Alex Edkins is the guitarist and vocalist of the Toronto-based punk band METZ. Their fourth album Atlas Vending is out now via Sub Pop.
(Photo Credit: Norman Wong)
Iain Reid and Alex Edkins are childhood friends whose artistic careers have flourished in parallel. Reid has written four books, including I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, which was recently adapted into a Netflix film by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche New York). Edkins is one-third of the band METZ, which is about to release its fourth album, Atlas Vending. They’ve been in touch over the years, inspiring each other and following each other’s work. For Talkhouse, they had a long and winding conversation about where their lives have taken them apart and intersected, including at a Guns N Roses show.
—Josh Modell, Executive Editor
Alex Edkins: I guess we should start by saying that we go back a ways.
Iain Reid: Yeah, you’re one of my oldest friends. Can you remember how we met? In my mind, it’s through hoops.
Alex: Some sort of organized sport.
Iain: I think we would have played soccer first, when we were six or seven, then we ended up playing basketball until we were 19 together. We would have played our first game of basketball at eight or nine years old. Then for the next 11 years, every year we played basketball together in tournaments, road trips, practices. I can still remember our last game playing together, losing I believe in the playoffs, and all of a sudden it was over.
Alex: Huge part of our life, right? The fun of our high school lives in a lot of ways. Before I found music, actually, it was my focus and my brother’s focus and certainly yours.
Alex: When I think of Kingston, where we are right now, I think of those tournaments.
Iain: That was the first time I’d ever been here and it was in the context of club and high school basketball. But I do remember in those years that you still had that interest in music.
Alex: That was growing.
Iain: It mirrors me with books and reading. It was there at that age, though basketball was probably a more overt interest for both of us. I went through a transition of my focus almost solely to books and literature, and I’ve recently come back to basketball. Both I think will always be an interest for me.
Alex: Considering the amount of time we spent together at that age, high school… I don’t think I really knew that you had a passion for writing and reading, and you didn’t really make it public knowledge. Did you know deep down that that’s something you wanted to do?
Iain: No, absolutely not. I wouldn’t have known then that I had a serious interest in writing. I think even reading… My dad’s an English professor.
Alex: He was also a basketball coach.
Iain: Yeah, exactly. My older siblings were both big readers. Just being in that environment, I was around books. But I didn’t ever think I had an interest in writing until the end of university, when I took a writing course, and didn’t do very well in it, but I remember at that point thinking I wanted to try writing a book. I felt very excited by that idea.
Alex: Was there something you read that set that spark off?
Iain: I don’t think there was any one specific thing. I think as time wore on, as the years wore on, reading became such a focus. It became something I was doing all the time, and I think that pushed me towards writing. I took this course and obviously part of the course was you have to submit work, and so I was writing these small pieces. My plan at that point had been to go to grad school, but I decided I would put off grad school for a year, move to Toronto and just work any job and try writing. Which is foolish. I had no ambition.
I don’t think I really had it in my mind that I would do it professionally, but it felt exciting to do it. I would go to a coffee shop or to just stay in my apartment and write short stories, and work on them that way, and I would send them to literary magazines. They’d get rejected. I didn’t have a five-year plan, nothing like that. I just really enjoyed writing. I was learning, and it takes time to figure it out and understand it and gain even just a little bit of confidence. I definitely feel fortunate and lucky that I do it. But when I’m working, I’m just thinking about what I’m working on and I’m frustrated by it at times and it’s challenging, it’s hard. I don’t feel like a…
Alex: It’s all about what you put on the immigration form when you’re flying. Do I write “musicIain,” because that seems…
Iain: Exactly. I usually just write “self employed,” because it saves questions. When I finished university and moved to Toronto, you were then in Ottawa, but that’s when you were really developing your musical interests and going to lots of shows, and I remember coming to visit you and you’d take me to see stuff in Ottawa and you were playing.
