Metavari Band Interview: Studies (w/ SXSW Video Series)

“All three of us have kind of been in bands for as long as we can remember, and always kind of, you know, as much as writing the music was important, have all tinkered in figuring out what to do with the cassette recorder to get it to sound the best, and experimenting with the way things were recorded… And now, it’s kind of right in the center of what we’e doing, so it’s kind of come full circle.” — Nate Utesch

Through the years, “instrumental” and “post-rock” seem to have become synonymous. Musicians as divergent as Explosions In The Sky, Russian Circles, Battles, and Sigur Rós now find themselves holding hands under the monolith “post-rock” umbrella, with the classification doing little more than to set the bands apart from string quartets and classical composers.

How, then, do small bands like Metavari, who do in fact find themselves grouped under the vague-and-ever-vaguer classification of post-rock, begin to make a name for themselves?

It begins, of course, with the music — and then stretches to incorporate how the band composes, brands, and exposes it all. Metavari create a heavily electronic-influenced brand of instrumental rock that’s remarkably lush. Replete with laptop programming and manipulated audio samples, the finished product is pure; it shines in its light-hearted ambience and evokes organic images with graceful ease.

Listen to “Kings Die Like Other Men”

With their latest works, Metavari are making a point to explore the relationship between visuals and music. Every live show since the band’s inception has been punctuated by projected visuals, but Metavari’s latest visualizations have incorporated “processing” technology. With processing, visuals react to music real-time, randomizing and changing with the nuances of the sounds feeding into them.

But beyond even that, Metavari are capturing the relationship between music and life in general.

“We had an idea that every time we would go on a longer tour, we would actually take field recordings from the tour — of talking with a homeless man in St. Louis or eavesdropping on a mother and daughter in a Manhattan restaurant — just absolutely everything,” explains keyboardist and programmer, Nate Utesch. “We got back from tour — it was fourteen days — compiled all of the audio, kind of strung everything together, and started writing music around it.”

The result of this experimentation is Studies, a three-part limited edition vinyl series that reflects upon the band’s journeys, often in visually-evocative ways.

“We were walking, and we kept going in and out of these flea markets. There were all these old Victrola speakers playing these classic sounds, and you’d hear us walking in and out, people talking, and all these cafes,” recalls drummer Andrew McComas. “It kind of captures… the sounds of places we were going and the people and the environments.”

The first of the series, Loosen The Bands, follows the band through 14 U.S. cities, via one 17-and-a-half-minute track. It was the band’s first experiment in composing music in such a manner, as well as their first exploration into the world of vinyl. They went all out, with a one-sided vinyl that includes a silk-screened astronaut on its B side and a record sleeve that fits into a clear, silk-screened polyvinyl bag. An additional infographic poster and sticker accompany the package, creating a beautiful collectable item for only fifteen dollars.

The plans for Studies, Vol. 2 are not yet flushed out, but Utesch explains that significant starting points often emerge by themselves.

“The last time, one of the first things that really caught our eye was a sample Andrew, our drummer, had recorded of children on a swing set. It almost sounded like notes,” says Utesch. “we started figuring out the notes and playing along to the swing set, and it kind of grew from there. And in the end, we ended up taking out the swing set, so now you don’t even hear it, but it was still the starting point.

“Usually, there’s a moment like that where we kind of all grasp onto something and go from there. That’ll kind of be how it happens this time around.”

After sorting through the recordings from their most recent tour, the band has realized that taking an unfiltered approach to the Studies project is vital to their creative process. Overthinking their actions has proven unconducive to their intents.

“For Loosen The Bands, we literally just turned our recorders on every time we were doing something other than performing… [this time,] we’ve been ‘thinking’ much more about it, which I think is kinda hurting the process,” Utesch explains. “… I think we’ve kinda taken a step back and deferred back to what worked: don’t think about it; just capture it. We’ll let the rest unravel when we’re working on Studies, Vol. 2.”

Metavari don’t know much about the next volume, but what they do know is that it will be much more “chaotic” than the first. It seems that many things are in the works for Metavari, including participation in Laminar Excursion Monthly, a 3″ CD subscription series crafted by their label, Crossroads Of America, and fellow Bloomington label, Flannelgraph Records. The subscription will be available to only 100 subscribers who will receive two mini-CDs per month for all of 2010. Along with musicians like J. Tillman and Damien Jurado, Metavari will be contributing to the series. They will test out their new material on tour this summer, where they will also continue to collect field recordings. Vol. 2 will come together naturally, when the time is right.

As a band for which “post-rock” has become a self-confessed dirty word, Metavari have certainly found ways to make that classification feel less stagnant. By paying careful attention to detail, they’ve crafted a sonically and visually-rich world of projections, vinyls, and instrumentation. But the last factor that’s really significant is personality. Somehow, Metavari have managed to add an element of themselves into the mix, personalizing a style of music that is intrinsically hard to personalize.


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