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Metavari’s “Experiment in Composition”
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
On (or around) March 11th, local band Metavari will be releasing a limited edition vinyl only EP, titled Studies: Loosen the Bands, which will consist of a single, loosely-structured, 18-minute song on one side, and artwork on the other. This release will serve both as a musical documentary of the band on tour, and as the group’s first complete recording since becoming a trio.
Made up these days by Andrew McComas (drums, acoustic and electric guitars), Ty Brinneman (bass) and Nate Utesch (Fender Rhodes, programming), Metavari recently lost members Simon Lesser and Tommy Cutter to the demands of the real world (Lesser is currently teaching english in China, while Cutter is busy with his job as a web designer and programmer). This has not hindered the band’s creativity or drive, however. Trimming down has actually had the opposite effect, as I learned when I sat down with them last week to discuss the new EP, and the story of how Studies came to be in the first place was interesting enough to me to pre-order a copy for myself.
Since the release of 2007’s Ambling EP, the band has recorded and released a full-length album, Be One of Us and Hear No Noise, went on two tours, and has had a couple of one-off stints in places as far away as Boston. It was while they were on tour that they found the impetus for this new EP, though they didn’t know it at the time. “The second tour that we went on,” said Brinneman. “We did lots of field recordings, everything from recording at shows to [recording] in Thai restaurants, to walking down the street.” “Also homeless men,” added Utesch, and gesturing to McComas, said “you recorded some children playing on a swingset.” “Yeah, that was at a playground in Brooklyn, where we were staying,” said McComas.
Anything that happened to be going on when they were present got recorded, resulting in close to 20 hours of raw recordings from places such as New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, and Philadelphia (among others), and yielded more than one happy accident. In one instance, Utesch said, they happened upon some eerie music coming from an old Victrola. “We were walking around in Manhattan, just recording while we were walking, and we went into a thrift store and it was playing this old record, so we recorded it for a bit and then left. So in the song [on the EP] you can actually hear that recording come in, and then come back out again.” Another story involved a woman describing a “wardrobe malfunction” to someone on the phone, while Utesch and McComas clandestinely captured the moment for aural posterity.
McComas explained, “So after that, then we got back and the process of trying to write some more started, and that’s when the Studies idea came up.” But what exactly they would do with all of these random sounds was still unclear when the trio began the task of writing Studies. “We knew we wanted to do something with those recordings, but I don’t think we really knew what it would look like. I think as we were touring we just wanted to keep a record of it, almost as a little audio journal.”
“Once we started writing,” he continued “it just kind of happened. They way that Studies is written, I don’t feel like it’s anything like what we’ve done yet.” He also added, “we don’t typically write like that,” meaning they haven’t designed any of their music around a single concept before.
Not all of the pre-recorded sounds are simply spliced into the music, Brinneman pointed out, saying “some things had to be manipulated.” For example, “the conversation from Beaver Falls had some stuff that had to be removed and other stuff emphasized.” After saying that, the band all shared a laugh and, not explaining what exactly that meant, left me a bit intrigued as to what I would hear when the EP comes out.
“I think the idea is to just make it our own,” according to McComas, “because there’s so many found sounds out there that you can find anything you’d ever want, but the idea was to keep it… I don’t know, ‘personal’ is the wrong word, but something that we experienced, you know, something that we saw, we heard, and keep it that way. We didn’t want to write something just around a cool sample or a cool quote.” Utesch took over at this point, and said “that’s true, because we do do the latter a lot in our other recordings, so this was more intentional about where the samples came from.” In other words, they made it a point to use only samples from these field recordings, and write the music according to that, rather than find something pre-made.
“I like too that this release both documents our tour . . . and something that we probably wouldn’t have released (well, maybe we would have), but we probably wouldn’t have just released an 18 minute song. So it documents the song and it documents the tour, and I like that.” “And it’s a weird song, too” added Utesch, “it’s not a typical song [for us], but then again we weren’t sitting down to [intentionally] write a structured song.”
“I think our goal now is to do this on every tour” said Utesch, “take field recordings and make an EP out of it to sell while we’re on tour, like a different version of the tour EP than you see [from other bands], where it’s just unreleased material.”
So be on the lookout for more in the Studies series from Metavari. Until then, the $15 vinyl EP is currently available for pre-order on the band’s website, www.mtvri.com, and, if there are any of the only left, only 100 are being pressed, will become available from either the band or from Wooden Nickel.