Alex: That’s when METZ would have started, like playing basement shows. This is right after our tenure of being teammates and playing basketball and things like that, and I found out about downtown. Our school is out in the sticks. I found out, “Oh my god, there’s another world down there and there’s shows, there’s music that I’ve been turned on to by college radio and things like that.” I met a whole slew of new people who were inspiring. Hayden [Menzies, METZ drummer] was one of those people. He played in some great bands. You just start, you just meet people and you have friendships grow.
Iain: Was there any particular record or show that you went to that made you think, “I want to pursue this in a serious way?”
Alex: It always seemed a complete impossibility to do it in any way other than a hobby. I love this. I want to do it for as long as I can. But I’m certainly not going to …
Iain: Do it as a job.
Alex: I’ve been told by everyone, parents included, that it would be a silly thing to do. Can’t happen, won’t happen, don’t try. Not necessarily don’t try, but do it on the side. That’s what I did. I just did it when I could as often as I could and met people who felt the same way, who had that desire to take it further than maybe we really thought possible.
Iain: I remember in that year or two, those years when you were in Ottawa and I was in Toronto, I had put off grad school indefinitely. You would come down to visit me, and I remember you looking through the weekly listings and being like, “Oh, there’s music here every night, that’s just amazing.” It was a whole other world and I remember you saying maybe you’d end up there at some point. The irony is you moved basically the year I left.
Alex: And the other funny thing is that I went to follow my now wife. I didn’t go in hopes of doing music. You put us up.
Iain: On a really uncomfortable air mattress. I think you had a job interview the next day. I ended up moving back to Ottawa for that year, because that’s when I had been working at CBC Radio for a little bit. The advice I’d been given was, if I wanted to do more radio and different kinds of radio, to maybe try getting out of Toronto into a smaller place where you’d get more opportunities to do different things, like editing and also little documentaries. I had an interest in radio at that time, and I thought, OK. I pitched a couple ideas. One of the ideas that I pitched was to the CBC in Ottawa, to do a weekly book review about old books, and they accepted it and I thought without thinking about how much money I would make or anything, I was so excited that I agreed to it.
I moved back to my parents’ farm, which is outside of Ottawa, but I thought I would be there for about a week and I would do this thing on the radio. Of course, like most things it didn’t turn out the way you expect, it was like a 15-minute segment at six in the morning. No one cared, no one listened. They paid me very little, but I was still excited by it. They ended up hiring me as a producer on their morning show at CBC. I got to stay on with a legitimate job, and because of that, I ended up staying at my parents’ farm. I ended up being there for the whole year and that’s when I wrote my first book. I got to see my parents in a different light. I found it funny because they’re characters and they also have a really nice relationship. It was pleasant in a way to see them at the stage they were at and being on the farm again.
Alex: What was it like growing up on a farm and then returning to it after seeing the big city?
Iain: I think it’s like the cliché that you don’t really appreciate what you have when you’re young, and so I didn’t. I liked it and I enjoyed it. But like everybody, you want to get onto something new and bigger and more interesting. I went away for university and I didn’t even come home for summers. I moved to Toronto and I assumed I would never live at home again.
The first few months living back with my parents, I was not enjoying it because I thought I should be doing something else. A lot of my friends were doing interesting things, but the longer I was there, the more I settled back into life at the farm, with the animals and the gardening. It’s quiet and there’s space and I started to really appreciate it and I started to appreciate my parents more — seeing them as adults, seeing a relationship that was 40 years long and that was still going. All those things were in my mind, and then there was this element of humor. I found it funny the way they would interact, the way they would interact with me, the way they would interact with some of the animals. I started to write these little essays, again not thinking anything would come of it, and then I got really lucky with a literary agent who happened to read it and liked it, and she agreed to represent me and that became my first book, which was a nonfiction book.
Alex: One Bird’s Choice.
Iain: Which was a small book, came out Canada, but I’m happy with it, that was my start. I really enjoyed it and at that point I really wanted to devote energy and time to writing.
Alex: That’s huge, to get your first legit published piece.
