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“I’ve come back home to the sound that is really me”: Metrik’s journey to Ex Machina

For many artists, album three represents a continuation of the sound they have been developing for years – a reaffirmation of the style they have built a reputation for. But for Metrik, his third album Ex Machina represents something entirely different. It signals a new chapter for his sound.

Four years on from the release of LIFE/THRILLS, Ex Machina embodies a darker, more techy version of Metrik – a desired sound that has always been there bubbling away in the back of his mind, but one he has spent years struggling to fully unlock.

That was until he found the solution in performing his own vocals – the key opening a new avenue of creativity for the artist, where he is able to give more of himself away as a person than ever before. The sort of music giving you a deep insight into the mind of a producer who has spent years trying to work out what really makes him tick.

It has not been an easy process for Metrik to reach Ex Machina. It has been a journey laden with pressure, challenges, and above all some intensive soul searching. But all of this has led Metrik to create a body of work portraying the most crystallised version of his sound yet. One built around an immaculate concept driven by a cinematic, space-fuelled story, which listeners can immerse themselves in during a time when many feel isolated.

UKF caught up with Metrik to learn more about his journey to Ex Machina.

It’s finally released… How are you feeling?

So excited! For me, this album represents a new chapter in my music. With this album I really dug deep to try and discover what it is about my music that is unique. A huge part of that was identifying what my core sound is and amplifying it. Instead of exploring a range of different styles, this album is focused around a very specific sound palette.

And that sound revolves around your own vocals?

Definitely. This album is 100% my own vocals. It’s something I had never really explored up until this point, and there was a part of me that felt apprehensive about doing it. But in those situations you’ve just got to get over yourself and have a go because no one cares – nobody is watching other than yourself. I discovered very quickly that I loved the process. It really resonated with me.

Like finding the missing piece of the puzzle?

Yeah! At the time I became obsessive about finding my sound. I had to ask myself – who am I? What am I trying to represent? It has been a potholed journey requiring lots of research, discipline and looking inwards. There is always the temptation to get distracted trying different things, especially because I’m ADHD… But when I finally got my head around the vocals I realised I had found something unique. When I put out Gravity I was overwhelmed by the response to it. I then released We Are The Energy and both tracks really connected. It’s an amazing feeling knowing I have been on the right track and it hasn’t just been me on some delusional quest…

It’s interesting you say you’ve been searching for your sound because I got that impression from LIFE/THRILLS.

LIFE/THRILLS was an interesting album because I wanted to throw out the rulebook. As an artist you’ll often hear people say “you have to find your unique musical identity and stick to it”, but that album was in many ways me rebelling against that. I was like – you know what? I’m just going to write whatever the hell I want… Ex Machina is very different because it’s far more of an artist album where I set out to create a universe around a defined sound.

It sounds like you’ve done some deep soul searching…

Definitely. It has been a difficult but very rewarding challenge. I feel so liberated by the process I went through and I want to keep making music like this forever. I’ve got my core sound now and I can go into it whenever I want. It’s my voice, my synthesiser, my guitar and my computer, and that’s the main difference to my older work.

Previously you’ve described your sound as high energy, cinematic, futuristic music, and with Ex Machina it sounds like you’ve really been able to express that.

Yeah! I aspire to make futuristic sounding music and that’s why I’ve always been drawn to drum and bass. When making music I think it’s crucial to analyse the music you love the most, figure out what the most fascinating aspect of it is, then dial into it. This album is me doing just that.

I feel like you had elements of that sound on Universal Language, but with the addition of your own vocals it’s like you’ve been able to fully hone it.

Yeah you’re right, there are a lot of similarities to the first album because I was in a similar place creatively and personally. In retrospect, Universal Language sounds like an early Metrik prototype, whereas LIFE/THRILLS was me rebelling against creative conformity. With this album I’ve come back home to the sound that is really me and is an honest representation of what I’m about. In a way I wish I’d discovered this much earlier in my career. To find your sound on album three is perhaps a little late in the game, but then that’s sometimes the way in life. It can tear you up questioning if you could have done things sooner, but ultimately I’m at peace with it because it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

The journey has clearly allowed you to discover the music you really like.

Definitely. The cinematic aspect of this project has been particularly fun because a lot of the tracks have strong themes alluding to otherworldly sci-fi concepts. I wanted to create mystique by building a narrative through visuals that tie in with the music. The album title Ex Machina derives from a well-worn sci-fi trope “Deus Ex Machina” – literally meaning God from within the machine. It’s used to define an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation. In this case, the machine is represented by the monolith. It felt very fitting for the landscape of 2020.

And you worked with a visual designer to bring your vision to life?

Vitaliy Havrylyuk is the mastermind behind the videos, he is a genius. We sketched out a narrative together, which he then elevated to places I couldn’t even imagine. He created the Gravity music video as well as the video for Dying Light, my collaboration with ShockOne. When I dropped the album trailer my fanbase got so excited for what was to come and the Dying Light video really lives up to that spectacle. For those familiar with the Gravity video, Dying Light is essentially part two of the story and delves deeper into the origins of the monolith and why it arrived.

That’s awesome!

Thanks man. The story is centred around the question of – does the monolith have a positive influence on humanity, or a negative one? Is it artificial? Is it a deity? No one is really sure where it came from… But the message is one of hope. Given the current times we live in, I felt it was important to get that across. It’s kinda like Kubrik’s 2001 Space Odyssey, but flipped into a far more optimistic vision.

