Renowned guitarist Scott Metzger is widely known for his diverse, virtuosic ability, which he can showcase at the flip of a dime, be it through jazz, jamband, country, psych-rock or something entirely experimental. The founding member of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead recently celebrated the group’s 10th anniversary and once again displayed the skills that have led him to collaborate with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, Oteil Burbridge, John Mayer, John Scofield, Dean Ween, Nicole Atkins, Stanton Moore, Umphrey’s McGee and more.
Though Metzger shines as a synergetic player, he has also shared his solo inclinations through his 2022 debut solo album Too Close To Reason and a recent self-titled release with LaMP – a trio comprised of Metzger, drummer Russ Lawton and organist Ray Paczkowski. Through the album, which they pieced together from afar, Metzger and his collaborators shape a fluid, spacious soundscape where each player has a distinct and impressive presence.
LaMP are currently bringing the sound found on their latest offering to life on the road. They’re appearing at Brooklyn Bowl this Thursday (3/30), then on Friday and Saturday (3/31 and 4/1) in Burlington, Vt., at Nectar’s. Get tickets to the Brooklyn Bowl show here.
Then Scott will take to the road with instrumental trio WOLF! for gigs at the Roanoke 5 Points Music Sanctuary in Roanoke, VA (4/6), Heist Brewery in Charlotte, NC (4/7) and Asheville Music Hall (4/8).
As always, you’ve got a lot on the horizon; the most pressing is this upcoming tour with LaMP. You, Russ and Ray first came together after a 2018 gig. Could you tell me a little bit more about what prompted that?
Russ, Ray and I had all crossed paths through the years. We were all sort of acquaintances, but we never got to play with one another until– like you said– 2018. Their group Soule Monde and myself found ourselves in the same booking agency. So it made sense to make what we had sort of been kicking around for years. Like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if someday we play?” It finally made sense to get something in the books. I drove up to Burlington, and we did one night at Nectar’s. Those guys are hometown heroes up there. It felt like the whole town came out to see the gig. The chemistry was really incredible—musically speaking and personality-wise, on and offstage—it was really there between the three of us.
So we decided to follow up with a recording session, maybe about a year later, in 2019. We recorded a record, self-titled. We virtually wrote the songs. That was the first time I ever worked virtually. Russ would send Ray and me drum beats. Then, Ray and I would come up with chord changes and melodies around those drum beats and then send them back and forth to one another until we felt like we’d written a song. And that’s how we ended up with the stuff that we recorded on the record.
That’s pretty wild, considering that so many groups, not so long after that, were forced to use that process due to the pandemic. Was that kind of recording something you’ve ended up doing more since 2020?
Yeah, for sure. We were ahead of the curve. Because we did it just before, as you said, that would become the only way to record for about a year. I have a small office in my apartment here in Brooklyn. And I got very, very good at recording guitar parts. I bought a second laptop during the pandemic, which is just a work-only laptop and interface gear. It’s actually really nice because I can spend all day getting great guitar–dialing in the exact guitar sound that I want. I can just be sitting there with my coffee and have my pajamas on. It was the only way to work there for a while. So every musician I know got good at recording at home. And writing music virtually. It kind of exercised the whole–you had to use a different skill set than you were used to.
With tracks like “Out of Curiosity,” which contain so much space, it’s amazing and almost surprising it was pieced together like that. It’s a super silky guitar opening the track and all the space you create for one another. Were all of the tracks on the album sent over to you in that fashion?
There was some back and forth. I think, actually, most of them started with a drumbeat – if not all of them. Russ would send six, let’s say, drumbeats at a time. It was just, “Here’s a bunch of drumbeats, do whatever you want.” And then a few weeks later, we started sending them back–sending them around. You know, we would just defer to the best musical ideas. Sometimes Ray would write one on one drumbeat, and I would write one on a different drumbeat, and we realized we could mash the two of ‘em up. So what initially started as two possible song ideas then melded into one!
It’s fascinating how that can happen, how different approaches, inclinations and ideas over different beats can find each other in a different place.
Yeah. Ray and I both come out of similar harmonic schools of thinking. We both like a lot of free improvisation, kind of atmospheric stuff and– all three of us are big appreciators of jazz. Sort of that vocabulary. That’s a theme that’s running through a lot of this stuff.
Beyond this run of shows, do you have other plans with the trio on the horizon?
