Much has changed for Fort Wayne quartet Metavari since the band released its debut album Be One of Us and Hear No Noise in 2009. On the debut, the core of Metavari’s sound was entrenched in post-rock, with less-than subtle nods to genre heavyweights like Talk Talk and The Appleseed Cast.
In retrospect, it was the stuff taking place away from Metavari’s stylistic center that would define the band’s future. The collages of electronic samples, which paint the periphery of Be One of Us’ aural canvas, have moved to center stage on the band’s long-anticipated follow-up, Moonless.
“We got distracted, because it’s easier to write in a basement. The drummer counts us in, and we jam through things on guitars and Rhodes and a synthesizer,” says bandleader Nathaniel Utesch. “Not that we were making a mistake, I mean, we were happy with it for what it was. But I realized, wait a second. We’re ready to be electronic – to make this record that I’ve been dreaming about since we started.”
On Be One of Us, Utesch wasn’t confident in his ability to produce an electronic-driven album. Advancements in technology and several years with a nose buried in production manuals made Utesch’s vision a realistic possibility. Metavari couldn’t afford to purchase the vast array of vintage synthesizers required to construct Utesch’s complex soundscapes. Instead, they found outlets through the Internet where they could purchase hundreds upon hundreds of .wav files sampled from the original machines and then rebuilt them back into “soft synths” in programs like Ableton.
“It’s really complicated and crazy and it means that all of our files take an hour to open, because there are so many samples in them,” Utesch says. “We couldn’t afford the sounds we wanted, but we didn’t want to use out-of-the-box sounds. Was there a happy medium where we could take old sounds but rework it and make them new and unique and original to us? Hopefully you may be reminded by sounds that you hear on the record, but they’re not actually anything that immediately exists, with the exception of maybe some drum sequencing.”
The transition wasn’t without its share of false starts and missteps. In the spring of 2012, Metavari successfully crowdfunded a kickstarter campaign for upwards of $5,000. The band had six songs in the bag at the time of the project’s funding. “They sounded, to us, like a good progression of what we were working on and where we were headed,” Utesch says. “But, we all simultaneously started feeling this healthy tension. Like, man, there’s something about these songs that just bums us out. Like it’s just not where we want to be musically.” They eventually came to the difficult decision to scrap the recordings and start from scratch.
“It was almost like we broke up and started a new band that happened to have the same name,” Utesch says.
Metavari decided to crowdfund and self-release Moonless out of necessity. The band shopped around the finished product to several labels to no avail. The DIY approach was informed by Utesch’s day job as art director at Secretly Group. “Seeing how the sausage is made in an independent label world, we’ve been able to think about ways to do it better on a much smaller scale,” Utesch says.
While the project was successfully funded, Metavari grossly underestimated its budget. After the expenses involved in purchasing their library of soft synths and the cost of pressing 500 albums on vinyl, the band wound up spending nearly three times the amount they raised.
“We’re buried a little deep at the moment, but it’s all right,” Utesch says. “It’s all for the greater good.”
Perhaps the most impressive feat in Metavari’s metamorphosis has been the band’s ability to retain its humanity. Moonless never falls victim to the robotic redundancy that too often serves as the calling card of the EDM genre. “I think we all still really have a desire to make music that sounds cinematic,” Utesch says. “Even though a lot of the songs are now instrumental, it hopefully feels like it came from a film, or was a soundtrack to something yet to be seen, or an emotional connection in our life or listener’s life. That’s always been a goal, and it still definitely is even though the instruments are changing.”
A pair of strong guest appearances bolsters the album’s aforementioned humanity. Burke Sullivan (New Terrors) lends vocals to leadoff track “Neuromancer,” and Seattle’s Chelsey Scheffe sings on “See Again.” The pair of tracks are the album's strongest.
Metavari will host an album release party for Moonless at The Phoenix in Fort Wayne on March 7. The group plans to hit the road in support of the album in the months following its release, with tentative plans for a more extensive tour slated for later this spring.
“We’re trying not to be too naïve about where we’re at right now as a band that just took three years off…” Utesch says. “We’re not looking to be at a massive venue, but at least something that has a PA that can handle what we’re giving it.”