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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

May 17, 2005
Sometimes the future sounds a lot like the past. It's not so unfathomable to say that the best rock and roll of tomorrow could be inspired by yesteryear, and for Metropolitan, it's certainly true. Taking me back to my very favorite era of rock and roll - mid 90s indie rock - they're downright revitalizing to hear. I had the distinct pleasure of talking with them recently, and thank God: I needed more fun in my life!

LAS: For those of us who haven't been with you from day one, can you give a little band history?

John: Metropolitan started out back in 1999 when my friend Aidan and I decided we wanted to try writing and releasing our own music on a shoestring budget. Our first CD, Side Effects was self-produced, a real underground basement recording. We played a few shows here and there in DC until Aidan moved on.

Around 2000, I met Saadat and Shyam through mutual friends and we started as a full-on guitar/bass/drums trio. We took the existing material and added our new sound to it, and have since recorded two full lengths, Down For You Is Up and the new one, The Lines They Get Broken.

LAS: What makes your third album different from the other two? Is there any change in feel or purpose?

John: This album is 100 percent (John, Shyam, and Saadat) collaboration - a result of all of our work playing shows and creating music together in the past couple of years. It feels really good to have this solid document of everything we've accomplished together.

Saadat: We have had a bit more time to write and work on the new album, as well; we went into the studio with more songs complete.

Shyam: We gave ourselves more studio time with this one. That gave us the chance to create a fuller sound with a few more layers than the past albums. Like the other albums though, we still approached it with a very live sound in mind.

LAS: How did you come to work with Jason Caddell and Archie Moore? What was that like? How much influence did they have on the record?

John: Archie has been recording lots of good indie rock groups in the area recently (including some of Shyam's other projects), so we were already fans of his work. Jason had just started working at Inner Ear Studios after the Dismemberment Plan called it quits and we were psyched to be one of the first bands he worked with. We have been very lucky to have DC peers like Archie and Jason, who are incredibly talented and have been willing to work with us.

Shyam: Working with Archie and Jason was a great experience for us. Both of them have different styles as far as how they record and each one brought a lot to the table as far as helping us get the right sound for each track. Since the songs were already pretty fleshed out, most of the "influence" happened in the mixing stage. I think the fact that they were both really into the whole process added some great energy to the whole album.

LAS: You've worked with Chad Clark in the past, too. You all are very lucky - you seem to be getting noticed by all the right people! What was that like?

John: We liked Chad immediately because his history with music in DC was excellent, yet a little different than the norm in most cases. I think he recognized that about us as well - that we have DC influences but draw a lot of different inspirations overall. I very rarely run into him outside of the studio since he spends so much time there. He's incredibly motivated and it was a pleasure to work with him.

LAS: Name five albums you'd site as Metropolitan's key inspiration.

John: I think it would be hard to pin down only five records that inspire all of us since we all have pretty individually unique tastes, but here are two of mine: Pavement Slanted and Enchanted, Sonic Youth Evol

Saadat: I think we all like Stephen Malkmus, Velvet Underground, but we really are into totally different stuff, which is nice; in the tour van we learn a lot from each other. For me, I like Duster Stratosphere and the entire Blonde Redhead catalogue.

Shyam: Like Saadat said, there would be a pretty huge selection of music if we combined our playlists. With the exception of a certain prog-rock band I won't mention by name that I had to sometimes endure in the tour van, I've really gotten to know a lot more about what's out there from these guys. I've personally always been partial to the post-punk British pop scene a la the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen. Ocean Rain is one of my favorites.

LAS: What's it like working in such an astounding scene as DC? How does the atmosphere play a part in your music? From your band name, one could infer the city plays a large part.

John: Actually the band's name was a tad ironic when I first came up with it due to the fact that I was still sort of stuck in the suburbs at the time. Overall, DC is a great town for music despite its conservative tendencies, and we always try and draw from its positive vibes.

Saadat: I couldn't think of any place with a better heritage than DC; I am glad to be a part of it. I learned about the scene back when I was a kid shopping and working at Record Convergence out in Fairfax, Virginia. It never ceases to amaze me, the talent here and the respect we get all the way out to places like Torino, Italy and Umea Sweden.

Shyam: Since we're all basically locals (via different suburbias), the city has been influencing all of us for a long time. The scene or really the community is very familial, since it is pretty concentrated around a few places. That makes it an amazing creative influence because there's not this hyped up band-of-the-moment mentality that has infiltrated a lot of the bigger scenes. For me, DC has always been about a DIY way of life regardless of the specific genre of music you might play, and that keeps us all honest about it.

LAS: Your record seems so positive in comparison to a lot of other DC "statement bands." Did you capture that boisterous nature on purpose, or is that just how you are?

John: I personally don't have any political agendas driving or motivating me to write and play with Metropolitan, so in turn none really show up in the tunes. I think it's cool if DC bands like to portray or exude a specific "statement," but we personally don't feel the need to just because we're in a political town.

Shyam: We're a happy band.

