Luke Metzler is an artist on the rise. His debut album ‘Portrait Of A Young Man As An Artist’ is fourteen songs of depth and beauty. The album’s single ‘Disco Therapy’ was #1 on WITR for two weeks. Since his release, Luke Metzler has hit the road. Playing in front of crowds at University of Rochester, Binghamton, and Penn State. Spending only a few minutes in his company you understand where all this success comes from. The thought and focus put into his work shows and is only reinforced when you hear him speak about his art. Talking to Luke about his process and the stories behind each song compelled me to re-listen to the album.
When did you get into music?
The singing just sort of happened. I have been singing since I could talk. In a very informal way. It is very enjoyable and fun part of life. When I was in third or fourth grade I started wanting to sing songs and perform. So I performed in a talent show in fourth grade. I sang a backing track to jimmy Eats World ‘The Middle’ which was the first CD I ever owned.
In fourth grade, I started writing my own stuff. I would print out lyrics to songs and just sit on my own listening to them and sing along. It was the beginning of being kind of pop. I first heard ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem. I thought the song and the lyrics were so good. My mom wouldn’t let me sing it. I wrote my own stuff. I don’t know how to play instruments.
My dad is an amateur guitar player. He played in a band when he was younger. He told me I would have better success writing if I had an instrument. I was living on a farm in Minnesota, then we moved to Fairport. That’s when I started to teach myself guitar and learn sax in school. The school was teaching me theory and how to read music, but I was also teaching myself chords with a chord chart at home.
Eventually, by the end of that I had written my first song called ‘Girl With No Place In My Heart’ I was twelve, it was rudimentary but it was my first full song. I was pumped, I loved that feeling of ‘wow I created this’.
Did you do all of the instrumentals on the album yourself?
No, honestly all of my saxophone skills are gone. I haven’t played since high school. I arranged all of the horns on the album. I collaborated with horn players. I wrote the main parts. I still have some of the theory without playing anymore. But with the album, I didn’t play an instrument. I wrote everything on guitar and sang all of the songs on the album.
Almost all of it was arranged or orchestrated by me but there was a lot of input by players. It was really cool. my ability isn’t great enough to put the nuance into a song that it needs. Whenever there is collaboration and I come with this huge piece that I have written. sometimes charted out sometimes not. That huge piece when the skill that the players added to that makes the album better overall. that was really fun.
Where did you find performers for the album?
A lot of the performers were professional players from around Rochester. Johnny Cummings did a lot of the guitar and keyboard work. Mike Lasaponara did the drums, he is incredible. Tank was the bass player. Elvio Fernandes did a lot of guitar work on it. It was all produced by Sam Polizzi. He did an incredible job putting the album together.
The album is fantastically produced. this was your first full album?
Yes. I started releasing stuff in high school and college under my own name. I released a four song EP my sophomore year of college. I also recorded that with Sam. In February of 2015, I crowd funded this album project.
The material was half written from September of 2014 to may of 2015 the other half was written in the summer of 2015 and recorded started in august 2015. The album took about nine months to finish. Honestly, if it was all of us sitting in a room together recording it we probably could have recorded it in a month, I was going to school full time, everyone involved had other lives and other gigs. It was all of us trying to coordinate together and at any one time, there might only be three of us in a room together. Halfway through we started cutting things differently.
I learned a lot from this process. My writing style is already different. I am so proud of this album. There are things that I have developed and changed with that I am going to use going forward. I wouldn’t change a thing about this album. It was a great project with a lot of great people.
From august 2015 to July 2016. It was released in August 2016. I did a little release show at Brew Coffee. Since then, I have been playing shows in bars around the north east. other venues and colleges. colleges have been a lot of fun I have played at University of Rochester, Binghamton, and Penn State. Colleges have been a blast.
Did you do a mini tour or have you been picking updates as you go along?
I am kind of in the middle of it. It seems like a never-ending tour. I am calling it the couch tour. all of the places I have stayed have been on the couches of friends. At Penn State, my friend came down with me and we stayed in his sister’s dorm room. I am booking it entirely myself and promote it myself. It is all was self-done and it is not easy. honestly, it could have gone way worse. Even when it seems to be hard going, I remember that it could be going a lot worse. I could not have booked anything. It is hard to go it alone but it is a lot of fun and the tour is definitely very pieced together and organic. Very homemade so to speak. I am right in the middle of it. I had a lot of dates in august and September last year, then I opened for Joywave in October. That was a lot of fun.
