GREETINGS FROM METZGERVILLE

By John-Ryan Hevron

SCOTT "BOOTS" METZGER called me a few weeks ago and left this message on my voice mail:

"Hey, if you're looking for a way to start your story, well, we're on the road and the van just broke down outside of Elk Horn, Ohio. We've been waiting for three hours in the rain for the tow truck, and we're all out of cigarettes. It doesn't get any more rock-and-roll than this."


Scott Metzger
Van breakdowns not included, Scott has had a great year. His main band, RANA, returned to writing and performing after an eight month hiatus, and his list of sit-ins and side projects grows every day. So far this year, he's been invited to share the stage with Gov't Mule, Cracker, The Duo with Mike Gordon, and Galactic. His current side-projects include Flying Circus (with Marc Brownstein and Aaron Magner from the Disco Biscuits and Joe Russo), The Party (with Dave Dreiwitz and Claude Coleman Jr. of Ween), Bustle in Your Hedgerow (with The Duo and Dave Dreiwitz), DanjaBoots (with Joe Russo of The Duo), Hell Is For Children (with Joe Russo, Claude Coleman Jr., and Dave Dreiwitz), Chris Harford's Band of Changes (a rotating lineup including most of Ween), and Scott's new band, Greetings from Metzgerville (with Justin Wallace of Ulu and Kevin Kendricks of Fat Mama), which is currently in the middle of a residency at The Knitting Factory in New York. Perhaps Scott's coolest guest appearance of the year was a solo performance of "Little Wing" as the bride walked down the aisle at an upstate New York wedding this summer.

The first time I remember seeing Scott play was in the summer of 2001 at the now defunct Wetlands to celebrate club booker Jake "Flaco" Szufnarowski's birthday. It was one of those epic New York City late-night Thursday shows where everyone is pushing it on a school night. The club was brutally hot, the band was raw, and the crowd was sloppy. In addition to their own songs, RANA covered songs by Prince, Michael Jackson, Dire Straits, Ween, and Weezer. They even tackled the theme from The Legend of Zelda and played their own song "Backstage Pass" twice on Jake's request. What stands out in my hazy memory of that night is the punkish intensity with which Scott attacked his black Les Paul. I can still see him standing at the front of that low stage, a mess of hair, purpled-tinted from the stage lights, with a lit Camel barely hanging from his bottom lip as he soloed open-mouthed, teasing and working every note. Scott's playing has developed an amazing flexibility, fluidity, and confidence since that show, but somehow he's managed to maintain the wasty, heavily Ween-influenced rock-and-roll vibe of that night.


Scott Metzger with Gov't Mule by Eric Mohl
Though Scott is still relatively unknown outside of New York City, a lot of big-name artists are well aware of him. He recently auditioned to play with Joan Osborne's band, and last fall he flew down to Nashville to play on some sessions with Steve Winwood. Disco Biscuits bass player Marc Brownstein explains the appeal of Scott's playing, "The way that he can get one note to sing, that's what Metzger brings to the table that a lot of younger guys don't have. Also, he moves from one genre to the next so seamlessly. I'm not talking about within the course of a song. I'm talking about going from one band to another and being completely comfortable. It takes musical maturity to be able to seamlessly blend in with different genres." Mickey Melchiondo aka Dean Ween adds, "He's a great guitar player. [When I first saw him play,] he was young and he was really, really good. And every single time I've seen him play since then, it seems like he's improved 200%." Scott's Amfibian band leader and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall says, "Man, all I remember is just how positive he is, just always looking to the future, how to make the song better, and how intense he was at learning stuff. I begged him to play on the new album that we're recording now." Perhaps the greatest compliment so far comes from Warren Haynes, who recounts one of Scott's sit-ins with Gov't Mule this past summer, "Scott sat in with Gov't Mule at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut for our encore performance of Neil Young's 'Cortez The Killer.' No rehearsal whatsoever, we just winged it, Scott playing totally by instinct and intuition. He did a great job."

 
There was a short period where [Trey and I] were holding onto this bulk of music which Phish may or may not have been excited to use. So we formed a band called Utalk with Matt Kohut on bass. Our first rehearsal in Vermont was disastrous for one reason or another. On the drive back, Matt told me of a guitarist who could fill in the Trey slot of our band. I listened to Scott play and just couldn't believe how good he was. Just an amazing kid.

-Tom Marshall of Amfibian and Utalk (and Phish Lyricist).

