For METTE (real name Mette Towley) the route to music was circuitous, but destined. In 2023, she has found herself ready to emerge with music that explores tender emotions, complex feelings, and her life’s narrative.
Growing up, she railed against the small town monoculture of Alexandria, Minnesota. The daughter of two ‘army brats’ (both of her grandfathers served in the U.S Army), her familial home instilled in her not only a disciplined work ethic, but a passion for music. Anita Baker, James Taylor, Chaka Khan, Pink Floyd, Lauryn Hill, and The Delfonics were the soundtrack to METTE’s younger years. “I wanted to run around the house, scream, sing, and dance,” she says. “And my parents were like, ‘stop that dancing in the kitchen or you’re going to knock yourself out on the counter!”
Spending summers in Maryland with her grandmother, she started to broaden her horizons. With an eclectic musical taste, METTE began taking musical theatre classes, learning to play the bassoon, and attending youth choir, where she felt the first firm draw towards performance.
It quickly became clear that performing was the end game, and one particular concert in the mid-00s provided the catalyst that ignited something further in her. But it wasn’t the male lead singer who inspired her, it was his troupe of backing dancers, dressed in the aughts’ “femme fatale” suiting, with jaunty fedoras, short hair, and bustiers. “I came from this very sheltered background in terms of what I listened to and watched,” she says, “I went to this show and these female dancers were pushing this man [the singer] around on stage – they held the power. I felt so inspired by their physicality; I could see their biceps.” Shortly after, she started training in the gym, where she discovered that training and pushing her body to its limits acted as a calming force.
“I didn’t have the confidence to do music straight away, dance just came more quickly to me,” she says. “And then I went to dance school and did formal training. I have something inside of me that pulls me towards performing and the arts, and when I stay connected to that I feel a sense of belonging.” Growing up in the 90s and 00s, whilst identifying as a Black woman of mixed-race heritage, METTE didn’t see herself often mirrored in the live performance space. But suddenly in 2014 with one single phone call inviting her to audition as a dancer for Pharrell, her direction started to change.
After traveling the world with Pharrell performing concerts all over the globe, METTE won the coveted starring role in the NERD and Rihanna ‘Lemon’ video. The most transformative moment for METTE – both physically and spiritually – came at the start of the video, as Rihanna takes a pair of clippers and cuts her dark curls down to the scalp. This newly found striking androgyny hurtled her towards fame, but she wasn’t worried about being seen as anything other than iconoclastic. “Pretty is an illusion, and I was not concerned about delivering any petty prettiness,” she says of the process of making Lemon. “It was about delivering something that was soul-reaching.”
After years of grueling touring, METTE found herself in London working on a film project and was inspired to explore her music dreams. “London is where I started my journey as a musician. It offered a departure from the skillset that I’d always known, and allowed me to be reborn, and connect to music in new ways.”
Lemon had given her the confidence to push her dreams forward. It gave her the confidence to plunder old poems, streams of consciousness she’d written, and turn them into early demos, eventually putting out a track called Petrified.
And then covid hit. METTE took a pause and regrouped. She buried herself in voice notes and journaling before returning to London. “I was going through something when lockdown hit. I hadn’t seen my mom for 18 months, and the news coming from America felt particularly panicked. I needed my slice of peace; I missed my Mom, her eyes have always been my well of strength. Out of my longing came a song about mothering, birth right, and her legacy… a celebration of imperishable bonds.”
Cycling 11 miles to Barney Lister’s studio (Giggs, Obongjayer, Joy Crookes, Olivia Dean), the song percolated. Lister had a loop in mind, and Mette heard the verse in her head. The pair had been looking for different sounds, and that day they found it. The outcome is her single, Mama’s Eyes; a track that will undoubtedly fill dance floors across the world with its syncopated dance beat that gradually heats up into a celestial gospel choir preaching the chorus. And the finishing touch? A mid-studio session phone call to her mom for some advice that provided the perfect life-affirming sample, “I ams who I ams, love it or leave it baby.”
METTE’s music is sensual and sweaty – music to move your body to. Unrestricted by the need to align with one genre, she finds her sound at the crossroads of dance music and a myriad of possibilities. Her fans will undoubtedly want to see her dance and express herself through movement, and they can, and will get that. But METTE has been on a journey – and she’s discovered something more powerful – the true essence of herself. And not only is she dancing to it, she’s turned it into music, too.