‘Good for your brain and good for your chops’ An interview with Emily Haines of Metric
Metric has been making new wave-flavored indie rock since 1998. The band has released five albums of evolving material and its latest, “Synthetica,” appeared this past June.
Emily Haines and the rest of the band have just started a tour that brings them to the Pageant on Tuesday, Oct 2.
Nick Cowan: Thanks for chatting with me. How are you?
Emily Haines: Just started the tour in Minneapolis, everyone’s in good spirits.
I got to see you at Lollapalooza this year and it was great. You owned that stage.
Thanks, man. We had a great day.
How’s “Synthetica” being received?
Really well! It’s always been an interesting process when you bring the new material and integrate it into your existing repertoire. Plus, it’s our fifth album so we’re used to this process. It’s one of my favorite things; part of creating the whole Metric experience is always representing all the chapters and phases of the band. So, we still play songs from our first record and it’s always interesting to see how the new stuff will sometimes match up with something really old. It’s a nice sense that’s it’s all one big body of work.
We love playing around with the possibilities, trying new arrangements, improvising a little, and people really seem to be having a good time. That makes me happy.
It sounds like, in a way, that you’re making a mix tape out of your own songs.
Yeah, that’s how it feels.
You mentioned the arc of your career and you don’t push older stuff to the back. How do fans react to hearing a bit of everything rather than the “new album and a few hits” formula?
When I’m playing music I’m not able to focus on individual reactions. We know when there’s a great feeling in the room and just follow that.
In addition to the five records, how did you get involved with film soundtracks? The song “Black Sheep” from Scott Pilgrim, a song for “Twilight,” a couple of others — how did you get involved with that?
I don’t know. It’s something that we’ve always had an interest in developing. We’ve been interested in scoring and are quite inspired by film. There’s a chemistry there. “Black Sheep” was a song that didn’t fit very naturally on the album “Fantasies” and we just held on to it. It turned out it was unbelievably perfect, lyrically and otherwise, when Edgar Wright [co-writer and director of "Scott Pilgrim vs The World"] gave me a call. Bryan [O'Malley], who wrote the graphic novel the movie is based on, used live shots of Metric in the book, so there was an interesting correlation there. He asked if we had anything and I told him about “Black Sheep.”
Around the same time Howard Shore reached out to us to co-write the theme song to the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” score. To do a writing project with a composer of that caliber, was an honor. And he asked to score the movie “Cosmopolis” with him.
With every film project it feels like we get more a little bit more advanced and we get more of a chance to learn about the medium and the process. It’s good for your brain and good for your chops.
How did the “Synthetica Hide & Seek” get conceived. Can you describe it for folks that haven’t heard of it?
The “Hide & Seek” was a little project on-line that gave people a chance to find clues and use those to unlock songs. It seemed like people had a really good time with it. Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be fun so sometimes you have to remind people of that and not take ourselves too seriously. That’s kind of the ethos behind it.
This is what’s so great about this project for me, what really gives me a lot of pleasure. The fact that we put our records out ourselves, spent many days in the early days of their career — as many artists do — battling the [music] business. For most artists, it doesn’t feel like it serves them very well. It’s kind of a whole thing in itself to navigate that. Usually the terms that are presented to musicians are kind of at the bottom of the barrel. After many years of grappling with that we took quite a bold move with “Fantasies” and put it out ourselves in the United States. We went through quite a protracted legal thing so we could be free of previous contracts and put our work out ourselves.
So, one of the things we get to do now that we run the show is that we can come up with all kinds of things like the hide and seek idea. Our manager has a really forward thinking mind, doesn’t care about what the protocol is about how you’re “supposed” to put out a record. We just follow what feels right for us and what we’re excited about.
As a fan I thought that was the bees knees. It had been two years since the last record and your goal of it being fun worked out for me. Do you know if it brought in any new fans, think you’ll do something like that again?
A lot of the things we’ve done are kind of cumulative. We don’t really go out and purposefully target anybody. We want to be a vibrant act, a vibrant part of the musical landscape that people are drawn to and want to participate in. I’m not sure if that in particular brought new fans our way, but as soon as we think of anything like that, and we want to do it, we will. For example, we’re firming up some things we want to do around the presidential election.
Since you released it yourself, did the sales of “Fantasies” blow you out of the water?
The thing that’s exciting about all those numbers, and I’m not a stats person, is that it’s always a nice feeling to be the exception, and to prove people wrong. That’s been part of the band’s thought because we see a formula being followed by the same handful of winners in the winner circle. It’s a really great feeling to be on our own path and do things unconventionally. It was really encouraging.
Also, program directors all over are really giving “Synthetica” a chance. Turn on a commercial station and Metric doesn’t really fit in there anywhere, but we’re still finding, I don’t know, maybe people are getting more open-minded about music. Two years ago we wouldn’t have gotten anyone’s ears.
I always think of things like Laurie Anderson having a #1 hit in the U.K. with “O Superman” in 1981. Those kind of rogue breakthroughs.
Can I ask you about a couple of the songs on “Synthetica”?
“Clone” was the first song to stand out lyric wise. What can tell me about it?
Yeah, it’s classic material, thematically, for me as a writer. I’m interested in the bittersweetness about being honest about the way things play out. There are always those times in your life when something has happened, a decision has been made and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it or feel differently about it. You want to crawl out of your skin, but time will pass and that’s the only thing that will validate, or rather, free you of the feeling of powerlessness you had. The choice has been made and there’s no turning back — that unavoidable moment.
Interesting, “Breathing Underwater” seems to have some similarities thematically.
It’s a different feeling to me. I think it’s more about feeling disoriented in where you’re at. Depending on how you’re feeling, saying [the lyric], “Is this my life,” could either be a feeling of total amazement and good fortune or it can be a feeling of dismay and “what the hell’s going on, how did I get here?” There’s never one definitive thing that anything means, not in my own writing anyway.
How long is the tour and what’s going on after that?
This tour takes us to the end of October, then we have a few weeks off before we go out again. We’re on the road right up until Christmas. It’s all laid out and we’re really excited to be out on the road. It’s not easy out on the road, fun, but not easy. It really feels like the right time for this record and that keeps us going. We work with a lot of people we respect and we keep it going.
Metric performs at the Pageant on October 2, 2012.