As of now, this is it. But I think we all have a very good feeling about this.For me, it’s always about making more music. I really like the record that we made. The songs are really holding up well and they’re sort of in a lane of their own. It feels pretty unique to me. And I would love to explore that more.
Absolutely. I saw that your wife, Katie, did the cover art for the album. She also recently performed with Phil Lesh & Friends.
Ain’t she something?
Yeah. Could you tell me a little bit about your shared connection with the Grateful Dead and how you feel about the enduring flame of that band?
There’s nothing like it. I’ve been playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead since the first gig in 2013. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I fully understood the scope and depth of the Grateful Dead fanbase. I was not baptized in the waters of the scene – and it is just incredible. The support that the fanbase shows and the loyalty, the courage of the audience. Thanks to them we have a willingness to go to some pretty scary musical places and some pretty abstract musical places and not just check out. I’ve never seen anything like it. So I feel amazingly lucky to be a part of it. That scene is also incredible because they’ve transferred over to all of our solo projects. The fanbase comes to see me play–I put out a solo instrumental record last year and toured that for a little bit–it’s just acoustic instrumental music, and everywhere I went, people from that fanbase showed up for it.
In a way, how I met my wife. Katie’s been a musician on the scene here in New York City for years and years and years. I knew who she was, but we had never actually crossed paths or been on a gig together. And then, one night, she ran into Russo, and, I guess, she introduced herself to him. They talked for a bit, and then at the end of their hang, she sort of passed, in passing, she was like, “Oh, if you ever need a fiddle player for a JRAD gig, I’m around.” So she came and sat in with JRAD at the bowl. And this is where it all started.
Speaking of the Bowl, I was able to witness the first night of JRAD’s 10th-anniversary celebrations. Can you tell me a little bit about your reaction when Bob Weir came onstage?
It was just a complete surprise. I had no idea that that was happening. The way I understand it, Joe heard about it very, very soon before we walked on. None of the guys– me, Dave, Tom and Marco–knew that was gonna happen. And I’ve never seen so many people take their phones out all at once in my life. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. So many people took out their phones and started Instagram living that the stream went down. They used up all the bandwidth. Broke the internet! [Laughs.] Literally!
Love it. I was like– I don’t wanna take out my phone for this, I just wanna be there. But the thing I couldn’t get over was the band’s expressions. I was like, “Oh, they didn’t know. “
You can’t fake that. it was an honor, you know. How many Grateful Dead cover bands are there around? It was an honor to have an original member grace the stage with us – a pretty big deal.
You could see how his presence at the beginning of the set remained throughout the night as well.
I had the very daunting task of having to sing “Let It Grow” while he was still in the building. Which was weird. A little uncomfortable for me, frankly. Hopefully, I did it justice.
Speaking of JRAD and LaMP – Russ and Ray are, of course, incredible with drum and organ, respectively, as are Russo and Marco – are there any parallels in how they jam and how you jam with them?
When guys have played together as much as Russ and Ray have, or Joe and Marco have… just the two of them with thousands of hours on stage together, there’s a level of communication and a relationship that’s developed. It’s so genuine, so genuine it can’t be safe. The only way to get to that deep of a level of communication is by playing all those hours together. In coming into that situation, where guys like that have that already established, I’m trying to elevate the relationship that already exists and not get in the way of that, but still to find a way to contribute to it, and in a way that doesn’t mess up what’s already there. By adding a third voice, we can steer it in a different direction that it might go, in a direction it maybe wouldn’t if I wasn’t there.
I’ve been familiar with your music for quite a while, from JRAD, just from writing at Relix, and the scene overall. But it was news to me that you worked with Tom Marshall on Ambfibian back in the day. I thought that was just a fascinating project, and I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to ask you a bit more about that – your relationship with Tom Marshall and that camp now.
Well, Tom and I are still in touch. He had me on a podcast a few– maybe a year or two ago. We’re still in touch. I see him around from time to time. Amfibianwas my first touring gig. Ever. I’ll keep it brief, but it is a good story. In 1998, I was playing in a coffee shop in Princeton, N.J., with two friends of mine at this place called Small World Coffee on Witherspoon St. It’s still there. The coffee shop has live music. They support the arts. Always have. Always will. It’s a very popular spot. It’s right in the middle of Princeton.
So, we’re playing. The bass player was a bit older than me, and he had gone to high school with Tom and Trey [Anastasio]– a guy named Matt Kohut. We’re playing, and it turns out that Matt had told Tom and Trey that we were playing and they were in Princeton writing music. I don’t know what record–the first material that I got from them was The Story Of The Ghost stuff, and I think they were writing that record at the time.