Do you think calling your music ‘pop’ turns people off?
I think words always have connotations. it is almost impossible to separate words from them. I am a huge Britney Spears fan but people also hate Britney Spears and associate all of Pop with Britney Spears. people who hate the radio might connect pop music with what the radio plays and be turned off to all pop. I don’t think my stuff sounds like the stuff on the radio or Britney Spears. but that doesn’t mean it is not accessible pop music. that can turn people off. I try to perform my very best every time and I try to write the best music I can and usually when people hear the music they dig it. So it is just about staying on the grind and getting people to hear it.
Any artistic venture the trick is to get it in front of people. It seems like you have done a great job at that. You were #1 on WITR for two or three weeks.
One thing I that was really cool. I was at a party and was talking about music with someone. The person heard my name and recognized my name and told me they heard it on WITR all of the time. That happened when I did a performance there and did an interview on air. When someone comes up to you in person and tells you they like your music, that is a really cool moment.
You also shot a music video for the single ‘Disco Therapy’
My friend Ulrik Sӧderstrom did the filmography and directed it. I had a general idea. he was one one who executed. My nugget of an idea which was taken to another level by Ulrik. We got a few of our friends who were dancers. We showed up real early on a Saturday morning to a film studio at U of R. Set up a green backdrop and had everyone dance. We filmed all of the shots in a day. Ulrik just took that and ran spent a huge amount of time editing. Every aspect of that video, the color changes, the background changes. I think what is cool is beside the equipment we used at the University this video effectively cost $0 to make. it was just five people coming together to make something cool. There is something about people who just want to make good things.
What comes first when you are writing a song the lyrics or the melody?
It can come from a lot of things. Sometimes if I’m messing around with a guitar I will start playing with melodies of a chord progression that I like. A lot of the time melodies will flow through my head either on their own or with lyrics. I will have a phrase that I like and I will think about melodies that would go well with it or what it makes me feel. Most often it will be a phrase or a feeling I am trying to capture. Eventually, a hook will come from that. Then I start figuring out what goes behind that. It all evolves from there. For example, the song ‘Set It Free’. I thought of the horn line and the call and response of the horns and the song flowed from that. The interesting thing with Pop music is using the vehicle of Pop as a way to create meaningful art. some people think that you just can’t do it. But you can make a song catchy song that’s three minutes and forty seconds long that also has meaning. ‘Set It Free’ is about liberation in terms of love and sexuality. It is about bucking norms that are norms just for tradition sake or have origins that are destructive and oppressive. All of that is wrapped up in a chorus ‘set it free, set it free’.
Where do you get the inspiration for the lyrics of songs?
‘Disco Therapy’ is the best way to talk about that. ‘Set It Free’ is about liberation and speaks about that in a literal and metaphorical sense in the song but that is a general wish in the world or a mantra to live by. ‘Disco Therapy’ is very specific. It is a character I imagine. It might have elements of people I know but is going through a very specific story line. This story is about a person. The person is singing a song about another person who they have an important relationship with. It might be romantic, it might not be. There might be some tension there. Basically, the person is singing about this figure in their life who is from their point of view self-medicating going down a destructive path. They are afraid of losing them to drugs or losing them to them drifting away from who they were. Partying is fine, but this person is self-medicating by partying. The songs at the crux of it is about someone ignoring what they feel inside. That person is out dancing their life away five days a week. There is nothing wrong with that, but they are doing to escape other things and the singer sees that. ‘Disco Therapy’ is about someone who goes out around people so they do not have to be left with their own thoughts.
You have definitely put a ton of thought behind each song. Is there an overall theme to the album?
I’d say the title is what it is. I think this album a lot more diverse than most albums and its themes are a lot less concentrated. In some ways, that is not something I would do on my next release. But I love this album for what it became. The title is a play off of the James Joyce album “Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man”. I did that switch because I am not an artist yet. Everything was homegrown, the recording process, the tour, everything is being done by my own effort, heart, and desires. I am not an artist yet, I am just a young guy trying to make music. If there is a theme for the album is just proclaiming that this is my creation.
So what is next?
I have some shows coming up. I will be playing in Boston. In life, more generally I am planning a move to Los Angeles. I am looking for a job out there. My next step is to move out there, develop myself out there, as well as do song demo work and write for as many people as possible. I went out there in October and had an incredible experience. As soon as I work out how I am going to work out there I am going to be going there.