 
Scott Metzger

Scott grew up in Lambertville, New Jersey, which is walking distance to New Hope, home to the famous club John & Peters and all things Ween. Whenever he visits his mom's house, he also stops off at Ween's studio to hang out with Mickey, watch ESPN, and play guitar. Scott started on saxophone in middle school but moved to guitar by 8th grade. His early playing was inspired by aggressive blues players like Albert Collins, Albert King, and Son Seals. Though he played with a few punk and Ramones-type cover bands in high school, he didn't gig with his first real band, F-Hole, until three days after his high school graduation in 1996. The other two members of the trio were veterans of the close-knit Jersey music scene. Bassist Matt Kohut not only played bass with Ween on their 12 Golden Greats tour in 1995, he also attended Princeton Day School (a New Jersey high school) with Phish lyricist Tom Marshall and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. Kohut later recommended Scott to Tom Marshall for guitar duties in the band that would become Amfibian. Marshall explains, "There was a short period where [Trey and I] were holding onto this bulk of music which Phish may or may not have been excited to use. So we formed a band called Utalk with Matt Kohut on bass. Our first rehearsal in Vermont was disastrous for one reason or another. On the drive back, Matt told me of a guitarist who could fill in the Trey slot of our band. I listened to Scott play and just couldn't believe how good he was. Just an amazing kid." The fact that Scott was playing with two different bands that shared members wasn't unusual. As Mickey from Ween describes the Jersey music community, "There's just a very organic scene down here of friends and people that interchange. I think there are about a dozen of us that make up like twenty bands." He adds, "I mean, people need to figure out that all the best players are from New Jersey. Our group of friends rocks harder than anybody."


Scott Metzger with RANA by Rena Sewig
During this incarnation of Amfibian, Scott got his first chance to play with Trey Anastasio. As Scott explains it, "Amfibian was playing Higher Ground for the first time and sold out. Trey showed up and wanted to sit in on the song 'Olivia's Pool.' Every night during 'Olivia's Pool,' I played the guitar solo behind my head. It was just part of the show. After he walked out of the room, hundred dollar bills started flying that I didn't have the balls to play the guitar behind my head with Trey on stage in Vermont. I caught a lot of flack because people thought that it was an extreme thing to do, but it was just what I did every night — I just happened to make $500 bucks doing it that night!" While playing with Amfibian, Scott met Andrew Southern, another Princeton Day School alum, who was playing acoustic guitar in the band. Being the only two guys in the band in their twenties, they had an instant connection. At the time, Andrew was playing in another band called RANA with some high school buddies. The first time they invited Scott to play with them was at a Princeton Day School post-prom party. As Scott remembers it, "The first gig was total jamming and the place went bananas." According to RANA drummer Ryan Thornton, the band members felt like, "This is the line-up now." He adds, "Andrew moved to bass, and I had to learn to play drums all over again just to keep up with Scott. We all had to step up our game a lot."

In 1999, Amfibian took a year-long break. Scott kept busy gigging with both RANA and F-Hole. He was also taking classes at William Patterson College in New Jersey in a three-year program for jazz guitar. In 2000, Tom regrouped Amphibian for version 2.1 (he's currently up to 2.5) with Chris Harford on guitar and vocals. Chris had been part of the New Jersey and Boston music scenes for years. He'd played extensively with the Ween guys in different groups including the Jimmy Wilson Group and his own Band of Changes. Sadly, this version of Amfibian only lasted six months. Scott remembers their big breakup at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, "It was the biggest gig I'd ever played, and as we're headed to the stage, there was a big argument and everyone's like 'Fuck you.'"

 
As I started to practice more, I also quit drinking, which turned out to be a pretty big factor in my life. With the combination of not drinking and practicing all the time, my phone really started to ring. All the partying and stuff was ultimately slowing up my progress. As soon as I quit drinking, things started to get better miraculously.

-Scott Metzger

 
Scott Metzger

One good thing to come out of this second version of Amfibian was RANA's relationship with Harford. They started playing as his Band of Changes on and off for a year [one of these shows is up for free download on Harford's site]. As Ryan explains, "It was a real education for the band. Chris was more like an uncle to us and taught us how to rock and roll. He taught us how to stay behind the beat and really how to play." Harford remembers playing with Scott during those years, "I think I corrupted him by that first really loud amp. It was kind of horrifying for him. He sat in with us at John & Peters, and he wasn't quite used to that yet. Then I started soloing while he was soloing, and to him that was unheard of. He hadn't seen P-Funk yet, and it sort of shocked him." Scott also remembers that show, "I remember it was so loud that I felt the fluid in my ear move. I lost my balance midway through the show because my equilibrium got so fucked up. That was my first dose of the wasty rock-and-roll. I've grown to love it."