Iain: I can remember around that time coming down for a literary event. I think that was right around the same time that you got connected with Sub Pop. I remember seeing you in Toronto, and I think we were just going to just meet up to say hello and have a beer. I had to go to a literary thing or something, my book hadn’t come out, but that’s where we were meeting and you said, “Oh, by the way…”
Alex: I don’t recall that time very well, but it was shocking because of the cultural significance of that label. We hadn’t done all that much. We had been playing basements in Ottawa and then basement clubs in Toronto, very slowly moving up, but there was certainly a buzz happening. There was an excitement about the band for the first time. We had put out a couple 45s, no album yet. To be honest with you, that was more than enough for me. We would get together on the weekends or in the evenings after our jobs and just do it as much as we possibly could. That was the balance that I had been expecting. That was the thing that I had been told was going to happen.
Iain: Music had been a big part of your life regardless, like you were going to be going to shows, listening to music.
Alex: Yeah, it was a passion. I think I was just obsessed with it from a pretty early age. One photo that I always think of from being very young is I’m lying on my parents couch with the headphones on, holding a Beatles LP, and it’s plugged into the record player. I think I was spending a lot of time just listening to music from a very young age. We played a show at the Horseshoe in Toronto opening for Mudhoney, the quintessential grunge band. They got back to the label, I think. This is what I’ve been told. And they had said some nice things about the opening band. It all stemmed from that. That was the beginning of turning this band into basically our full-time focus in life. Which you can never expect to happen even if you kill yourself doing it. We realize how fortunate we are and how timing and luck have a lot to do with it.
Iain: When you said luck, for me that also resonates because I feel most of what allows me to do what I do is luck. You get lucky, someone sees something.
Alex: It was good timing that you wrote something that resonated with someone who picked it up at the right time.
Iain: All the way along I feel like I’ve just had little bits of luck, and I acknowledge it and I recognize it.
Alex: That being said, writing is something that takes a huge amount of dedication and hard work. I’ve always been fascinated by an author’s ability. It’s similar to being a musician, but I think being a musician, you have an instrument to pick up and you can fluke upon things. You can pick it up, and it can feed back or you can hit a chord and go, “Oh, wow, that gives me an idea.” I’ve always been interested in authors. Your work ethic fascinates me, waking up in the morning, sitting down to a blank page.
Iain: It’s funny you say that, because I don’t write with an outline. I think I’m unusual. I think most authors or most people sitting down to write a book plan it out, and they have an outline. I think a lot of MFA programs and teachers of writing will say this is the most efficient way to do it. But for me it seems unappealing. I don’t want to plan something that I don’t know yet.
Alex: Just to clarify, this is the idea of mapping out your beginning, middle, and end?
Iain: Yeah. You know the story. You might even write notes. You might plan it out and then start actually writing it. For me, I would never do that. I just wouldn’t like that. It’s not interesting for me, it’s not fun. I like to start with an idea. Like you said, you might hold up your instrument and get some feedback. I feel like that happens when I’m writing without an outline. I could write for a couple hours in the morning or let’s say two weeks, and it might lead me somewhere that I had no idea was going to happen.
Alex: Your storyline will just take a turn based on where you’re at that day?
Iain: Yeah, that day or that week or that month. Sometimes it’s a larger chunk. It’s like maybe over three weeks, I write something and then I think it’s much better, the direction is more interesting. I always want to leave myself that opportunity to be surprised, to be brought in a direction or carried somewhere that I feel is new or interesting or exciting or surprising. Maybe that’s similar to how you’re writing music. When you guys were putting out your first record, I had written my second book at that point and then that got a lot of good attention and I remember being really excited at that time for you guys, because again, like me, you never anticipated…
Alex: Yeah, that first record’s reception was definitely more than we anticipated.
Iain: All of a sudden you were playing shows all over the place. I was so happy and excited because I knew how you guys were approaching it, which was you were never expecting it. You never thought that was going to happen. It felt even more… I don’t know if sincere is the right word or just exciting because you’d been doing it for a long time, and then all of a sudden you were getting to play different places, internationally and traveling and you were enjoying it, and you’re doing something that you did not think was going to happen.
