It’s always a delight to speak to a DJ-producer that had a quirky, haphazard intro to electronic dance music. UK based electronic music innovator, Alex Metric, is the golden example of this. Although he’s spent the last 12 years in London, Alex grew up in the English countryside immersed in Britpop. He cites Oasis, The Verve, Blur, and Spiritualized as the inspirations that compelled him to make music. This love for the indie rock world also influenced him to sing in a band.
Alex’s “where were you when” moment in regards to his introduction to dance music came as a result of a missing bus ride. “I know the exact point when I started to like dance music. One day I’d missed my bus home and I had to wait around in town for another hour until the next bus. So, I went down to the local record store. They had listening posts where you could listen to albums,” Alex says. It is then that Alex turns into a complete fanboy when he mentions big beat pioneer Fatboy Slim – the artist that served as his gateway into dance music. Alex adds, “You know, I was killing time and caught on to Fatboy Slim’s first album (Better Living Through Chemistry). So, I was just, you know, sort of listening to it. I had read some reviews about it, it wasn’t really my thing, but I thought I’d give it a try to hear what it was like and it just fucking blew my head off. I remember standing there. I just couldn’t believe what was coming out of the headphones. He used a kind of rock n’ roll attitude to dance music. It was dance music for indie kids like me which is what I was at that point. I could get my head around it and understand.”
“I met him (Fatboy Slim) twice now. I told him my story twice now and the last time he was like, ‘Alex, you’ve told me this one before,’” Alex says before laughing. “ That’s the amazing thing about doing this job – from him making an album it sent me on my journey into what I’m doing now. “ Alex recently released his three-track Hope EP (out now via OWSLA/Big Beat Records) and performed at this past weekend’s EDC New York. The EP is an impressive buffet of sounds consisting of minimalist dreamscape melodies to funk laced disco and house. The finest attribute that Alex possesses is fearlessness in producing records that extend beyond their definitive genre boundaries – a trait that will surely add to the longevity of his career.
Life + Times: You tossed out an entire album in the past. You’re in the studio now – are you working on an album?
Alex Metric: No, I’m not at the moment. The idea of starting an album has sort of come around in my brain again. Like, I did do one a few years ago and never released it. I scrapped it. So, I’ve always been kind of weary of kind of going back down that path; but yeah, I’m starting to think about it again now. I would like to do an album at some point in my career. I’m starting to think, well if not now, when?
L+T: That’s cool. I know from some of the other artists I’ve spoken to, the moment has to feel right. You can’t just say, “Oh! I’m gonna work on an album.” So, you know what? Take your time. Whenever it feels right, it will come about.
AM: I know how I want to do it as well. Last time I spent like two years laboring over an album. I almost finished it. I was just in a completely different place from where I started. Now I know how I want to do it. I want to go away somewhere and kind of lock myself away somewhere – a new place somewhere kind of remote – and just spend three months solid going at it and making a record is kind of a snapshot of that moment and then move on. I think laboring over it too much and tweaking endlessly just doesn’t create the ones you want to come out. Well, I do find that anyway.
L+T: I understand. Ordinarily with the EPs you’ve produced, well, let’s use Hope EP as an example – when you do your collaborations and just even your own original tracks on the EPs, is it something that’s prolonged or does the idea hit you and from there you piece everything together kind of like a puzzle?
AM: It can vary. Like the last EP I had three tracks on it – maybe together there was three I really liked – I probably had to write six or seven that I wasn’t too sure about. They were, like, the cream of the crop, so it’s not always the tracks themselves that take that long; but maybe the process of getting to the good tracks can sometimes takes a while to sort of get the other ones out of your system so you get to the point where you know what you want to make the next one sound like. I think certainly with “Hope” – it was very quick. “Spiritism” was really quick and “Galaxy” was probably the fastest of the bunch actually. I think that’s because the best tracks are the ones that you don’t think about, you just do. They just appear and suddenly before you know it you’ve got a really great track. I think that’s why those three tracks didn’t take long because they were the ones that were the best out of the bunch of the stuff I’d been doing from that period.
L+T: It’s interesting that you bring that out about how quick “Galaxy” came about. You partnered with Oliver on two tracks on Hope. With that collaboration I would think that would add extra time to the process, but how does that work?
AM: God, working with those guys is great. When we’re working together we have really defined roles of what we’re good at. We just fit in perfect with each other. For example, Vaughn is a musician that really can play keys way better than I can. My role sort of, when Vaughn starts playing the piano riff, was getting him to stop when it was good enough. There’s a tendency for people that can play really well to just make it more complicated and really go off. So, my job with that when he started playing piano was, ’Alright, stop. That’s awesome. Let’s move on.’ I’m sort of the arranger and producer when we work together, especially on “Galaxy.” Vaughn played the keys, Oli (“Oligee”) added some effects and worked out a lead line. Then I took it away and turned that into a track, you know. So, it’s really good working with those guys. I find with Oliver it all fits so easily. We get things done really quick. Like “Galaxy” we spent four or five hours at their studio and I came back to London and finished it the week after. So, it’s actually the most recent track either of us has done as well. It was finished about two weeks before it got promo’d. Sometimes it can take months for a track to come out. I think that’s something working with Oliver – they do tend to take quite a long time on tracks, whereas I like to run with an idea, finish it, and move on as quickly as possible. I hate laboring over stuff. That was really important to me with “Galaxy” was to just get it done and move on. I think if you got pressure on yourself to finish something quickly, then you don’t overcomplicate it too much. You know what it needs to be and you can get it finished.
