Mettle is a new-ish band from Southern California that takes their '80s and '90s influences and turns it into hard rock with a strong sense of melody. Formed by husband and wife Scott Gossett (guitars) and Megan Rice (vocals) and rounded out by Zack Zeit (bass) and Jay Morris (drums), the band has made great strides in a short period of time. Initially starting as a covers band, they began to write their own music and put out their debut EP 27 Ghosts last year. The record was made up of five songs with different blueprints but all wildly engaging, particularly the single "Red and Blue" which was what made me into an instant fan.
Last week saw the release of their sophomore record What's Left of the Lizard and Mettle have built on the success of their debut and cranked up the maturity about 1000 percent. The songs are more cohesive, harder without sacrificing an melodic sense, and just overall better. The first single "Stillness" is the best song I've heard in ages --- I simply cannot stop playing this beast, and the other tracks are not far behind.
Naturally, I had to talk to the band to find out more.
antiMusic: The word mettle means a person's ability to react to a demanding situation. It's certainly a test of one's mettle to start a rock band in recent times. What was it about this word that prompted you to take it as a band name and how do the umlauts figure in there?
Megan: You hit the nail on the head. The very meaning of the word is why I chose it. We are people who put heavy emphasis on our integrity and fortitude in all circumstances. I felt it encompassed all we stood for.
Scott: This was actually all Megan's idea haha. Don't get me wrong. I love the name and I feel it perfectly portrays us, but I can't take any credit on that one. I can take credit for the umlauts though. I did it because I really used to love Motley Crue so I thought it would be kind of a sweet homage.
antiMusic: You're the proud mama and papas of a brand new offspring, the EP What's Left of the Lizard. Give newcomers to the band an overview of what the record is all about.
Megan: For me, I'd say this album is all about really committing to a sense of nostalgic rock… the music that has influenced and molded us. I felt we played it safer with the first EP. We defaulted to a more modern sound instead of going with our gut. We were new to the game and wanted to accept the producer's input as the "right way" as opposed to just saying, "right or wrong, lets do this our way."
Scott: On this one we really wanted to nail the sound in our heads. We are kind of unconventional but still have a love for a great hook. We really wanted to make sure that we did something that sounded fresh yet still reminiscent of music that everyone has loved for years. It's also really important to us that none of our songs sound just like every other song we have written. When you look at albums from Houses of the Holy, Ten (Pearl Jam), and Purple (Stone Temple Pilots), they're all great albums and almost none of the songs sound the same.
antiMusic: What's Left of the Lizard is an interesting title, with no apparent (to me anyway) connection to the material. Can you tell us how you came to choose this as the name of this project?
Megan: You're right. It has nothing to do with the music itself. Our album names always arise from ridiculous inside jokes. We love to antagonize the self-indulgent stereotype of the "complicated artist". There is a lot of posturing in our current time. Everyone wants to sell you their "image". I can't stand that and I mock it voraciously. The title literally came out of my dog's love of hunting and storing lizard carcasses. She will keep these mangled lizards for weeks, all dried out and falling apart. One day I found one and called to my husband, "Scott, I found one of Lux's lizards… or what's left of it." Then we said, "what's left of the lizard… that sounds like an album name."
antiMusic: Scott, one of the things I like best about this band is all your guitar lines. You can't pin a distinctive style on your work from the two EPs. Each song stands on its own without detracting from the over-all sound of the band. Yet everything sounds like the band vibe that is becoming Mettle. How do you approach guitar, combining ability with a direction that is commiserate with this band?
Scott: I'm a huge fan of John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There is only one common theme in his playing, groove. Outside of his great feel, the word style goes out the window. When you listen to Californication, his playing on By the Way and subsequently Stadium Arcadium don't really have any congruency. You can't ever guess the way he is going to play on a track but in the end you can't imagine a more perfect part.
For example, check out the song "Don't Forget Me" on By the Way. His open string delay line into his tapping lick do not make any sense for a song with such a slow vibe but that's what made those parts great. His ability to think unconventionally while still having a familiar and insanely melodic sense are just something that has made him one of a kind. If I can ever be spoken of in the same sentence as players like him I'll feel like I've made it. As for my playing specifically, I usually write all of the bass parts for our songs, I can't really write a guitar part without a bass line it just doesn't feel right, I kind of always compare it to playing piano. A piano player does both.
antiMusic: You opted to play down the number of guitar solos on this EP. Any particular reason?
Scott: Yep! Mettle, to me, is about all of us. Sometimes some songs just don't need guitar solos. I really do love them but I want to make sure that I'm not just putting it in a song because I want to, but because it actually enhances the song in some way.
antiMusic: The shift in energy in "Cry" when the chorus comes on is powerful. Your affection for '80s music comes through with the little nod to Blondie. Tell us about writing this one.