Alex: You don’t play the music we play and expect to be popular. It’s just not part of the deal.
Iain: I think that’s why at that point I decided I wanted to try writing fiction, because my first two books are nonfiction.
Alex: I wanted to ask you about that. Where did that turn come from?
Iain: I think a big part of it comes from the fact that I read more fiction, so that was always in my mind. I find it harder to write fiction. I think inherently I wanted to write nonfiction first.
Alex: Just to set it up, you did one One Bird’s Choice followed by The Truth About Luck, both autobiographical in some way.
Iain: Yeah, they were both memoir, and both humorous I would say. To me, they’re almost the literary equivalent of comfort food or something, like mac and cheese. The Truth About Luck was a bit of a little road trip I took with my grandma. It’s about us talking and it’s really an homage to her and the way she lived and what I admired about her. That was a really fun book for me to write because I got to think about her, but it was around that time that I knew I wanted to try writing fiction.
I think a lot of people were surprised because I had written two books in one particular genre, but I knew I’d always wanted to write fiction. Thinking about you guys and what you were doing musically and what you just said, “We never thought it would be popular playing what we play.” Part of me was thinking, Yeah, I want to do that too. I just want to write something that I want to write, something that feels alive to me or something that feels real or truthful but personal.
I remember having this idea for a story that was unsettling, but again felt personal. I remember being with my agent for lunch and I told her the idea and I said, “This is probably going to be more like the realm of horror, or at least philosophical. It’s not gory or anything like that.” She said, “No, you should go for it. It sounds to me like it’s something that you need to write.” I ended up spending a couple years writing it and not thinking, really just hoping maybe a Canadian publisher would take a chance on it because it was weird, and I didn’t really know where it would fit. It did not seem commercial anyway. I got multiple passes in Canada, and then one Canadian publisher made a small offer on it. That, to me, meant the world. It was not much money and I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe they were wanting to publish it and they were excited by it. That led to an American publisher making an offer, again, a modest offer. My agent and I were just delighted by that, because it is a weird book.
Alex: The little book that took the world by storm, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things.
Iain: It definitely exceeded any kind of expectations I would have had as far as people reacting to it. People have reacted to it in a variety of ways.
Alex: I don’t know if this was planned, but it’s an absolute page-turner in a way that I don’t know if I can compare it to any other book. The speed at which you want to rifle through this thing is unreal, and the way that you ratchet up the tension. And when you finish it, you immediately want to just start it again.
Iain: That definitely was intentional. It’s not a long book. A lot of time was spent both on my own and then with my editors taking stuff out, really making sure everything in there had to be in there. I love reading books. I like that feeling of when I’m not so sure about a book and I’ll reread it and love it maybe a year later. Under the Skin is a book that I think I’ve probably read six times. I think a lot of people have that idea in their head that you read a book and then you’re done with it. You put it on your shelf, you’ve read it and you either like it or don’t, but your relationship or your opinion of that book is now like the concrete’s been poured and it’s done. I find that strange.
Alex: I’ve taken everything I can get from it.
Iain: It’s funny because we listen to records over and over and over, we watch movies, people love TV series, they rewatch them. But for some reason with books, they don’t do that as much. I think books are the ones that demand multiple interactions more than anything, because there’s so much going on there. But they take a long time, and there’s so many books that I think people feel like it’s wasteful to do that. But I just have never felt that. I love the idea of rereading. I did want to write a book that I felt like there was am impetus to do that, to read it again. I think because I’m asking readers to do that, I want to make it a little bit easier. So that’s why it’s short — maybe you can reread it if you want.
I hoped it would be a different experience the second time as compared to the first, but I just wanted to write something that unsettled me in a way that was true for me, that really scared me. To me the philosophical ideas in the book, they’re already suspenseful. The story already seemed suspenseful. I think that’s where the pace came from.