RANA backstage at The Wetlands
By Mike Mac
Around this time, RANA started playing regularly at the Wetlands in New York City. As its name implies, the club was swampy and dirty - the perfect spot for an evolving band. Widespread Panic, Phish, Dave Mathews Band, Ween, the Disco Biscuits, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Robert Randolph, Soulive, and many others played there early on in their careers. Disco Biscuits bass player, Marc Brownstein remembers, "They took Wetlands by storm. We played there 13 times before more than 100 people were coming to see us. We really built our crowds over a long period of time, but those guys just stormed right in." RANA ended up playing the club 28 times between 2000 and 2001 and sold it out three times in 2001.

By the time the Wetlands closed its doors in 2001, booker Jake Szufnarowski was managing the band. Scott even moved from Jersey to Harlem to share an apartment with him — an experience recounted in the song "Flaco." At that time, Jake recommended that Scott put together some projects with another seasoned Wetlands veteran, Fat Mama (and future Duo) drummer Joe Russo. Over the next six months, they put together three different bands that had regular gigs including Flacanticide, Hell Is For Children, and Pistons Fire @ 11, which had a regular gig at the Knitting Factory's Tap Room at the same time that The Duo was starting their Thursday night residency.

Though RANA left the Wetlands on a high note as the unofficial house band, they had trouble moving on to the next level. After Jake had taken them as far as he could, they changed management to Buck Williams at PGA Management who also managed Widespread Panic, REM, and (hilariously) Flock of Seagulls. PGA was able to get the band out on the national level, landing them some surreal gigs like playing the side-stage at a Panic show and opening an Avril Lavigne show to 14,000 screaming fans in Atlanta. Williams also hooked them up with a dream team of producer (and former REM drummer) Bill Berry and famed engineer and producer John Keane (Indigo Girls, Widespread Panic, REM, etc) to record an EP at Keane's Athens, Georgia studio to shop around to major labels. While the CD sounds great [some of it is available for free download on RANA's website], the band couldn't find any interested major labels.


Joe Russo and Scott Metzger by Eric Mohl
In 2004, after two years of working with Buck, the band decided that they needed a new approach and signed on with Hard Head management, run by Stefani Scamardo, Warren Haynes' wife and manager. Scott explains Hard Head's management approach as, "more about the live show and less about the record deal. [They feel that if you] just keep hitting the live show, the deal will come." It's a strategy that has worked well with Warren's projects and Gov't Mule. The band then headed to Virginia to record new tracks with producer David Lowery (Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven) for their most recent release, What It Is.

Around this time, RANA started developing some problems beyond label disinterest. Scott sums it up by saying, "I don't want to get too into it, but there were drug and alcohol issues and basically RANA ended up taking some time off." Scott was at a personal crossroads, "You invest so much in a band. And if the future of your band is in question, you don't really know what you're going to do with yourself and all your free time." Luckily, he had a lot of friends in the music business to talk to, "A lot of the people that I was lucky enough to cross paths with had been doing it for years in successful bands. So I called the guys from Ween, I called Warren, I called Tom Marshall, I called Dana Colley from Morphine, and I said, 'I'm freaking out. I need a little advice. What can you tell me?' And it was basically like: It's not a typical life. There are ups and downs in this life that you've chosen, and you need to get good at riding them out. You're going to have good months and bad months, everybody does. It was tough, but the answer for me was just to sink into practicing the guitar until things blew over and everybody's personal inventory was in check, so we could get to the business of making music again."

 
Scott sat in with Gov't Mule for our encore of Neil Young's 'Cortez The Killer.' No rehearsal whatsoever, we just winged it, Scott playing totally by instinct and intuition. He did a great job.

-Warren Haynes

 
Scott Metzger with Gov't Mule

This time off also gave Scott time to check his own personal inventory. After being on the road for so long, he'd stopped practicing and progressing on the guitar. He explains, "When you're doing shows every night, things get so crazy. If you're on the road and whatnot, you can't find time to really sit down and practice new ideas, and you fall back into stock ideas and playing the same things every night. I'd become really frustrated with my own playing at that point and didn't feel like I was making a lot of progress, so I started putting in seven to nine hours a day for six months or so." He recalls that he worked on more than just guitar, "As I started to practice more, I also quit drinking, which turned out to be a pretty big factor in my life. With the combination of not drinking and practicing all the time, my phone really started to ring. All the partying and stuff was ultimately slowing up my progress. As soon as I quit drinking, things started to get better miraculously."


