“I only want to play my Jazzmaster because nothing else sounds like it,” says Alex Edkins. He uses his backup guitar—a vintage Fender Jaguar—only when a string breaks. Photo by Debi Del Grande.

In a time when the essential energy of punk rock has been watered down, rehashed, and otherwise consigned to mediocrity, bands like Canadian noise-rock upstarts METZ are few and far between. With the release of II, the Toronto-bred trio proves that they’ve harnessed and honed punk’s intensity in unique and potent ways. The band’s sophomore LP is a furious display of dissonant chords and jagged riffs, delivered in off-kilter time signatures and filtered through distorted raunch and swirling oscillation. And their live show is one of the most exciting unabashed expressions of rock ’n’ roll spirit in recent memory.

One of the snarling heads atop this sonic Cerberus belongs to guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins. Edkins wields his Fender Jazzmaster like a jackhammer and swears by the inalienable truths of simplicity, obscene volume, and sheer, unbridled energy. Edkins took time mid-tour to ruminate on these qualities and discuss the group’s writing process, the indestructibility of Fender amplifiers, and the pitfalls of romanticizing guitar gear.

The intensity of your performances is incredible. How do you maintain it?
It’s really easy! It’s just what we do when we play, and that’s what the songs require of us. At the end of the show we’re pretty wiped, but going into it, it usually doesn’t take much conjuring of energy or anything like that. It’s kind of already there.

“It’s not about what you’re playing on—it’s how you’re playing it.”

Where do you come from as a guitarist, and which artists were most influential you?
I have a hard time putting my finger on it, to be honest. I grew up listening to the Beatles, and then I found punk rock and hardcore. It’s been punk mail order since I was a teenager—whatever I could get my hands on in the suburbs. The approach to guitar in punk rock is so different than in traditional classic rock. It really connected with me—the simplicity, the physicality of it.

We definitely love the Cramps and that side of rock ’n’ roll. We also love the dissonant, weirdo stuff that bands like Jawbox and Fugazi would do, and even dreamier stuff like Spaceman 3 and other things in that vein. Our sound is a mix of everything we love, all smashed together. I have some obvious inspirations, like Thurston Moore, but I’ve also liked the guys that you don’t really hear. I’m not big on shredding guitar solos—there’s a time and a place for it, and I love it when it makes sense. But I prefer the guys who underplay.

What’s your writing process? Are all of the off-kilter rhythmic switch-ups built around guitar riffs?
Yeah, this time around it usually started with a riff. I did a lot of demoing at home, and I’d come in with a big chunk of a song completed, and we’d go from there. This allowed the vocals to be part of the process from the very beginning, which put them more in the forefront. The vocals used to be more of an afterthought for us, but now they’re a big part of what guides the songs.

METZ guitarist Alex Edkins has played the same Frankenstein Jazzmaster for 15 years. It has an early-’60s body, an unknown neck, and the rest is stock except for a Whizzo Buzz Stop.
Photo by Debi Del Grande.

It often feels like every instrument in the band operates as a percussion instrument—especially when that rhythmic focus is delivered at such bombastic volume.
That’s funny—we did a tour with Death from Above 1979, and that’s the one thing that Jesse [Keeler] said to me: “You guys are all drummers, man!” I kind of understood it then, but it makes a lot of sense now after writing this album. We all play like percussionists.

What guitar equipment did you use on the album?
It’s pretty much my live rig—or at least that’s what I usually start with when we’re recording. That includes my main guitar: a Frankenstein of a Jazzmaster with an early-’60s body. I don’t know where the neck is from—probably some cheap knockoff. I’ve played it for about 15 years, and it’s still the one I play religiously. I run it through pretty basic stuff. I love the loud, clean sound of Fender Twin Reverb, so that’s the platform I start with. Then I run the Jazzmaster through a bunch of pedals to find what I’m looking for on a specific track.

Did you do any interesting experimentation while recording II?
We were jumping from studio to studio, so we were trying out different pedals and amps all the time. We were messing with different things, trying to sort it out. We were even running guitars through old radios and compressors that our producer, Graham Walsh, has specifically to get tones that sound like the speakers are tearing themselves apart. The intro to “I.O.U.” is a great example of that. That’s not digital processing—it’s actually coming from a small amp that we basically just destroyed.