METRO EXPO: Leaving Doors Open
Songwriter Fred Marcoty of progressive rock project Metro Expo speaks for Prog Sphere about the band’s latest album, the mission, songwriting, and more.
Define the mission of Metro Expo.
I’d call it a suicide mission. Metro Expo is a one-man band that records only concept albums with ten songs. The exact complete name is “Metro Expo Decalogy” or “Decalogies”, I’d love to make 10 albums of 10 songs each, but I think I won’t be able to make it since I’m already 47… so “Decalogies” is also OK, and I can quit whenever I want.
I’m trying to make albums that can’t be cherrypicked, bring people back to this way of listening to music; and sort a push them to make the effort and maybe like it. I leave many doors open in my albums so everyone can jump in, I don’t care if they start to listen track 4 before the rest, if they feel more comfortable with this and it helps them understand the global idea. Maybe next time, they’ll listen to it in the correct order and get the whole point.
Also, I try to put some humor in it, so not taking the “concept album” nominecence too seriously.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your recent album “Metro Expo 2” and the themes it captures.
The intensive creative period was actually quite short. I started to write stuff in 2015, a few months after the release of Metro Expo 1, but I felt something was wrong with the material I had. I was going absolutely nowhere. I didn’t mind too much at the time, and started to get occupied elsewhere.
I decided to completely reshape my overall sound and spirit from the start, because I felt I already did everything I could do with it with the first album. And to do so, I changed my composition mode, grabbed an acoustic guitar and wrote stuff with it as the base. While the first album has been thinked directly for a 5 piece band.
As soon as I was okay with my ideas, in February 2020, I picked up a notebook and wrote/compiled all my ideas. Two weeks later, I was ready to rehearse and track.
I immediately felt that I could write a full story with it, while Metro Expo 1 was more based on inner discussions. The flashing images I had while composing fit well together to form a journey with one character. I had my story in the main lines, and just had to complete my lyrics while I was recoding the vocals.
What is the message you are trying to give with “Metro Expo 2”?
I don’t really have a message to pass. I just made constatations of our ways of living, and compiled them in a science-fiction story. If you pay attention, I never mention that the story of ME2 is happening on Earth, and I never talk about humans.
I don’t like to do morale… And, to be honest, my lyrics go sometimes way beyond me. I strongly believe that my subconscient is way much clever than “I” really am.
I develop some observations about subjects like consumerism, mass hysteria, enslavement and war, all this through the lens of an alien dude that absolutely has no clue of what he’s experiencing, and cherry on the cake, this guy is always drunk but doesn’t know it, as he gets drunk with pills that, at the beginning, are supposed to help him.
The character is trying to find something on this planet that can’t exist without its opposite. He is charged to seek only for good emotions or feelings, but he can’t know good if he doesn’t know what bad is. He doesn’t have a single clue of what he’s really looking for.
I leave everybody have their own conclusions and understandings. But don’t go too far, you can also listen to it as if you were watching a pop-corn movie.
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
I have a notebook where I write all my ideas, lyrics, chord progressions, riffs, rythmic breaks and cesures. I retrancribe everything afterwards, in a cleaner manner, using my computer. I use music sheet too for my horn section, because it’s so much easier this way, also because a friend of mine played all the saxophones from his home, so I guessed he couldn’t read in my mind…
All these are just little helpers, I already have everything ready in my head, including which amp and which pedal I’ll use to re-amp “this particular” guitar.
I always track my instrumentals even if my lyrics are not 100% ready yet. Sometimes, I start to record vocals while I haven’t written a single words line.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
Absolutely. It can’t be done without a serious approach on this aspect. And it’s maybe, in my opinion, the most important thing for a concept album. That’s something I do really easely, I have my own criterias (songs key, tempo, style) and since my albums are “decalogies”, and not simple songs assembled together, I can develop my themes (lyrically or with musical leitmotivs) on 2 or 3 songs if I get stuck somewhere.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
I record and mix in my little home studio in my basement. As this album has been composed mainly on acoustic guitar, I started my recording sessions with it.
