" and Alicia Bohnanno of Bully who lends her distinctive voice on the wonderfully vibrant and soaring "Wrecked."
Shortly before releasing the self-titled debut album through Sub Pop Records on May 20th, we caught up with Edkins to discuss how he stepped out on his own across the new album and how the pandemic provided the perfect impetus to actually do it.
Paperface Zine: Hey Alex, congrats on the new solo venture! Tell me, what have you been up to since the release of your debut full-length album under Weird Nightmare?
Alex Edkins: I'm really glad this record is available for people to hear now! I don't think that was really at the forefront of my mind when I was making it. That might sound strange, but often I think the most important thing for musicians to do is to just create. It was more of a coping mechanism to stay busy, happy, sane, it was such a fun record to make, so the fact that my little album is getting a wide release is really amazing. I've been rehearsing with the Weird Nightmare band too for some upcoming shows this spring and summer.
PZ: This new project was announced the same week of your band METZ's most recent split 7” with Adulkt Life. How did this project start and what was the vision for it? I read you’ve been itching to get these songs out for a bit. AE: Weird Nightmare came from the urge to tie up some loose ends. I had tons of unfinished or partially started songs/demos from over the years that I wanted to finish. When Toronto locked down during the pandemic and all live music stopped, METZ had just finished recording Atlas Vending and it felt way too soon to start a new METZ record, so it was just the logical step for me to dive into something different.
PZ: The project's debut album perfectly blends hook laden, total guitar freakout power pop and amphetamine-fueled jangle pop, while still being an eclectic listen. Lay on me some of the artists you were inspired by for this project. I totally hear some Big Star, Guided by Voices, 3Ds, Sloan, and A Quick One-era Who.
AE: Those are all great choices! Breeders, Tall Dwarfs, the first Bee Gees album, Teenage Fanclub, The Stevens, , the Nuggets comps, The Nerves, Cleaners From Venus, and East Coast Canadian bands like the Inbreds, Superfriendz, Eric's Trip. So many inspirations.
PZ: What inspired the songwriting for this new album and how do your original ideas develop into songs? AE: I usually start with a drum machine and then either a guitar or bassline. I find recording while you write is really productive. You end up keeping a lot of happy accidents and first takes. A lot of the tracks on this record are from the original first take demos. I would only replace or "improve" on them if totally necessary to the structure of the song. Simple, fun, and catchy. That was really the main thread I was hoping to have run through these songs. When I allowed myself to use bar chords and more traditional open chords (METZ chords have always been more discordant and obscure) I felt the songs began to come very fast and easy. It was like I was speaking a language I had been listening to my whole life in other people's music but was neglecting to use myself.
PZ: Were any of these songs ever initially planned to be material for METZ? AE: Yes. I think two or three were originally written as METZ songs but I'm not going to tell you which ones.
PZ: Take me through the recording process of this new LP and when and where was it recorded? AE: I would spend my nights at the METZ rehearsal room in Toronto recording guitar, bass, vocals, and drum machine. It was a beyond lo-fi set up (which I'm sure is clearly audible) mostly using a SM57 and a focusrite. My intention, more often than not, was to record direct or overdrive the mic beyond all recognition so high-fidelity or pristine tones were never really in the cards. Next, when I thought I had the general idea down, I would send the song to Loel Campbell (Wintersleep, Billy Talent) who was staying at a cabin in Pictou County. He would record drums over top of my rudimentary drum machines and send them back. This approach never should've worked and only succeeded because of Loel's insane talents. He was able to push and pull the songs and make them feel like we were in the same room. After that I would put the finishing touches, overdubs, synths, organ, mellotron, harmony vocals on top. I did a few of these sessions with Graham Walsh at Palace Sound in Toronto but the majority of it alone at the METZ jam room. Seth Manchester (Machines With Magnets) mixed the sessions and we sent the record over to Mikey Young in Australia to have it mastered.
PZ: The new album also showcases some fine collaborations with fellow Sub Pop signees like Bully's Alicia Bognanno and Chad VanGaalen. What led to the collaborations and how did each of these tracks come to form? AE: I'm a big fan of both Chad and Alicia. I think they have very distinctive musical minds. "Oh No" was the first song that I had finished that I was willing to share with anyone and I sent it to Chad. I thought his mad scientist vibes would suit the unhinged feel of that song and that he might get a kick out of it too. I was genuinely honored that he played (Chinese Mouth Organ, Santoor) on my song, we ended up swapping tracks and I recorded on one of his new songs too! "Wrecked" was a song that I felt was missing something. I wasn't sure if it was working the way I had it and the idea of a duet came to mind. Alicia has a killer voice that is totally one-of-a-kind. I sent Alicia the song and she was really excited to do it. She sent me a bunch of different approaches and I ended up using a combination of a call and response approach and a harmony approach. She is definitely the star of that song, she took it to a new level.
PZ: Were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea? Were there any that really surprised you?
AE: Yes, "Searching For You" was originally written with a T-Rex type of stomp to it and was at a much slower tempo. It was a last minute decision to pump of the speed and it completely changed the song.
PZ: Who did the cover art? It’s such a great representation of the tracks!
AE: Paul Henderson did the album cover. He is an absolutely amazing artist (his work adorns the METZ/Adulkt Life split 7" as well as a new METZ t-shirt design) and has designed incredible album sleeves for You've Changed Records and many more. PZ: Take me through the creation of the video for your incredible debut single "Searching for You." It’s one of my favorite visuals ever and the animation style reminds me of a mix between VanGaalen and Sarah Cruikshan!
AE: Well, full credit goes to director Ryan Thompson and animator Jordan Minkoff. Ryan is a friend and he wrote and mapped out every damn shot. Initially, we were going to make that video as live action with real actors!! We quickly realized that would cost far too much and Ryan had the great idea to animate it instead. He showed me Jordan's instagram and some of his past work and the rest is history. I really love what the two of them made together and how it works with the song. PZ: You're playing some shows this spring and summer with Toronto rockers Kiwi Jr. What are you most excited for this tour and showcasing the Weird Nightmare material live? AE: It's all exciting. New band, new songs, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm also terrified but that's half the fun.
Weird Nightmare is out now through Sub Pop Records.