RANA by Steve Chernin
When asked if he was tempted to leave RANA during those frustrating eight months, he admits, "There was thinking like that going on in my head, but RANA is a vital music outlet for me, whether it's 20 people or 2000 people in the audience. I get off on playing in that band. If I didn't, I wouldn't have gone back. The RANA thing has a lot of integrity behind it because we do what we want. A lot of bands out there sound the same and play by an established formula. RANA doesn't do that and I love that about RANA."

During this time off, Scott started playing with his old friends Marco Benevento and Joe Russo in a side-project called Duo/Zeppelin, which later became Bustle in Your Hedgerow with the addition of Ween bass player Dave Dreiwitz. Jake Szufnarowski and NYC-Freaks founder Aaron Stein came up with the concept in 2003. They thought it would be cool to get The Duo and Scott to play an all Led Zeppelin covers set on one of Jake's Rocksoff cruises around Manhattan [the show is available for free download in The Duo section of Archive.org]. According to Scott, "It was basically a present to Jake on his 30th birthday. I never went through a Zeppelin phase, but I would do anything for Jake, so I learned all the tunes and people just went completely nuts. I couldn't believe the reaction on that first boat cruise. There were only 200 people on that boat, but it was one of those nights where people were totally floored." The trio was able to get a surprisingly full and accurate sound from their all-instrumental arrangements of Zeppelin classics with Marco playing both the bass and vocals on organ. Scott's tone, attack, and phrasing were so dead on Page that it's surprising to hear him say, "I never studied the tone or anything about Jimmy Page. I've never been a big fan. I guess I do have that rock blues thing but coming from a Duane Allman influence."


Scott Metzger by Greg Aiello
One of the 200 people on that boat cruise was drummer Stanton Moore of Galactic. As Scott remembers, "[Stanton] saw the first Duo/Zeppelin boat cruise, and we kind of talked a little that night. A few months later, me, Joe, and Marco were playing down at Tips [in New Orleans as Duo/Zeppelin] one night, and Stanton showed up and ended up getting on stage with us. We ended up going out and having a full-blown New Orleans night till the next morning. We really hit it off, and he played me some music at his house, stuff that I had never heard, really old-school New Orleans stuff with Zigaboo on drums and Johnny Vidacovich and stuff like that. I didn't know anything about that music, but it hit close to home and definitely got me thinking about a different groove than just a straight rock beat." This relationship led not only to a friendship with Moore, but a surprising sit-in with Galactic at their last New York City show. At first, a scruffy jeans and flannel shirt wearing Metzger seemed out of place jumping in after Eric Krazno of Soulive on the Galactic original "Church." He quickly won the crowd's attention playing a jazzy, funked-up solo that didn't sound like anything he'd ever played with RANA. It was head-turning for folks who had never heard of Scott or RANA and especially for anyone who only identified Scott's playing with post-punk rock-and-roll. Scott, who eventually did graduate with a jazz guitar degree from William Patterson, explains this change in his style. "You get stuck in a rut musically. I'd just closed my mind off to the funk, sort of jazzy thing. I didn't think that I had anything to express in that sort of genre, but again going back and practicing for those six months and really started hitting it again helped. I think I had been in the rock thing for a long time, and it just opened up a bunch of doors for me, like playing Sonny Rollins-influenced lines or stuff that I had really put away for a long time. I started listening to records that I hadn't listened to in years — just bringing that side of me back up. There was definitely a change in my head, and I just kind of grew musically."

 
We're watching these kids develop into legitimate rock stars, and that shit doesn't happen over night. And for Warren it was the same thing. Warren was in the Allman Brothers, but he wasn't an omnipotent presence till the past 5-6 years. He got there recently, and that's the road that Metzger is on. It's really exciting that he's been able to entrench himself so firmly in so many musical worlds.