I never considered the book a thriller. A lot of people I’ve seen call it a thriller, and I don’t think it’s a thriller. I just think it’s a story and it’s a novel, but it’s really been interesting for me just how people have interpreted the story, and that’s what I really like. Some people really dislike it, some people really like it, but their interpretation is always different. I’ve always said from the beginning that was almost something I had in mind was, if you read the book, the way you interpret it is valid. I wouldn’t tell anyone what to take away from it. I know what it means for me and I know why I wrote it, but that’s irrelevant for someone reading it. That’s why I don’t ever like to say what it means for me, because then everybody will think they should think that. The fact that people are reacting in any way goes back to what we were saying earlier, that was never in my mind. To have people reading the book that seemed to me a long shot to even get published.
Alex: You make what resonates with you and your taste. Then one day it’s available for the entire world to listen to and they all have an opinion. You really didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion, but it comes with the territory. I’ve really adjusted to the idea that you can’t make something that everyone likes and actually attempting that is a fool’s errand, and without any merit in some ways, I think you’re making something really watered down if you’re trying to please everyone.
Iain: I’m not the first person to say this, but reviews aren’t meant for the people who are making it. A review of your record or a review of my book, it’s not meant for me to read it. They’re trying to write something for other people. Even if it’s good, you feel almost like, “I shouldn’t really be interacting with this. It’s not really meant for me.” You want to see how people are reacting to it and even when it’s positive, there’s something about it that doesn’t feel quite right. But I think we’re at a similar point, I think you’re on the cusp of releasing your fourth album? I’ve now had four books come out. Our trajectory is pretty similar. At this point, it definitely does feel a little bit easier. It’s always a little bit difficult. I think something that’s definitely different between us is with music and writing is when I put something out, there isn’t that performance element, and I think that’s good and bad. You get to have that instant feedback from a crowd, right? You know if these people are responding, whereas when my book comes out, I’m still just at my desk working on something else, and I can either look online or not. I think there are good and bad things about that.
Alex: Yeah, the live performance aspect for our band is a beautiful thing. It’s something that has always been very central to what we do, almost to the point where capturing it on an album is difficult.
Iain: When I go see you guys, it’s always unlike anything I’ve seen. The word for me that always I’ve said this to other friends, when I’ve said go see these guys, it’s sincere. That’s what I appreciate so much about your band, and especially in the live show is just, it’s clear that you’re doing it for reasons that to me resonate as sincerity, because you love it.
Alex: More than just our long friendship, I’m Thinking of Ending Things ties us together in a weird way as well. When I finished the book, I turned to the acknowledgments and I saw Metz, and I’ve got to say it’s a real source of pride. I wanted to ask you more about that. I know we’ve talked about it, but maybe you want to discuss how our band played a role or didn’t in the writing process.
Iain: I think there’s two ways. One way I already touched on a bit, and that’s just the way you guys approach your music in that way that to me felt true and felt personal. You weren’t trying to write something that you thought would be popular or that people would like or that a record label would like. When I started writing fiction, that was a reminder. I hope I would have gone that route anyway, but because I was obviously following what you guys are doing, and I could see that when I would go see you play. It was important at that point for me to have that in my head. I was wrestling with, “Do I want to write about something that might be unsettling?” I think if anything, it’s almost more a book about questions than it is about anything. It’s certainly not a book about answers or certainty. I like questions and there’s a few large questions I think it poses or at least wrestles with.
I think the way you guys were pursuing your music, it was inspiring just in that approach and it was right around that time. I think the other aspect of why I wanted to include you guys in the acknowledgments… At that point it was your first record, it had come out and during that time of writing, one of the things I would do as a break, I would take long walks. I remember often I would turn to that music for a walk. I’d be thinking about what I was working on and there was something energizing about listening to it, and I would come back and I would keep working.
Alex: Have you ever used music as a tool to get you where you need to be while writing?