I recorded all my strumming, with 2 different 6 string guitars (one normal tuning, and one with Nashville tuning). Then I recorded the Bass, some electric guitar, then only the drums with a comfortable backing track in the headphones.
I am very disciplined in the studio. I don’t have the choice, since I work alone in a quite small room, I plan my recording sessions so I have to move almost nothing. I go step by step, and I know exactly what I have to do.
There’s not much room for randomness in this project, in the writing, in the recording, and in the production.
How long “Metro Expo 2” was in the making?
From the moment I decided to go for it, filled my notebook and wrote “Metro Expo 2″ on the cover, and the very last step of mastering : 11 months. Including one month lost because of a computer breakdown, and 3 weeks when I had to go back to my job in a normal way. I work in an Opera house, and our theatre has been closed because of Covid, so I kinda worked part time dayjob, while usually I also work on evenings and week-ends.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
Specifically on ME2, I used the album “The Color of Spring” by Talk Talk as a reference for my overall sound and my mix. For the rest, and as I always do with Metro Expo, I chose some style I’m not very familiar with, and make a rendition from my own perspective. I don’t hesitate to explore styles that I don’t even really love… People often quote Tom Waits, but, to be honest, I don’t know much of what Tom Waits did, so I honestly can’t take him as an influence.
I will maybe sound a bit pretentious if what I’m about to say is misunderstood, I think that I freed myself from my “natural” and old influences on this record.
I don’t feel any Pink Floyd, or Genesis in there for example… and not much Puccini or Wagner either. Maybe I am evolving?
What is your view on technology in music?
When I started to compose and record all by myself (beginning of the 90′s), I used cassettes decks, not even a 4 track machine! I couldn’t afford it, those were quite expensive at the time. I recorded my drums on a cassette, then played this cassette while recording bass to be recorded on a second cassette, and so on…
I had no choice but to record the whole song on each instrument everytime, I couldn’t make punch-ins and cuts. At the end, my “”mixes”” sounded like I was recording by the seaside, but at least I had something.
Now that you know that, how could I be against technology ? For a DYI man like me, it’s a total blessing! A cool aspect is that it’s now cheaper to get decent audio gear; therefore have a home studio.
And if your question was about Auto-Tune… meh. I don’t care. We live in an era of “perfection”… It’s just another tool. If you need to cut a branch off a tree, will you use a spoon? Of course, not. So why not using some pitch correction, if the rest of the take (emotion, diction…) is absolutely perfect or if you feel you won’t do a better take? I use Melodyne, it’s more versatile than Auto-Tune. Pitch is always relative, and with this tool, you still need to use your ears to tune something relating to another. And not just type “100% accuracy”. See, even with that, you’ll need some musical skills.
Still, I kinda overused all these stuff in the past (if you knew where I come from, it’s quite understandable) but I stepped back from it a bit, and I don’t over-fix my performances anymore. I vertical align when absolutely needed, and same with pitch correction. That’s maybe the main bad side of today’s technology, the performance, capturing “the moment” has a bit lost its magic. But I don’t really blame it on technology, I blame it on our “perfection” era.
I can also say that, with internet, it’s easier to write lyrics, with sites like Rhymezone, and all the online dictionnaries. Plus all the free tutorials you can find… It’s a gold mine if you know how to use it. Also, uploading your music yourself to an audience, that wouldn’t be possible without internet. It seems so natural for us today, it’s kinda part of us, but read again the first paragraph of this answer… that wasn’t available those days.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Not really a purpose, but I’d like to leave to my grand-children, and maybe the generations after them, something else than just a picture in a frame that will turn yellow.
And on the way, if I can bring back some people to the “art” of conceptual albums, that would be cool.
What are your plans for the future?
I already started the writing of ME3. So far, I have just done snakes biting their own tail, 16 bars chord progression. This time I use piano as the main composition instrument. I haven’t composed with a piano since the early 90′s… I don’t know what will come out of this, maybe I’m taking (again) a wrong direction, and will use another instrument, I don’t know yet.
Maybe I’ll just record a real-fake Live of Metro Expo 2, the same way I did for ME1 if my creative process appears to be wrong. This live would be a huge challenge since the instrumentation is quite big on this one!
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