Scott Metzger pays homage to bats, Katy Perry, and Hindu slide guitar in “Too Close to Reason.”   

March 18, 2022
Marty Halpern

Scott Metzger / photo: Andy Hess

There’s plenty of Scott Metzger’s music to be heard in the world. The guitarist has been creating music for over two decades, from WOLF! to his role in Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.

Despite such a prolific career, one thing has been missing from his resume: a solo record. With “Too Close to Reason,” Metzger can finally cross that benchmark off his list.

Metzger weaves in and out of different genres throughout his instrumental acoustic album, moving from orchestral-inspired arrangements to world music to acoustic “space.”

Metzger sat down with for a behind the scenes look at how he put his debut album together.

Slideandbanjo: You finally got your first solo record done. For someone with so much music out there, it’s hard to imagine this is your solo debut.

Metzger: It was always on the radar to make a solo record at some point. I never felt I had the time to sit down and decide what I want my solo record to be. That took a long time. The truth of the matter is once everything stopped for the pandemic, it gave me a huge chunk of time I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I really enjoy being part of a group so much. Supporting someone else or being a part of a team. I’ve never been in a hurry to have my name in lights.

Photo: Andy Hess

S&B: Once you made the decision to put out this record, it didn’t seem like you had many obstacles to achieving your goal.

Metzger: I was just trying to stay busy and stay positive. I started writing music to cheer myself up, be creative, and stay excited about the guitar.

S&B: That brings up an interesting point. How difficult was it to create a happy, upbeat record with a worldwide pandemic literally outside your door.

Metzger: That’s the power of music. Music is an inside game. It really reflects what’s going on inside. I was trying to hold on to this hope that all this bad news is going to end someday. Then I’ll finally be able to go out and play music again. I really tried to focus on that and turn off the news. Stop thinking about gigs lost. Go into the back, pick up my guitar and get back to the business of making music. That’s why I’m here in the first place. It was a way of coping with the craziest two years off I hope I ever have.

S&B: Let’s jump into “Too Close to Reason.” I’ll let you take us through the album. “Appropriate Wattage” kicks things off. It’s an immediate statement to get ready for what’s to come. Its sound is significantly different than the rest of the album.

Metzger: One of my favorite albums is by Morphine called “Cure for Pain.” It starts with a 30 second thing called “Dawna.” It’s not a song or a melody. It’s a mood that gets you ready for the rest of the record. It sets up everything like, “We’re starting the show now.” I liked the idea of that.

One day I had a gig with Nels Cline from Wilco. We were discussing which amps to bring to the gig. He said to me “I want to make sure I’m bringing the appropriate wattage.” What a great phrase “appropriate wattage.”

The way I recorded the tune is I used a gadget called an Ebow. You don’t see it on stage every day. It’s from the 70’s. It’s two magnets you put over the strings. The magnets pull the strings towards each other so there’s this tension. The strings keep vibrating because they don’t know which magnet to go towards. That’s how you get that sound. It almost sounds like a finger around a wine glass. It’s a really pure sound. I don’t know of anyone who uses it on an acoustic guitar. The sound was so great I just improvised trough a couple of chord changes. Dan Goodwin, the guy who mixed it, put in a lower octave thing. A cool dramatic reverb and there you have it.

S&B: That is followed by the chipper “Don’t Be a Stranger.” A very catchy tune.

Metzger: I recorded “Appropriate Wattage” first and was like, “I don’t want this thing to get depressing.” I don’t know where the melody for this song comes from. It just presented itself. It’s probably the most traditional track on the record. It’s one acoustic guitar strumming away and the other is someone playing melody.

“Don’t be a stranger” is something I say a lot. It seemed to fit the welcoming vibe of the tune. Both Dan (producer) and Lorenzo Wolff (engineer) have gotten in touch saying they can’t get the melody out of their head.

S&B: Moving on. The next song is “Asking for a Friend.”

Metzger: This is the only one I use a capo on. What happened is, I brought Kevin (Calabro) from Royal Potato Family half of the record initially. He was like this is great, I want to put an album out. But I need more material.

This song is practically improvised in the studio – made up on the spot. I just needed more material. I went in the studio with something Richard Thompson inspired in my head with a melody on top of a bass line. It came out in one or two takes. I have no idea how that song goes. I’m going to have to relearn it to play it live because I don’t know how it goes at all.

S&B: I’ve heard of musicians going back and re-learning material from decades ago. That’s certainly a new take. What did you have ready when you first started recording the album?

Metzger: The beautiful thing about the pandemic is there was no pressure. There was no timeline, no deadline, not anything. I made another album. It was electric, but I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. Any idea that came to mind, I’d just go in and go after it.

Photo: Andy Hess

S&B: You made two albums? One acoustic and one electric. How did you decide which one to release?

Metzger: I sat down and played them for a group of very, very, close friends. They all said they were both great, which was super un-helpful. I was like “give it to me straight…I can handle it.”

The acoustic thing made more sense. I thought sonically it was more filled out. With the electric one, I went so far as to send it to a drummer friend of mine to put down a track and hear what it sounds like. But that wasn’t meant to be…yet.

S&B: Back to the album. “Talk Like That” is next.

Metzger: This song, if WOLF! was going to play one of these songs, it would be that. It has the Tex-Mex/Tarantino vibe.

