ATH Interviews: Metric
Metric is on their way to Austin, and I had a chance to catch up with our friend Emily Haines over the phone to discuss all things Metric. After briefly discussing my role as a future game show host, we got straight down to business. Thanks to Emily for her time, and to Myles for setting things up.
ATH:We know your father was a writer. Aside from him do you have any other favorite literary figures who influence either your writing or you life?
Emily: There are lots of writers that affect me on different levels. In terms of non-fiction, Naomi Klein is someone who I’ve read for a really long time; I started out reading her essays early on when she first started. She’s someone who has a really interesting mind. The first book I read was No Logo, and at that moment, I guess it was 1998. What I found amazing was that she talked about really recognizable things that I could see happening around me that linked them together into a larger explanation of what was happening globally. For example, in Toronto, you’re seeing all these manufacturing buildings turned into apartment buildings; it was sort of the first wave of that phenomenon. You’re also seeing the advent of massive Nike campaigns, and a new level of lifestyle. She made the connection that we’re moving manufacturing to third world countries, and the first world product is on this new approach to branding and marketing. And she’s not hysterical, and very reasoned. And I could see the connection of what was happening.
ATH: What about fiction?
Emily: I’ve sort of been off fiction for a bit, but one of my favorites is Don DeLillo. He wrote Great Jones Street, which is sort of a short novella. There is a character who is a rock star trying to get rid of his stardom. It’s a romantic look on these shitty apartments in New York, and the dialogue is excellent. Definitely influenced some aspects of my writing on this album.
ATH: You’re now four albums into your career. On Old World Underground, the recording is softer, almost more intimate. In contrast, Live it Out and Fantasies is much louder, bursting forth. Can you explain the progression of the band in this manner?
Emily: Yea, I can say that in terms of the early writing, it started as a sketch, then moved into filling it out. The early work we did was home recordings, and you imagined yourself playing with a band. With Old World, we hadn’t really played live a lot, and we were living in LA doing a residency, which is where the band came about. The later records, we moved into having a live band be the foundation of who we are, and as musicians, it’s the medium of what we’re most excited about as a band. The more we experience that, the more we develop that sound, and we’re writing a script, that if all goes well, we’ll be playing for the rest of our lives. What you see in the progression, is the effect of the live experience.
ATH: We know you can hold your own as a songwriter, especially after the release of your solo work, but when it comes to Metric, who is responsible for the songwriting?
Emily: It happens a few ways. For the most part, I write all of my lyrics and melodies; I write a lot of songs on the piano and guitar, and then I’ll bring them to Jimmy (Shaw). He’ll sort of give them a bit of a shape, and Josh and Jules will help develop it once we have a sense of how it works as a Metric song. Alternately, Jimmy will do these full fledged arrangements, and he’ll send them to me so I can write lyrics and melodies over that. Other times all four of us will be working together, and we’ll come together that way. Songs start with me, but they become Metric by getting everyone else involved.
ATH: You guys left a song you’d been playing live, “Black Sheep,” off of Fantasies. Did you feel that it didn’t fit in aesthetically, or are you saving it for something later?
Emily: It’s really interesting how it played out. The song was one of the first that we wrote during the first recording session in Seattle where we wrote “Gimme Sympathy.” It was funny that by the end, it didn’t seem to really fit in with where we ended up. At the same time, we were making the decisions about the sequencing, and were approached by Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He’s doing a film right now called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s based on a graphic novel, and it’s based on all these bands in Toronto; it’s loosely based on actual bands and people. One of those characters is me, and he wanted Metric to write a song for the soundtrack, and I immediately thought this song would be the one. You couldn’t believe how perfect it was, how it fit into the scene. It was really weird, as we knew when we wrote it what it’s actual purpose was. So that turned into a really cool development. Nigel Godrich, who is curating the soundtrack, ended up working in our studio Giant. It’s funny because when the record leaked, Jimmy was in the kitchen with Michael Cera and Nigel Godrich. And, Jimmy told him that our album had leaked, and Nigel said that the only time a leak is a bad thing is if it’s a bad album.
ATH: Live you often operate between being behind the keys and being out front with just a microphone. Do you ever plan to completely step away and go the route of a full-fledged frontwoman?
Emily: No, because I’m already sort of doing that. And I’m a musician, and not a front person. Not to say there isn’t an art in that, but I’m a musician, so ditching that would be a bummer for me.
ATH: If someone was listening to your band for the first time, and you had to pick one song that epitomizes your band, what song would you use?
Emily: I don’t know if there is one definitive sound. If you want to pick from our early work, one that fits the spectrum of what we hoped to embody, I would say “Hustle Rose” from Old World Underground. From Live It Out, I would probably say “Empty,” and from Fantasies I would say “Gold Gun Girls” or “Help, I’m Alive.” I don’t really do well at these questions. Whenever I’m asked about trying to give a favorite, my brain doesn’t really work like that, but I try. I like the diversity thing; I don’t have favorite cities or venues or people. I want it all.
ATH: A lof of our Canadian friends were pretty adamant about their disdain for George Bush, several moving to Canada to escape his tyranny. I know you were into politics, participating in Under the Radar’s “Protest Issue.” How do you feel about our new figurehead, Barack?
Emily: Obviously everyone is really happy to see the change. I’m a dual-citizen, so I have this interesting perspective. I was in New York when he won the election, and it felt like New Years Eve. I think in Canada, people try to oversimplify the problems of the United States. It’s a much different country, one that is much larger, and has a history that is much more violent. In Canada we’re the Loyalists, but in America, it’s based on saying F**k you to England, and starting something new, with the history of slavery. It’s very different from Canada. I don’t envy the role of Barack Obama. It seems like, well, the expression we’ve been using is that he was handed a dirty diaper; it’s like you win, you win a dirty diaper. I support him, and I think it’s really hard what he is trying to do. I hope he can stay true to what he said he would try to do. I think the most powerful thing from that election is that he wiped out the cynicism that was plaguing our generation, the idea that nothing could ever change, which is how I felt during the years of George Bush. It would be tragic if we lost that optimism.
ATH: Do you have any plans in the near future to go back and work on more solo stuff?
Emily: It’s not really planned, but I’m constantly writing. I think what’s more exciting right now is bringing in the elements of that work into what I’m doing with Metric, sort of creating a hybrid of those realms. I never planned the first solo album, so I don’t feel like I’ll plan the second one. But, for the foreseeable future, Metric is really exciting, and I can’t imagine wanting to leave that.
ATH: You’ve played in Austin several times, do you have a favorite Austin, Tx memory?
Emily: I’ve had so many great times in Austin. One of our favorites, we did this one backyard BBQ. I think it was for Filter, and Wayne Coyne was at the door. For some reason, it was the best show. Wayne greeted us when we got off our bus, and we just had this tiny show in this small little courtyard; it was just a great great time.
That about wraps it up kids. Don’t forget to check out Metric when they come through town on December 1st at La Zona Rosa.