The M Machine say goodbye to ‘Metropolis’ and get personal for new album
Several months ago, I caught The M Machine in the midst of the Metropolis Tour that swept the trio through North America and put a period on an iconic chapter in the group’s career. Ben “Swardy” Swardlick, Eric Luttrell, and Andy Coenen and I sat in the basement of LA’s Avalon, immersed in the thrumming post-show atmosphere with bass lines still sneaking through from the main room above and a lingering electricity hanging thick in the air. Surprisingly, none of this seemed to phase the three sitting before me. The trio were cloaked in an untouchable collected cool as they settled into the chairs of a zebra-wallpapered room, as if we were old friends sitting down for a cup of coffee in the corner shop rather than an unmatchable collective with a floor of fans still cheering for yet another encore on their own headlining tour.
“During the course of two years, we’ve put together albums which we’ve received a cool crowd and good response to, but we have never done a headlining tour,” Andy began, referencing a previous era when The M Machine played as opening acts for Porter Robinson and Skrillex. “Now, we see these kids come out, knowing all the words and all the songs that come on. We haven’t experienced that before. It’s different – it’s special.”
For those less familiar with the trio’s discography, the word ‘album’ would be a grave understatement to describe Metropolis. Released in two parts, The M Machine’s first studio releases evolved from 12 tracks into a comprehensive mythology complete with thoughtfully drafted Fritz Lang-inspired fantasy chapters and a passionate fan following. Transcending the limiting categorization of ‘genres,’ the versatile triad created adroit tracks with a wide range, striking anywhere from indie-inspired downtempo tunes to punching dance-oriented hits.
It is the tireless, detailed forethought behind The M Machine’s creations that sets the three apart. Beyond exploring and mastering the technical aspect of music production, the alluring complexity of their avant-garde style can trace its roots to a hunt within an infinite pool of inspiration. “We’re willing to go a lot of places,” Swardy illuminates in regards to the direction of the group’s forthcoming and heavily in-the-works album. “Our new album is 100% representative of that.” To The M Machine, a world of possibilities opens for the upcoming LP and its live elements: genre-bending soundscapes, experimental visual effects, and undoubtedly, unpredictable twists of creativity from the three brilliant artists.
“We’re working on an album now. We love storylines and we like to describe a world when writing music, and we still sit over coffee and gush ideas about what a song feels like, or what the storyline behind the song is. With Metropolis, we essentially wrote a chapter book and we won’t do that again. At the same time, as far as the album being conceptual and having a storyline behind it – absolutely.”
Since the close of their Metropolis Tour, the three have withdrawn into long studio hours. Putting aside touring and investing primarily in studio time, the group’s work flow has changed in tandem with the direction of their future sound. “We gave each other creative freedom that was more exploratory than usual. We are three guys who can all take a song from start to finish, and this time, we are allowing each other to do it.” Though the still untitled album has no plans to hold a consistent storyline or theme as Metropolis so distinctly did, Swardy emphasizes a fresh direction to come. “These songs will be a step towards less club-oriented music and become more vocal-oriented, more personal – something that’s about our lives and experiences.”
“You’ll be able to tell if it’s a ‘me’ song, or a Swardy song, or an Andy song,” Eric carried on as he took the moment to vocalize a significant thread in what’s to come. “We all help on the tracks, but the ideas behind the songs are distinctly individual. It’s switching from writing a fantasy world to writing songs about ourselves.”
With a glimmer in his smile, Andy leaned forward to continue on. “The most exciting part about being an artist today is the limitless possibilities of what you can explore. For every instrument, there’s infinite possibilities for creating sounds that nobody has ever heard before and never experienced before. Artistically, that’s magic.”
Andy, who not only contributes to producing and singing for the group, also controls and constructs the entire cinematic visual production that has become a signature for the trio. A heavy emphasis on evolving the technical details in both their music and live shows has allowed three to further shine as a diamond in the rough of electronic music. “The magic extends beyond the music – to video, to the actual staging. We started The M Machine with a central goal of creating a very visual-heavy show, an entire experience with lights and visuals.” While previously on tour with Porter Robinson, the three debuted a majestic LED wall in the shape of their moniker letter, which was programmed to synchronize with the live show. Though the M dazzled, the three began to feel the sparkle fizzle out after the month-long tour and looked towards new options for their stage production.
Understandably, after creating a two-disc storyline that featured thoroughly developed characters and plot lines, the importance of having visual correspondence could not be emphasized more. Throughout The M Machine’s new show, action-packed comic strips were brought to life by both cinematic animations and music from Metropolis track listings – a concept that wouldn’t have been done justice by an LED wall of flashing lights.
“To me, music is feelings over time. Time expresses emotions of the feelings. Whether visuals or music, it’s just the same thing in a different sphere. I take a given feeling, or a mood, or even a world, and morph it across time to match our music.” Andy explains, hinting towards the expansion of their upcoming work.
While the three plan to remain reclusive in studio work for the majority of the upcoming months, The M Machine will make a few special appearances. Canada’s Shambhala and California’s HARD Summer will be two of the group’s rare summer performances, and this exclusive period will be especially unique as the trio fuse the old and loved with the new, experimental content.
We capped off our interview in Avalon’s lavishly decorated green room, where the white noise of mingling conversations and ending chords of the night’s final set began to seep back in. There’s a humbling note to the amount of dedication that Swardy, Eric, and Andy embody in their project that has deservingly launched into something far more than just a show or DJ title. As I watch the three begin to filter out of the room, wondering what the soundtrack of their personal narratives will sound like, Eric aptly answers the unspoken question, “It is going to be interesting.”