-Marc Brownstein of The Disco Biscuits

 
Scott Metzger by Andrew Southern

Scott's next big set of sit-ins was with The Duo and Mike Gordon on their first GRAB trio tour. He first sat in with them on some Zeppelin tunes at the TLA in Philadelphia (at a show that RANA opened) and then again at BB King's in New York on New Year's Eve. He played new material with them at Twiropa in New Orleans during Jazzfest when the group tackled "Hoodoo Voodoo" off of Wilco's Mermaid Avenue. According to Scott, these high profile gigs were a bit hectic. "I don't know how [Mike Gordon] does it because the scene wherever he goes is crazy — just people trying to get backstage. It's amazing to be playing a room with that much energy coming off the crowd. It's a very exciting situation to be in." At the same time, he describes it as "a tough audience to get up in front of and play guitar because when Mike's there, it's a Phish crowd, and they just want to see Trey. They've got high expectations of their guitar players. It's a high profile thing, so I try to bring my A-game every time I play with them, but it's a blast." The LivePhish downloads for both of these shows undoubtedly introduced Scott's playing to a lot of new fans.


Scott Metzger by Eric Mohl
One of the more surprising things about this past year's whirlwind of shows and sit-ins is that Scott has been able to cross all kinds of barriers playing with people from bands whose fans rarely mix. In addition to hitting the Phish crowd with Mike Gordon, he's hit the Biscuits crowd playing two shows so far with Marc Brownstein and Aaron Magner in the Flying Circus. The Warren/Gov't Mule/Dead crowd is covered with his Mule sit-ins. The Ween crowd is covered with his regular appearances with Harford's Band of Changes this past summer with Mickey, Claude, and Dave — not to mention his two side projects with Claude and Dave. In an ultimate cross-pollination, the line-up for one Band of Changes show this summer included Mickey, Dave, Scott, and Joe Russo on drums. Says Scott, "I'm lucky enough to have a really amazingly talented pool of friends. For me, as a musician, it's just playing together. There's none of the baggage of 'I don't like their fans or their crowds' or that. It's like, 'these guys are cool guys, let's play together.' And the people that I've been able to meet and play with are very different across the spectrum. But when you get down to it, it's just your friends and the people who inspire you." Brownstein adds, "It's great to see those guys develop a relationship with Ween and develop a relationship with Warren and develop a relationship even with the Biscuits because it's so far from what they do. Just with the way that the last few years have developed, all of those barriers have broken down. The personal relationships have built up over the past couple of years, and I think that's the way it is in the jamband scene. It's just a network of people who are all legitimately in it together. There's a group of musicians who are rising to the top together, and none of them sound anything like the other. But over the years, you can't help but build up relationships with these people." He adds, "I do think that Russo is a bridge between a lot of these different scenes. And certainly Metzger being managed by Hard Head, it really brings Scott into that scene. Because who is the quintessential person but Warren? Warren is the quintessential guy who has developed musical and personal relationships with everyone in the scene on the upper level. And you're seeing the same thing happen with the young guys. We're watching these kids develop into legitimate rock stars, and that shit doesn't happen over night. And for Warren it was the same thing. Warren was in the Allman Brothers, but he wasn't an omnipotent presence till the past 5-6 years. He got there recently, and that's the road that Metzger is on. It's really exciting that he's been able to entrench himself so firmly in so many musical worlds."

Whether or not Scott makes it to that next level will be interesting to see. It's a quaint notion to think that it only takes hard work and talent to get ahead. As Scott has learned, a big part of moving on to that next level is keeping your own personal inventory in check and learning to ride out the ups and downs of the musician's life — not to mention a healthy dose of luck. Whatever happens, he's got a lot of people rooting for him. When I asked Brownstein if he had anything else to say about Scott, he closed out his interview with, "Anything else? I don't know if I can fluff Metzger any more than I already have. This is a fluff piece. I'm a fucking Metzger fluffer over here."

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Comments

ilovebiscuits starstarstarstar Fri 11/4/2005 10:16AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This kids really got something here. Great musician

neddy starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/7/2005 11:49AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Put a little Metzger in your life!

Nice article, Mr Hevron.

deadhead61088 starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/7/2005 05:41PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

After hearing Metzger's stuff with the Duo, I got an inclination to check him out, but I didn't. This article made me go and actually listen to RANA, and all I have to say is THANK YOU SO GOD DAMN MUCH!

Ozox starstar Wed 11/9/2005 12:03PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I caught RANA opening for The Duo is sacramento. Metzger is a solid musician but has a long long way go if he wants to measure up to some of musicians his name was mentioned along side with in this article. My honest opinion - this article was a bit premature.