Iain: Sometimes, but almost exclusively it’s non-lyrical. It’s movie scores, classical music, ambience. If there’s lyrics, I’m thinking about that. During breaks I really like listening to music. It seems to somehow extend the time that I’m on break even though it’s the same amount of time. I get lost a little bit and obviously I was excited for you guys and interested, because I really liked seeing you live. It was fun to listen to that record, but it was just hand-in-hand as I was writing that book. As I finished it and came to the acknowledgments, it just felt so natural to include you guys because it felt like you were part of it in that way.
Alex: Let’s talk about the film. The untouchable Charlie Kaufman has taken your novel and turned it into a Netflix feature film. How does that feel? When you told me years ago, I was flabbergasted. It’s truly an unbelievable partnership to me. I don’t think I could have dreamt of a more exciting writer-director.
Iain: It comes back to what we talked about earlier about luck. I think that was the biggest takeaway. I remember when the book first came out, and there was a film agent representing me and she had said, “I’m going to be sending it around.” I never thought anyone would be interested cinematically in this book, because literally it’s philosophical, it’s internal, it doesn’t seem easy.
Alex: But it’s vivid. I can see why he chose it.
Iain: I was a huge fan of his work, I loved his movies and they meant something to me. I’m sure I was influenced by him in certain ways. I couldn’t believe that he had even read my book. What really felt lucky for me was how nice he was to me right from the beginning. The very first thing we did was we had a conversation on the phone, just the two of us. I had taken a few calls about the film rights with other producers. There were always agents on the call, and it felt quite disingenuous a lot of the time. It felt like people were just trying to acquire it.
Alex: Put it in the pile.
Iain: With him it was very different. He had requested just to have a phone call, and we talked for like an hour about music and books and movies. We talked a bit about my book too, not extensively, but I could tell he had read it and it resonated with him. But otherwise, he was just really himself and he was the opposite of trying to impress me, obviously. I really liked him right away. Then it just kind of progressed and over time, he and Netflix agreed that I could be part of it and be a co-producer. That’s really fortunate as well.
Alex: Did that allow you any insights? I don’t know how these things work, and especially with someone like Charlie Kaufman, but was it like, “Okay, now leave me alone. Let me do my thing,” or could you chime in?
Iain: I knew he was going to be the one writing it and he was going to be directing it. I basically just said, “If you want to talk to me about anything from the book, talk to me anytime I’ll tell you anything that I can,” but I certainly wasn’t going to step in and make any suggestions. I really wanted him to feel the complete freedom to take the book and do whatever he wanted with it, because of his track record and also because of how I got to know him and really appreciate his approach. I learned a lot going through that.
Alex: The cast is incredible.
Iain: The acting is brillIant. They’re all astounding. Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, and then David Thewlis and Toni Collette play the parents. They’re all brilliant and it’s an odd movie. It’s unusual. I think it’s fairly unclassifiable. It’s certainly not a horror movie, but there are elements of… It’s like the book, I think some people are not going to know what to make of it. It’s exciting that Netflix decided to make a movie like this. They gave Charlie the ability to do this the way he wanted. It’s a little bit unsettling. It’s funny at moments. It’s sad. It’s surreal. People have asked me, “Is it strange to have your work adapted? It must be hard.” It wasn’t. I read his script and I loved it. It was unlike anything I’d read. When I saw the film, I loved it. I thought it was bold and it felt like Charlie and its own thing. He took the book and made it his, he made the movie his own. I’m glad a movie like this is still getting made in the year 2020. It’s not just the same stuff you see thrown out into the world all the time that is just meant to passively entertain you. It’s different. It’s challenging.
How are you feeling now leading up to the release of your new record? Are you feeling excited? Nervous?
Alex: I’m really excited about it. Of course, the landscape has changed as far as touring. That’s the main revenue stream for bands these days. But I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I think we’ve managed to slowly continue to progress. We’ve never made leaps and bounds stylistically, but I think if you listen to our first record and you listen to our fourth record you’ll see the progression.
Iain: Where did you record it?