S&B: You think this is the most WOLF!-like song? That’s quite a statement given a song later in the album. We’ll get back to that. You change the sound of the album with an acoustic free-for-all in “Damage.”

Metzger: Being a guy who’s not locked into one genre, I wanted something that had an edge. I’ve heard so many acoustic records that sound like they could be spa soundtracks. I wanted anything but that.

There’s no way “Damage” is like that. The technical stuff on that is open triads and tritones, which is as evil of a sound as you can get. If you played that on an electric guitar with full-on distortion, it would be a bad vibe. Eventually that one gets open and free. It’s really just noise.

Photo: Andy Hess

S&B: For the two “Dream Room” songs you might have found the most obscure music to reference.

Metzger: There’s an album I’ve been heavily influenced by that maybe 20 people have heard. Debashish Bhattacharya  has a record called “Hindustani Slide Guitar.” I read an interview with Derek Trucks several years ago where he mentioned that record. Then, when I was hanging with Nels Cline, he mentioned that record too.

I was like, these top shelf guys are listening to this record so I want to see what it’s all about. I went on Ebay and got if for about $70. You’re not going to find it on Spotify. I ended up listening to nothing but that record for over a year. It had such influence on me. I just love it. It’s an ethnic-sounding slide guitar record over drones and that kind of sound.

“Dream Room #1” and “Dream Room #2” are me doing my New Jersey suburban guy version. The eighth note bit that comes in is me trying to sound like a big piano. I pictured a piano playing those eight notes and octaves. I wanted this washy sound over the top. Get the cloudy ethereal feel.

S&B: Next up is “Waltz for Beverly.” When I first heard the title and listened, I thought it might be written for your mother. I could not have been more wrong.

Metzger: Beverly is a stuffed bat given to us at a gig, I think. I can’t remember where she came from. It’s become our house mascot. We felt bats got a bad rap in 2020. They got canceled. We’re trying to bring them back.

Personally, it’s my favorite track on the record, and the direction things could be moving in going forward. It’s a few separate melodies that don’t repeat at all. It’s got moody passages through it. It’s got some Irish. I feel like that one really hit the sweet spot.

That was another one, it was at those last sessions, the same as “Asking for a Friend,” where I was just trying to get a record’s full of material and that one hit the sweet spot.

Scott Metzger / photo: Andy Hess
Photo: Andy Hess

S&B: That is followed by “When Katie Smiles.” I’m more confident this is about your new wife than “Waltz for Beverly” was for your mother.

Metzger: We’ve been joking around the house that it was written for Katy Perry. I told my Katie, don’t let it go to your head. It was for someone else (laughing).

That one goes through some…unfoldings…I guess that’s how to say it. And then it really opens up. The outro, the bit that’s playing open chord triads, then having two lines improvising against each other, I felt very proud to capture that organically. It’s two different takes, but if you didn’t know that, it sounds like two guys sitting in a room with acoustic guitars reacting to each other in real time.

To make it organic like that is really, really, hard to do.

S&B: “Café Hidalgo” takes us back to the most WOLF!-like song on the album. WOLF! has released a version of “Café Hidalgo.” This version has a different arrangement with quite a back story.

Metzger: This has been recorded by WOLF!. It was another one that came from the last sessions, where I was trying to get out material. I was asked in 2020 to be on a master class panel with some super heavy hitter guitar players. It was me, Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Gilad Hekselman, and Nir Felder. I had no idea what I was doing there. I learned so much virtually hanging out with those guys.

Part of the class was they wanted each of the instructors to present a solo piece. I knew those guys would bring something high level to the table and I really didn’t have anything. So, I came up with this arrangement of “Café Hildalgo” for the solo guitar and I played that during the master class event.

For the record version, I had a four-minute slot for this song. The last two minutes I improvise these sorts of changes that appear on this album and aren’t on the WOLF! album. Those were improvised on the spot.

S&B: The album winds down with “Only Child.” This seems to be a very reflective piece for you. Katie (Jacoby not Perry) showcases her violin abilities as well.

Metzger: It a simple feel and melody. I’m an only child and as I get older, I realize how…you know when you’re an only child, you don’t think about that much? When I got older, I realized how it’s much rarer than kids with siblings. It’s a thing.

This is influenced by Eric Sati’s “Gymnopedie.” Katie just nailed the melody on the first take. She’s such a pro. She came in and hit it the first time. I said let’s do another one just to have it. That first take was all I needed.

S&B: “At Your Service” ends the album, shifting the sound back towards the opener “Appropriate Wattage.” It’s also a similar approach Morphine took with “Miles Davis’ Funeral” to end “Cure for Pain.” Like the opener, it makes a statement to end things.

Metzger: I wanted to bookend the record with something off-center. It’s another set of changes improvised on the spot. It’s three guitars. One holds down the changes on the low end. The other two were playing upper extensions. It has voices clashing at times. Other times they resolve nicely into a sweet harmony.

S&B: Thanks so much Scott for your time. Best of luck with the record and all of your future musical endeavors.

Metzger, Jacoby, and fellow Showdown Kids member Simon Kafka will hit the road for a quick tour of the northeast in March and April to support the album. Jacoby will open the show. Metzger and Kafka will play “Too Close to Reason” in its entirety, followed by a solo Metzger acoustic set of some of his favorite songs. According to Metzger, if there’s any time left after that, anything is on the table.

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