Scott: "Cry" came from me wanting to make something that was faster. A lot of our stuff is kind of mid-tempo, so I really wanted to see what our sound would be like in something more up-tempo. We really try to have a kind of creepy undertone to everything we play and I feel like we nailed that with this. The whole thing is a little unsettling but still makes you feel like you want to move. I also thought it was the perfect introduction to the EP because it kind of takes you on this ride and drops you into "Chameleon".
antiMusic: Megan, lyrically what were you trying to get across?
Megan: I greatly admire Debbie Harry. Her music really shaped me growing up. Her and Pat Benatar. I had a double sided album when I was about 8 years old, one side Blondie, the other Pat Benatar. I listened to it incessantly. I wanted to pay homage to that but talk about a darker struggle. I've always been an anxious person, a cynic. As a kid you don't know why you don't trust the world, you try to make sense of it with the limited resources you have. I really wanted to describe that sense of anxiety, alienation, and desire to connect with something or someone. "Call Me" is clearly a song about a sexy tryst. "Cry" is sort of the foil to that. It's a song about longing for connection and understanding, but never quite getting it.
antiMusic: As with "Cry", the chorus really ramps up "Chameleon". What can you tell us about the idea for one?
Megan: If I am not writing about a concept, I try to tell a story. I wanted to write a sort of pained, lost love sort of song… but I didn't want to fall into clichés, so I wrote about a person who allowed their obsessive jealousy to push their lover away. In most sad love songs, we get the sense that the main character has a broken heart through no fault of their own; "he/she left me and I am sad." I said, "Well, what happens when we do it to ourselves? That's an interesting story that I would like to tell."
Scott: "Chameleon", was really my RHCP influence coming out full-bore. I've always made a joke that I wanted us to sound like an alien version of the Rolling Stones. This song definitely came out the way I wanted, just a funky trippy groove.
antiMusic: Lyrically, "Diamond Eyes" is kind of a mystery. Tell us about the idea behind it.
Megan: Its about the allegory of the cave. We are very philosophically driven people. We have studied and currently study philosophy, it's a huge part of our lives. The allegory of the cave is a theme in our lives. We constantly talk about it, so I wanted to put it in one of our songs. I encourage you to look it up and read about it.
antiMusic: "Diamond Eyes" boasts a cool riff to start. This one sounds like it was really built around it and the whole song has a kind of spooky vibe to it. How did this one come about?
Scott: Haha, what's funny is "Diamond Eyes" actually started with just the chords to the chorus and was going to be an acoustic song almost in the vein of "I Can't Tell You Why" by the Eagles (crazy I know). Megan actually made it gnarly. She was the one who wanted the song to be heavier and the reason it ended up being like that. I made that guitar intro riff because I really like how Matt Bellamy from Muse does a lot of awesome open string riffs. He can take all of the credit for that riff, haha. The tone of that riff is something I have been trying to nail for a very long time and I'm super stoked it came out the way it did.
antiMusic: "The Vows" would appear to be about a sinking relationship. How did this one come to life?
Megan: Correct. I actually happen to know a decent amount of married women who have completely lost their minds. For one reason or another they lose themselves and it sort of just snowballs into tragedy. I wanted to write that story from the perspective of one of these troubled women. No one specifically, but just wanted to explore that concept of mania, the resentment, desperation, anger… I'm sure it's absolute hell for those who live it, but it was fun for me to write about, ha!
antiMusic: "The Vows" is probably the most straight-forward song on the record with the only true guitar solo, albeit a short one. Was it just time to rock out on this one?
Scott: I came up with this because I was really listening to a lot of Royal Blood at the time. I knew we would be able to make something that had their lazy rock style and put our own signature on it. It started much more similar to something they would make and then got way more us as the whole band got their hands on it. I made that guitar solo because I felt the entire song had a fun epic, almost Van Halen kind of vibe, so I wanted to take it there.
antiMusic: "Stillness" is pure awesomeness, with the bridge, in particular, being heaven-sent. The vocal lines on the chorus are excellent. It sounds like perhaps they went through several different arrangements before arriving at its final destination. Would that be accurate?
Megan: Well, first, thank you so much! I actually wrote that song in the 11th hour, much to Scott's frustration, only days before we were to be in the studio. I wrote the entire melody and lyrics in one evening. Scott had to do some tweaking to his initial instrumental to accommodate the new direction of the song… but the arrangement only changed once, in the very beginning, then was pretty much set in stone. The song's concept was not a "power ballad" initially, so, yes, that was a big surprise for all involved, but it's what I heard in my head and I'm glad the guys trusted in me.
antiMusic: Lyrically, it would seem that the flames for another have given way to embers. Given that, what is "the stillness"?
