Metro Riders is the project of Stockholm’s Henrik Stelzer, who had always been obsessed with horror cinema – particularly the Italian horror films of the late ’70s and ’80s, as well as John Carpenter’s classics – and he does not hide the fact that he builds heavily on that vibe in his music. His sophomore release, Lost In Reality, came out last week, and the follow-up to his 2017 Europe By Night sees him taking the sound of Metro Riders further into the world of genre music while also crafting something wholly his own. We spoke with Henrik Stelzer about the evolution of Metro Riders…
STARBURST: So many cuts on Lost In Reality are named after films. Are you taking inspiration from the movies as a whole, or are you pulling from certain scenes?
Henrik Stelzer: There are definitely distinct references to both directors, movie titles and characters on Lost In Reality. But overall, I would say that Metro Riders is all about capturing a certain atmosphere.
Whether it’s from a certain scene from Zombi 2 (1979) or just a nostalgic take on experiencing a nearly broken VHS copy of some obscure horror movie from your local Blockbuster in the ’90s. The quality of my recordings and the cover design all become key elements to assist the consumers in placing themselves somewhere else.
On Europe By Night, you have a track named Bruno Mattei, and on Lost In Reality, you have a track named Lia Rousseau, after a character in Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead. Why are you so attracted to Mattei’s work?
Bruno Mattei is often regarded as the Italian equivalent of Ed Wood in the horror genre. Similar to Ed Wood, Bruno gained notoriety for his frequent use of pre-existing footage, campy visual style, noticeable mistakes, subpar special effects, unconventional casting choices, peculiar storylines, and nonsensical dialogue.
What has always captivated me about Bruno is his unwavering determination to pursue his own ideas and artistic vision, regardless of the circumstances. Despite the limitations he faced, he managed to create something noteworthy and even enchanting if viewed through the right lens. In fact, I am so fascinated by his work that I may release an entire tribute album dedicated to Bruno in the future.
For me, music serves as a means of storytelling as well. Even without lyrics, the titles of musical compositions can serve as a fitting avenue to reference various aspects of our surroundings and pay homage to forgotten treasures.
What is your production methodology like to achieve this sense of age and distortion?
I don’t really have a specific method [laughs]. I rely on my sense of style and intuition to guide me. It took me some time to figure out different designs for the sounds, what equipment to acquire, how to distort them, and how to make them more interesting. However, the more I practised, the more captivating and improved the results became. Nowadays, I don’t panic as much. In the past, I had to depend on a particular tape recorder to achieve that distinctive tape-saturated sound. Nowadays, I know the old machines better and how to tame them for their pristine lo-fi qualities. Sometimes, some tracks took hours to fine-tune into the perfect tape-saturated sound, and sometimes, it was just there on the first take. I then usually let it rest for a day or two before coming back to it, only to realise, “What was I thinking?” And then I re-record again. [Laughs]
This album isn’t as drenched in tape hiss as your debut. What’s the rationale behind that decision?
I’m now more at ease using the obsolete reel-to-reel equipment in my studio. Some of the recordings on my previous album involved fewer takes and were more akin to live sessions rather than standard studio recordings. For me, that approach carried a certain level of risk as it did result in a higher level of noise in the final recordings.
The art for both albums has a certain library music feel. Who designs your covers, and is that what you’re aiming for?
I design the artwork myself; I believe it’s just as important for me to be a part of that process. I think the title credits of old Italian giallo and crime movies very much inspire a lot of the designs for Metro Riders. If you look at any of the titles from that time – like What Have They Done To Solange? for example – they were almost always designed using the typeface Eurostile. Something I was inspired by when doing the artwork for my previous album, Europe By Night, back in 2017.
When I was designing the artwork for Lost in Reality, I was looking into advertising typefaces of that time [’70s–’80s], and I ended up with a bag of references that I found searching old dusty X-rental logos and legal by-lines to the glass-breaking opening credits to Friday the 13th (1980). I always try to find inspiration close to where I want to position my music without being too obvious.
You can buy Henrik Stelzer’s Metro Riders music here.