Recently, I was able to speak with Nate Utesch, the man behind Fort Wayne’s, Metavari, about the upcoming EP release for Tetra A.D. (stream it now via NUVO). Consisting of six tracks, the music has a stunning, visual quality, which will be performed live at the newly renovated Hi-Fi in Fountain Square this Friday. Here’s what he had to say about the creation of Tetra A.D. and more of what’s coming our way from this electronic project.
Brett Alderman: How did Tetra A.D. come together?
Nate Utesch: I’d just finished a record that is going to be out later this year. It’s a soundtrack to the old Fritz Lang film Metropolis. It was a long process. I’m really excited about what’s happening. In dreaming up what our life could be like in the meantime, putting something out or tutoring or whatever, I had the beginnings of an idea for a song. We contacted a label in Los Angeles [Mind Over Matter] that we worked with to put out an EP called Oh, Diane. They were totally up for putting something out in February if I could get the track finished. It ended up being this long, 10-minute, three part song, an alternate version of two songs from the Metropolis score and a Paul McCartney cover. All of that together is what Tetra A.D. became. It’s kind of a weird, convoluted story.
BA: How much time did you put into Tetra A.D. after the Metropolis soundtrack?
NU: It was very seamless, kind of in tandem with one another. I had been working on Metropolis for 15 months, when we had the idea to do Tetra A.D. We got confirmation from Mind Over Matter records that they were up for releasing in February while mastering Metropolis, going back and writing, and reworking the Metropolis tracks all at the same time. While we’re not selling them as being related, other than the obvious tracks that are similar. The writing is very similar. They’re cut off the same block for sure.
BA: In its current incarnation, is Metavari mostly individual or are you working with other collaborators?
NU: I struggle with pronouns when I talk about Metavari because it was a band, but for all intents and purposes, in the studio, Metavari is me. Live, it’s either myself, or with a live bassist, as often as he’s available. That’s sort of the end of it at this phase of the band’s life.
BA: Will the live bassist, Ty Brinneman, be at the Hi-Fi show?
NU: He will, yep.
BA: It seems that your music has visual cues. Does that stem from being a designer as well as a songwriter?
NU: Definitely, I’m very visual in a lot of ways. I love movies and film. The movies I gravitate towards favor form over function. I love David Lynch and surreal filmmakers and just stuff that is maybe hard to watch, either violent or absurd. It’s really stimulating to me and inspiring on an emotional level, more than a linear plot. When we’ve written records in the past, Ty and I have always sat together and come up with the story, even if it’s not obvious. It keeps us honest in the writing. Like, “Okay, if the story is this, than maybe this track should go ahead of this one,” based on whatever ridiculous thing we’re talking about. I like writing like that and keeping the bizarre, surreal visual component in the back of our mind. Especially when we’re getting to do things live with the projector and pairing things in a more literal way. Working on Metropolis was incredible for that reason because it was a silent film. It was two hours of footage, where we literally had every second of space to fill up. What the themes are gonna be and come in and out of the record and make sense with the footage.
BA: Given the nature of the music, and the layering, how will the live show differ from the studio?
NU: That has changed a lot in the last couple of years. The writing has become more of a solo endeavor, and I'm trying to translate that live so that I’m not compromising things and at the same time I’m not just hitting play with my face in a laptop. I wanted it to feel more hands-on, like a performing artist. Currently, the way Metavari looks live is I have a lot of controllers and samplers, where I’m either triggering pre-recorded pieces or launching MIDI sequences through synthesizers and manipulating their effects. I can perform a piece of the music myself, while I’m launching other clips, while still having control of how they sound. I describe it like a player piano, where you’re sending the roll through, but it’s playing on its own. These MIDI notes that I’m launching and sending to multiple synthesizers at the same time, but since they’re synths, I still have control over LFO (low frequency oscillation) and cutoff frequency or rate of arpeggio. The notes are going without me. That allows me to control and float over top and choose which parts of the song I want to perform, whether it’s what I’m considering the lead line or something that’s fun to hit with a pad. I’m constantly moving, but I’m able to launch the whole song as it was written.
Something we’re adding to the show this year is I’m playing drums a lot more live now. I think the Hi-Fi will be the second show that we’ll have utilized this. The last two recordings, I wrote a lot of the drum sequencing and played it, but not live. I’m going to have a small kit that doesn’t have a kick drum. I’m going to play these parts in and out on this kit.
The other thing is a weird device. I don’t even know what it’s called, but it uses the force of your breath to control MIDI parameters. In the same way I’d send the notes through the synth, if I’m needing two hands to play another part, I can manipulate something like cutoff frequency or even volume by blowing into this tube. In one instance, it might be volume or filter or delay. But, I’m still controlling this synth that’s running on autopilot with my mouth. It gives me more options and more organic control. And it looks silly. I love that kind of weird, science behind music. At the moment, it’s very exciting.
BA: Why’s Phil Collins in the trunk?
NU: Ha, that’s awesome, I’m glad you asked that. When we were discussing ways to talk about the music and where we saw Metavari headed, there’s always this bullet point that is pop music. I’m always leery to let it be at the front of the conversation, because I’ve never thought of Metavari as pop music. It might be dancy moments or catchy moments, but I want it to feel more ethereal or cinematic. Especially with a lot of Tetra A.D. or the Metropolis soundtrack, it’s darker and louder, but it still has plenty of moments that are bubblegum, so putting Phil Collins in the trunk had that pop bullet point, while subduing it a little bit. And trunk just seemed like a dark, terrible way to describe that instead of a tailgating car or the back seat.
If you go:
Metavari's Tetra A.D. Release Show
Performers: Metavari, Marcus Alan Ward and Dream Chief
Time: 6:30 p.m., Friday, February 3
Location: The Hi-Fi, 1043 Virginia Avenue, Suite 4, Indianapolis
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