So, we’re playing, and Tom and Trey come into the coffee shop… while we’re playing. The place is abuzz with excitement. I mean, it’s 1998 in their hometown. So we’re playing and I thought I played pretty good. Right after, Trey came right over to me. And he was like, “You sound good; what do you listen to?” And we talked shop for a little bit. We talked about guitar players, and Marc Ribot’s Y Los Cubanos Postizos had just come out back then. That was one of my favorite records, and it turned out that it was one of Trey’s favorite records at the time.
So we bonded over that, talking for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, he keeps getting interrupted for autographs and pictures and all that. Then he’s like, “Come on,” and he brings me over to Tom. Tom is sitting, catching up with his friend. He brings me to Tommy, and Trey says, “This is your guy. This is your lead guitar player.” So I guess I was sort of, like, being auditioned without knowing it.
Wow, do you remember how old you were at the time?
I was like 19 at the time. You know, young. Tom said, “Alright. You’re doing it.” I was thrilled. I mean, all of the sudden, the next thing I knew, we were playing around the Northeast, sold-out shows. Trey came and sat-in with us quite a few times, and it was just a whirlwind. It was just a whirlwind of stuff. And we played those songs, some of those Phish songs from Story Of The Ghost either before Phish played them live or before the record came out, if memory serves.
That’s absolutely wild. That’s a coffee shop dream.
Yeah. I mean, that’s like a real musician’s– that’s like a movie or something. You get discovered playing at some small little place in the corner. There wasn’t even a stage in the place, then the next thing I knew, it was sold-out shows all over the place.
Are there any musicians in the scene that you have your eye on, that you’d like to give the whirlwind experience to or that you’d be fascinated in working with?
I’m lucky. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of people on my checklist. I’d say most, at this point. I just saw John Medeski the other night because Katie was playing with him and Phil Lesh. We caught up a bunch, and we were saying how we really were hoping to do more together. I’m hell-bent on making that happen. I would love to play more with John. But everybody’s busy. One guy that I haven’t played with that’s definitely, bucket-list material is Derek Trucks. As a guitarist, to me, it’s pretty much as good as it can be done.
Right before the pandemic hit, RANA was set to do some reunion shows. I’m sure you have a lot going on between LaMP and WOLF! and JRAD. But are those shows still something you still have on your mind?
Yeah, for sure. When the timing is permitted. You know, right now it’s nice. I have a bunch of stuff that’s going on in real time. I’m looking forward to doing that when schedules allow it. That was my musical life for a decade. You know, back in the day.
For something that long ago I really enjoy how that group combined jamband and more alternative rock together.
Yeah, it was a good time, man. I think that we scared a lot of the jamband people, frankly. We would really lean into some pretty dissonant indie-rock things. I mean, when Wetlands closed, we changed our home base to the original CBGB. And we played there like 20 times. Which I’m very, very proud of.
Tell me a bit more about CBGB, it must be an honor to be a part of its legacy.
Oh, it was a vibe, man. It was an amazing place; nine times out of 10, if a club starts out as a kind of dingy place and they start to get some popularity and some money and a theme, they make it nicer, upgrade. Right? But that place was a dump until the day it closed. You walked in there, and you had to respect it. Everything came out of there. As for the space itself, you gotta play the room. That’s part of being a musician. You gotta know the space that you’re playing in and play it properly for the listener to get the most out of it.
Absolutely. So after your run with LaMP you have gigs with another trio WOLF! could you tell me a bit more about that outfit?
WOLF! is a trio that I’ve got – instrumental, it’s sort of like telecaster-based, and it’s a good opportunity to kind of explore rockabilly and early rock-and-roll influences that I’ve got. I play in it with Taylor Floreth and Josh Shaw. We’re doing a weekend down South in early April.
You’ve got Asheville, Charlotte, West Virginia. Are those dates planned? Did you think about being like, “I wanna do rockabilly inclination; let’s hit the south”?
No! You’re giving me too much credit. That’s way more clever than I’d ever come up with. For a very long time, I’ve been a telecaster player. Guitarists understand that it has its own vocabulary, history and lineage. Those two guys–the three of us in that band–are all good appreciators of that lineage. So I’m just going to humbly try and add my voice to that line of guitar players, regardless of where we go.
Learn more and find tickets to LaMP’s upcoming performance in New York here.
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