Alex: We went down to Pawtucket to work with Seth Manchester and Ben Greenberg. I want to shout out them. They’re two beautiful people.
Iain: This was like pre-COVID?
Alex: Yeah, it was in the bag before everything changed. That being said, I’ve always written from a place of anxiety and…
Iain: That’s also something we share.
Alex: And fear and, like you said, questions. I ask a lot of questions through the music and hope that it’s a comfort in that we are all in this together. I think there’s quite a few songs on the record that resonate even more now that we are all in this crisis. Certain songs I think have that tension and could almost pass as being written as a response to it, but they weren’t. I want to mention that one of the other interested parties in your book I’m Thinking of Ending Things happened to be a certain Slash from GNR. I think it’s fine mentioning that. Tell us about hanging out with Slash in downtown Toronto and talking about your book.
Iain: The film agent had been sending it around and someone she had sent it to was Slash, I guess he’s interested in film.
Alex: In producing film?
Iain: Yeah, and getting involved in that world. The month leading up to that, unbeknownst to me she was going to send it to him, I had a resurgence in early Guns N’ Roses, particularly Appetite for Destruction, which was something I listened to when I was younger. I really liked it, but I’d gone back. I remember a few nights texting you because I was down a YouTube rabbit hole of early Guns N’ Roses shows, and getting you to recommend more stuff. For a few weeks there, I was listening to Appetite for Destruction on repeat, and really appreciating it. Someone at the agent’s office sent me an email saying, “Would you be interested in talking to Slash? He read your book and he’s interested.” I thought, “Of course, that’s amazing.” She said, “They just happen to be doing the reunion tour and they’re going to be in Toronto, and he wants to meet and so can you get to Toronto?” I thought, “Of course I will.”
He very kindly offered two tickets to their show and wanted to meet in his hotel in the lobby, have a coffee and chat. It was great. He was really sweet, thoughtful, soft spoken guy. He loves reading. I didn’t know that and so we talked a lot about it. He talked about reading my book, but then we just talked about a variety of different books. We talked about music, being back on the road. I found him really sincere and he was articulate and intelligent, well read, I really enjoyed talking to him. We had a couple hours just to chat and then he gave us the tickets, and of course I thought of you as the person to invite because I knew you would appreciate it.
Alex: Oh my god, what a show.
Iain: You happened to be in town. I remember we went and had a beer first and they were playing Appetite for Destruction.
Alex: Then walking into the SkyDome.
Iain: Yeah, Rogers Centre now but SkyDome. It was 60,000 people, or more probably, full. Yes, it was a spectacle. But both of us were smiling the whole time.
Alex: It was amazing.
Iain: They pretty much played everything we wanted. Then we got to go see him backstage after and say hello and thank him. It was one of those experiences that we would have never thought was going to happen.
Alex: You can’t write this stuff. But here we are talking about Charlie Kaufman making a movie out of your book. What’s going on here?
Iain: The thing that I’ve thought about the last few years too is for anybody pursuing any art, you’ve got to do it. It’s challenging. It’s difficult.
Alex: You were grinding it out for…
Iain: About a decade, I would say.
Alex: It just adds to the respect I have for you and your craft. To wake up every day and to get down to it and make something out of nothing is fascinating and should be applauded.
Iain: I do feel grateful that I get to do this, and I get to do something that a lot of the time feels self-indulgent. I feel I’m not contributing in ways maybe I could with another job, but ultimately I do know that I get something from this, and I find it very difficult. It’s never easy. It doesn’t come easily; I find it taxing but I really find it interesting and I get something from it.
Alex: You wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Iain: No, this is what I want to do.
Alex: Are you still playing hoops at lunch? I guess not now…
Iain: Part of my work routine was write in the morning, go play hoops at lunch, come back, eat some lunch, and then keep working. A very common question you get when you do a reading is like, “How does an author spend a day, because it’s not a normal job?” I think it’s very boring. Most people would go nuts after a few weeks. But I think because I’m more introverted, I like quiet, it fits my personality well to be working just at my desk. I do have to have a fairly structured routine to make sure I’m productive. But I love the days where I’m working and I know that I might get stuck on something or it feels you’re in it for the long haul. I don’t know about you with writing, how do you feel? Do your days change? They probably change a lot whether or not you’re on the road.