L+T: I agree with you on that even from a writer’s point of view. Whenever I overthink an idea, it just complicates everything.
AM: I think if you can finish something before you even realize that it’s so close to being finished, [and] then you can kind of trick yourself by finishing it before you even realize it’s complete in a way – if that makes any sense at all.
L+T: I’m with you. That’s exactly what I mean. One thing that I notice and admire about this EP is its blend of sounds – it’s melodic, but there’s disco influence and funk. What was your favorite part of piecing together this EP?
AM: I feel like every track stands on its own, but definitely cohesive as a whole. When I do EPs, I make and play so many different records – techno, disco, house music – and I hate having to stand by one tune and say, ‘That is me right now.’ I prefer to give a range of stuff I’m liking at the moment. There’s house and disco with “Galaxy” and whatever “Spiritism” is, I don’t know what that really is.
L+T: Because you come from such a diverse background, a lot of people don’t realize that you started out as an indie rock producer. You actually sing as well. That coupled with the fact that you’re involved with electronic music gives you more of a versatile production style, right?
AM: Yeah, I think melody, like you mentioned, to me melody is key. It’s got to have some sort of emotional quality to it, you know. Melody is the best way to achieve that. I remember when I did “Spiritism,” that lead line that came in was kind of sparkly and it sent chills down my spine. That’s when I knew, ‘That’s, like, your emotional connection to this song. That’s the reason to finish it and see it through to the end.’ Yeah, I guess melody is key to me. I can’t make tracks that do nothing to set the mood. “Galaxy” is seven minutes long, but there’s a lot going with melody in there. It sounds like me. It doesn’t sound like anyone else – the production or the writing of it.
L+T: That’s true. It definitely has a distinct sound to it. It’s the most melodic out of that EP.
AM: You know, I wanted to sound like me. I don’t want to sound like anybody else. I don’t want people to put on one of my records and say, “Oh that sounds like…” anybody other than me. That’s really important to me because otherwise why are you doing this? For me, you got to stand on your own and have your own thing, have your own sound. I think this EP definitely does.
L+T: It’s definitely important to make your signature as Alex Metric and not reminiscent to anyone else. From your first tour as a featured artist with Destructo earlier this spring to signing with OWSLA, it looks like it’s been a fun ride for you career wise. Any favorite parts particularly?
AM: Wowsers. I think the things I’m really proud of – you always have this mental list in your head of the things you have to achieve or want to achieve – within my top three things I’ve managed to achieve those last year, I think for me, they were like really amazing moments. My ‘wow, I actually did this’ was working with Stuart Price (Jacques Lu Cont). I’ve always wanted to work with him. As long as I can remember, I’ve always loved his music. When we got to do “Safe With You” together, it was amazing – just a really proud moment for me to make the record with someone who I respect so much. We did some shows together after that. Then, working with Robbie Williams as well. I did a couple of days in the studio with him on his last album around this time last year. Again, for me that was something I’ve always wanted to do. As a pop star I’ve always really loved and admired his work. I remember that first day I walked into the studio and he just sat there in front of me I just thought, ‘Wow, how did I manage to end up doing this?’ Those were definitely the two standout moments that made me think, ‘Great. I’ve really set out to do what I wanted to do.’ At the same time, it’s kind of weird you do these things and you think the world’s gonna change – you’re gonna feel differently because you’ve done them and then when they happen these very normal things, you kind of think it’s gonna be this big ‘Oh my god! I did it.’ Then, in a funny way, it’s like just another thing you’ve done. It’s weird.
L+T: I’ve never heard it put like that, but it makes sense. It’s just one more milestone that you’ve met.
AM: Right, right. Yeah, I kind of thought, ‘Well, I’ve done that now. What’s the next thing to do?’
L+T: I end every interview with DJ-producers with a particular question, so now it’s your turn to answer. Do you feel that a DJ is a musician?
AM: (Pause) Do I feel a DJ is a musician? Hmm, that’s a tricky one. (Pause) I wouldn’t…god. I wouldn’t say someone who only deejays but doesn’t produce or do their own deejaying. I don’t know if he’s a musician. The modern DJ it’s very rare that a DJ isn’t a producer or an artist in their own right as well. Being a musician means you create and write music and play music. Which if you’re purely a DJ, then you don’t do that – you’re combining other people’s music. It’s a rare thing. There’s not many people that don’t produce now. It’s the way now, but I would not call producers musicians either. (Laughs)
Alex Metric’s Hope EP is available now. Click here to get it.