Megan: Like I told the guys, "Stillness" sort of transcended my initial meaning and took on its own life. I thought I was writing one thing, then realized the song is totally about something else entirely. For us, its about trying to hold onto what's precious. Life can be so turbulent and emotionally volatile. Stillness is about that desire to just freeze time in those moments of happiness, joy, ecstasy, etc.
antiMusic: "Stillness" is a perfect example of putting aside the ego to let the song speak for itself. The guitar is sparse except for the chorus but it builds a perfect backdrop for the vocals. Tell us about putting the song together, Scott.
Scott: "Stillness" came together at the 11th hour. We were working on another song but Megan wasn't feeling it anymore. She asked me if I had anything else she could work on and that was it! On "Stillness", I knew I really wanted the vocals to shine so I just stepped back and kept my stuff simple. More than trying to fit myself into every song, I kind of think how all of my parts on the whole EP define me as a guitar player.
antiMusic: Megan, your vocals on this EP seem to be more confident than on 27 Ghosts. Does it feel that way to you?
Megan: I wouldn't say "more confident", but perhaps more bold. In the first EP, we wanted a more laidback feel…think Sade meets The Cure. I didn't want aggressive, forward, diva-esque vocals. We are a rock band, not a solo act with backing musicians. I didn't want to fall into the trap you see with female lead bands where 'its just about her' and the rest is secondary. For me, the music I want to make, the music I want to listen to… I think the vocals should complement and necessitate the song, not dominate it.
That all being said, I know people were craving those big, explosive choruses. So I said, "I will give it a shot". I trusted in my audience and I didn't hate it! I think as a band, we are always adjusting our sound, fine tuning it. I am happy where we are and even more excited to see where we are taking it.
antiMusic: To my ears, there was an obvious growth spurt between the two EPs. Would you agree and if so, to what prompted it --- a decided or planned progression in sound or is this simply a result of the natural maturation process of a band?
Scott: There is definitely a growth spurt. What's funny is we technically are at the same place creatively. When we recorded 27 Ghosts we just weren't confident that what our opinion on our music was correct. We didn't really challenge the producer and let him take the reins. After the response to 27 Ghosts, we were definitely more confident that our choices were probably correct, so we took a lot more risks.
antiMusic: Personally, Scott, you sound like you have some experience under your belt. What's your background in music?
Scott: I was in another band from 2005-2011 called "The Chain". It was named after the Fleetwood Mac song. During that time I really dug into song writing. One thing people may not know is that I feel like learning music theory is completely mandatory. For years I studied song books of all my favorite artists to see how they structured their songs and then tried to draw parallels. After this I went full on in on learning music theory to connect the dots. Many people in Rock turn their nose up at music theory, but I think if you truly want to express yourself you have to learn it. It's just like trying to write poetry in the US when English is your second language… it's just not going to translate the way you want it to.
antiMusic: How did Mettle come to be?
Megan: Mettle started as a cover band. Scott wanted to get back into music and wanted us to have a creative outlet to do together. We quickly evolved past just wanting to work on covers. Feeling we had more to say and contribute, we decided to go all in.
antiMusic: You have an interesting job when you're not busy with the band, Megan. Tell us about your dogs.
Megan: I wish my dogs were my job! My family and I do competitively show Siberian Huskies. I am in that crazy "Best in Show" world (excellent movie, btw). I've always had a passion for animals. I studied animal behavior during my graduate studies, I have published science articles in academic journals, so, naturally, I have a crap load of dogs, lol. If we aren't doing the music thing, I will be at dog shows or running my dogs on the trail (urban mushing). They are a huge part of our life. My dog show friends think I am the crazy "rock star girl" and my music friends think I am the weird "dog show girl". It goes to show you that we stay true to our biggest message of being yourself and living for your happiness. Don't feel like you have to exist in a pretty little stereotypical box.
antiMusic: Finally, is that Lux on the cover of the EP with the cassette player? What's he/she listening to? (Please say 3 Dog Night)
Megan: Haha! That is a good one for her to be listening to! It's actually our little red girl, Fancy. Fancy is named after the Reba song… of course, lol. And, while she didn't grow up on the outskirts of New Orleans, she is from one of my best friends in Georgia.
antiMusic: What's ahead for Mettle? What are the goals for the band and what might we expect in the months and (hopefully) years ahead?
Scott: Podcast! We've had a ton of people request that we start either doing more live streams or a Podcast so we're going to start doing a weekly podcast with philosophy, music news, and probably some comedy.
Megan: The very next thing for us is a "Stillness" music video. Of course we are still writing and playing. The long term goal is to keep promoting and to consistently put out music. This is just the beginning and we are feeling good about where it's all headed.
Morley and antiMusic thank Megan and Scott for taking the time to speak with us.
You can preview and purchase What's Left of the Lizard on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.
Visit the official website here