Alex: It’s almost like two different lives or three different lives because I’ve got my home life with a kid at home, and touring is one beast that’s incredible. You get to see the world. You get to meet wonderful people and share your music with them. It also can be kind of luxurious and grueling.
Iain: I’m developing a very noticeable hunch sitting at my desk all the time, but with you, it’s really physical. Every night it’s like a workout. You’re putting your body through something.
Alex: We end up pretty exhausted at the end of every night. I guess, but it feels fantastic. As we get older, it takes more of a toll. I think the three of us have really grown up in a lot of different ways. If we’re not touring, we’ll be exercising. Our exercise used to be just drinking as much beer as possible. Now it’s trying to run every day and take care of yourself, and part of that is so that the show can be good, and part of that is just so you’re a healthy individual.
Iain: Not to put you on the spot, but is there a particular show that maybe stands out or a venue, somewhere that you recall fondly or that seemed, you couldn’t believe that you were actually playing or it went really well unexpectedly, either a city or a venue or one particular show.
Alex: Almost every show we do I’m in a state of awe, because I just feel so lucky. You pinch yourself to think of the places we’ve been able to go. “Oh, I’m in China. I’m in Iceland. I’m in Australia.” It’s so cool and a real privilege. It’s part of why we take our show so seriously and we put everything out there, because it is not taken for granted. We just lay it all out there in a very cliché way, like it could be our last.
Iain: How are you feeling now leading up to the release of your new record? Are you excited? Are you nervous?
Alex: Oddly, this time around I don’t have nerves. I’m really, really happy with it. I think it’s definitely a big step up for us. It’s really now just wrapping your head around the state of the world. It’s easy, like you were saying, when you’re doing something that seems very self indulgent. Something like this happening, and I’m referring to COVID, it puts everything in perspective and makes you just think about everything differently. I’m just trying not to get too far ahead of myself and be thankful for every day. We were supposed to be in Europe now. It almost seems like it’s not up to you anymore. But I think it was always an illusion anyway. It was never up to you. You think you’re in control of the situation, but you never really are. Now I’m home with my son and my wife more and that’s a total blast.
Iain: You’ll probably reflect on that and in years and think, “Oh, I had that extra time.”
Alex: I know for sure I will, because the things that I’ve been around for now that I would have missed are massive.
Iain: I’ve had a different summer than I’ve ever had before. I’ve been outside more and noticing little things and being in the garden and things that maybe as the world shifts back or moves in a different way that I will reflect on this summer, and I hope that’s something that sticks out. It’s nice sometimes to just be around home and to be quiet, to be seeking those things in a way that’s meaningful but not just because you have to do it.
Alex: The speed at which we move, in the city especially, it blows my mind. I think the only good thing I can take from some of the health crisis is that it’s made people look at life and their lives differently. I know for me, it’s made me be more in tune with what’s happening right now and not looking forward all the time and going, “Got to do this, got to do that, got to that, don’t have this yet, come on, go, go, go.” I think that is a good thing for me.
Iain: I agree. That’s hopefully maybe even like a small cultural shift that arises from this, that people change their outlook or maybe how they value things or their time, because things are going to be different coming out of this and that may be one of them that’s a potential positive.
Alex: I think people are actually consciously treating each other better. Do you know what I mean? People have realized very acutely that we’re in this together.
Iain: I think that’s right. You still see, because people are feeling stressed and the odd … But I think you’re right, people are aware of one another in a good way, looking out for one another. When you notice that, I think it then increases your motivation to continue living that way.
Alex: I think it’s going to have wide-reaching ramifications. I don’t think it’s going to be a blip, right? It’s going to change a lot.