LAS: What do you feel makes today's musical climate different from, say, the early to mid 90s when albums like Loveless and Slanted and Enchanted were coming out?

John: It seems to me that it's all about hype and buzz nowadays, compared to the more traditional grassroots approach to achieving recognition. Currently, if a new band gets talked about in all the right circles, is profiled on all the right websites and gets all the right cover stories, the road to success is paved before anyone really even stops to think about how good they actually are. I'm content to just keep on doing what we're doing and enjoying it, gaining fans and recognition along the way, however long it may take.

LAS: How fine exactly is the line between mimicry, homage and innovation? Where do you feel you lie?

John: I really do think that good artists borrow and great artists steal, and we lie somewhere in the middle of that. I like to hope that we steal just enough to fashion our own style and sound, yet we always wear our influences blatantly and proudly.

Saadat: I don't think that we are mimicking anyone really, not in my eyes at least, especially since I am not all that into the 90s stuff we get compared to. I like to feel that we are creating our own sound whilst drawing from bands we each personally love.

Lately, I've been listening to minimalist electronic music and old Hindi film songs. The beats in both of those formats are very odd and unconventional, and I try to learn from them and incorporate them into Metropolitan. I really don't think about VU or Pavement when I write; I didn't know these bands until I met John. I'd heard of them, but not listened to them closely until he pointed them out to me (there is a lot of music out there people!). So I believe that this combination is why we are not mimicking, but pushing new boundaries, even though they may not seem so big right now, who knows what the next album has in store. We have keys live now… Foreshadowing, eh?

Shyam: I think the difference between those three things is all about intent. Since we don't spend any effort trying to mimic any one band or style, the homage usually comes out naturally. I feel like our personal influences are all pretty unique, and the combination of them all is what turns into Metropolitan's sound. As far as innovation goes, I'll leave that up to whoever is listening to the songs.

LAS: Do you feel there's a chance the buzzing basement indie sound will come back into prominence? Do you want to be the ones leading the way if that does happen?

John: It would be great to be able to lead such a movement if it does ever happen, but its all really based in luck and timing. We'll be here if it comes around again, and hopefully people will be able to recognize us if and when it comes to fruition.

Saadat: What is this buzzing basement scene? What is that supposed to mean? I must be getting old.

Shyam: I think someone left an amp on.

LAS: Are there any fears or pressures about becoming bigger?

John: If ever we weren't steadily achieving a bigger audience or more recognition, I definitely would feel some pressure about whether or not it's all worth it. But what it really all comes down to it whether or not we're enjoying it; that's what's most important.

Saadat: Good God, do I have fun with these fools in this band. We're laughing the entire drive up to our last show. Lots of fun, and "the new guy" fits right in as well.

Shyam: I'm trying to lose some weight.

LAS: How weird is it for you to go on stage and see that there are people out there who've come just to see you? I would think you get used to an audience, like, say, with your time supporting the Cassettes or Travis Morrison as you do, but as a unit, is it strange to headline?

Saadat: I was a bit taken aback by our last black cat show. I believe Metropolitan is doing just as good at home as my other bands, I am very proud of our music, I love playing shows in general, I don't care if we headline or not.

John: I know that every time we play shows there are people there for all kinds of reasons: the other groups we play in, people we work with, friends of friends, and so on. So our audience has always been a mix of all the different ways people know of us or have found out about us, regardless of how or why.

Shyam: I usually don't think too much about whether we're headlining a show or supporting someone else. When we're playing our set it's just really fun for me. We've played a lot of different kind of shows and each one had some weird moments, but on stage it's always been about having a good time.

LAS: What's the biggest compliment you've received on your music?

John: That's hard to say, but I personally know that when our good friend Jo told me that our album, Down For You Is Up, got her through some tough times, I was really moved. To think that someone could come back to a record that we made and feel comfort or even have it help ease some pain, well, that's really amazing.

Saadat: Compliments are so humbling, I feel a certain way about bands I love and when people say things to us that I would say to my favorite bands, I feel very flattered yet strange at the same time. Ted Magsig from Record Convergence pulled my twin brother and me aside after seeing my first band play their first show and said, "You two need two play music; I think it would be bad idea if you don't." That is what keeps me going.

Shyam: The best thing I heard was from a friend of ours who told me that they could "hear" how much fun we were having on our albums. That's why I'm so proud of this band.

LAS: What are your goals for your next album?

John: To make the best record we can, one that we personally can enjoy - I always get super excited about our new material, and with every new album I get more and more psyched about what's to come.

Saadat: I want to bring in new instrumentation and push boundaries. Write unconventional beats, play more tabla. I've been listening to bands like Deerhoof, Mercury Program, Engine Down and Pinback… they're onto something. That's not to say that's what John, Shyam and Miguel will bring to the table; they can bring whatever they want. "You dip the way you wanna dip, and I'll… dip the way I wanna dip" - George Castanza.

Shyam: I was going to say rock opera… but…

SEE ALSO: www.metropolitansound.com

Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other articles by Sarah Peters.



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