It’s amazing having that underlying story because an album without a story behind it is a lot harder to connect with.

It’s really cool you say that. I believe now more than ever that if I can build a universe people can immerse themselves in through awesome music and visuals that create a way of forgetting about everything – even if it’s just for the duration of time spent listening to the album – I’ve done something right. I want to take people somewhere else and capture their imagination in the same way great movies, video games and albums do. That has always been it for me. I’ve never pushed a political agenda. It’s all about using music to create escapism through a colourful space outside of the negativity, the toxicity and the mundane.

It’s fitting because space is the furthest place away from everything…

Haha yeah, that’s absolutely true! I guess every now and then you just need a drum and bass rocket ship to send you up to Mars…

Absolutely! It’s great to see how involved you’ve been in the design side of the album. It makes it that bit more personal.

Yeah definitely! Graphic design has always been my passion alongside music, so I built a lot of the graphics for Ex Machina, including video teasers, live visuals, typography and logotypes. It’s my way of visually augmenting my musical ideas. I wanted to create this pseudo-propaganda feel, so with a lot of the type themes they suit the darker side of the album. I’ve been pushing out this EXMMXX code on my live streams and people have been like “what is this?” I’ve been flashing the code every now and then to create a sense of intrigue. My virtual album launch showcased some of these themes, bringing the music to life alongside giving a visual insight into what goes on in my head. I really wanted it to be a cinematic experience and to set the tone for my live show in the future.

I do admire those little details because they make it more than just an album, it’s a themed journey.

I’m really glad that comes across because I wanted to enhance the feeling of otherworldliness. That’s the theme I’ve really tried to hit home with the branding. I saw the current situation and the way it’s difficult for so many people, and it inspired me to go deeper with the conceptual side of the album. Rather than shy away from the difficulty of releasing an album during this time, I saw it as an opportunity to make the album even more immersive. After finishing the music for the album, the design side of it turned into a full-time job… 

Ex Machina definitely pushes a much darker theme than your previous work.

It’s funny because recently I was told “you don’t have to write every song about black holes, you know?” Haha. There’s definitely a tendency in my writing to explore human situations through a metaphorical lens. The next step for me is to develop my ability so that I can give a bit more of myself away, instead of putting everything through the “space filter”…

Is that just where you feel most comfortable at the moment?

Yeah I suppose there is a bit of vulnerability and honesty to the songs I write because it’s not like I studied what the rules are. They come from quite a pure place. There’s something very free about writing without too many rules. There is a track on the album called Shadows, which was the first song I ever wrote. That came together at a really sad time in my life. Although you wouldn’t necessarily think the song sounds like it was written by someone who had experienced a loss, I feel like that emotion carries through into the lyrics. Writing lyrics is like a new frontier for me because I am putting myself out there like never before.

Shadows is a very cinematic track, which is fitting because the end of a life is a cinematic experience.

Absolutely. I had to resist the temptation to execute that song in too much of a melancholic style. That was really down to my choice of chords. The track is anchored in melancholic minor chords, which then open up into major chords giving the track a sense of optimism. The interplay of the minor and major/the sad and the optimistic has always influenced the music I make.

I do like how you balance the album’s high-energy tracks with dreamy ones like Shadows and Time to Let Go.

When I was writing the album I was having so much fun with the heavier side of my new sound, but I had to stop and create some reflective moments. Time to Let Go is one of those. The idea came to me when I was watching an animated series called Love, Death & Robots. I really connected with it. When writing a string part for the track I had the film muted in the background as if I was scoring for it. The strings I wrote suggested I should throw out the typical condensed D&B arrangement and instead go on a journey. It actually all went a bit out of control… I ended up having 16 or 18 parts consisting of guitars, strings, synth arpeggios, lead lines, multi-layered vocals. Trying to get them to fit together in the final mix was a bit like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded.

I can imagine! It’s refreshing to have the album so centred around your identity, as opposed to featuring loads of collaborations.

The identity is definitely the defining aspect of this album. Around the time of writing I was in regular contact with my boys Grafix and ShockOne, who are great friends of mine. I knew I wanted to involve them in the project. I was so happy with how the collaborations came out because you can hear our distinctive styles in them. It also massively helps that we’re all massive sci-fi nerds…

I’m sure they’ve been just as excited for you to release the album as your fans have, seeing as things have been very quiet on the Metrik front the last few years…

It has been amazing to see the response! Previously I’ve been a closed book in the respect that I’ve been known to have a clinical style of communication on social media. In reality that’s not me. In my heart I like making connections and I’m very social. It has almost felt at odds with my personality to have an online persona like Metrik. Quite frankly, being so held back is boring. I’ve absolutely loved being able to reach out more with my fanbase over the last few months.

Clearly your fans respect you for it though.

I actually realised recently that a lot of people have been following me since 2007/2008, which seems like a lifetime ago. A lot of those people have watched me grow up. I was just a kid back then. It has been such a long process to get to where I am now. I’m very happy to still be here doing this over 10 years later. I’ve been developing as an artist for a fair few years now, and Ex Machina is the culmination of all those years. It’s the body of work I’m most proud of, by far. This is the beginning of the next chapter.

Metrik – Ex Machina is out now – https://metrikmusic.lnk.to/ExMachina

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