Metric Interview

It's unusual to find a band that's doing a publicity cycle at the end of a tour, but the band Metric has been on such a roll it's working that way for them. After more than a year of constant gigging behind their first full length Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, this band has built up some solid, genuine momentum from their live shows and hook-laden songwriting. We were able to set up a telephone interview with Metric chanteuse Emily Haines, who spoke on her cellphone as the band was preparing for some days off. Our discussion focused on the realities of the band's nomadic lifestyle and plans for an upcoming album.

Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Emily Haines of Metric

Better Propaganda: So how would you describe Metric, your band?

Emily Haines: That's quite a question to start with. Isn't that your job?

BP: Yeah, I always like hearing the people talk about it themselves, because I could write whatever I want about you guys, and you know...

EH: Right.

BP: I want to know what you have to say.

EH: I guess it's rock and roll inspired, but we're trying to improve upon it.

BP: Right. You guys have been touring for over a year now it looks like, right?

EH: Yeah, we just finished touring in fact, we just got off the road yesterday.

BP: And like well over a year, right?

EH: Yeah, I feel like we really started last spring.

BP: That's pretty heroic, that's a long time to be out there.

EH: Yeah, it's been amazing.

BP: You got a lot of good shows in?

EH: Yeah, definitely.

BP: How do you do like your laundry when you're gone that long? I mean, how do you live? You don't have a favorite restaurant you go to every week or anything, I mean...

EH: Well, you come to find places in strange cities that you love. The laundry thing is always a problem though (laughter).

BP: I mean you're just hand washing stuff or what?

EH: Yeah, you start doing them in the sink. Some hotels have laundry. And we've even used laundromats when there's time. But- it's true- for the most part, there's not really time to catch up with yourself. But we've discovered some great restaurants and really good people in out of the way places that help us survive.

BP: You guys have a kind of a urban style to you guys. And it's amazing to me like, I mean, that you've been out there for so long, and that you haven't turned into like sort of like hippie lookin' folks. Or like U2 was on the road for all those years, and they kind of turned into biker cowboys, like they were living at truck stops all the time...

EH: Yeah. You start wearing the same leather pants every day or something, yeah (laughter).

BP: Buy you guys still have your own sense of style going, huh?

EH: We try to keep the sense of style. There's definitely been some repetition on all our parts. I think the first little while we were touring, you take a big huge suitcase full of stuff and then you just realize there's no point in variation, it's just jeans and a t-shirt to get you through, you know?

BP: Right. You seem to have a pretty controlled image, like in your publicity photos. You've got this really stern stare, serious gaze you do. And then you point your toes in, and you bend a knee, and you wear the mini skirt, I mean, that's real carefully put together, isn't it?

EH: Ah, no, in fact it's the opposite. I think we've yet to have a photoshoot that was decent. They've all been really fast and cheap. It's just been like "okay, stand there quickly, we've got half an hour..." and sort of whatever we were wearing and... definitely I think there's a sense of style in the band, you know, in terms of performance and stuff, but I wish I could control my appearance more than I do, but I can't afford it. (laughter)

BP: I notice you wear like a tank top thing with like little flaps on top of the sleeves. It seems like you've got several outfits like that. Is that something you put together?

EH: In fact it's only one. It's sort of like a military flight attendant in Asia look (laughter). But, uh, in fact I recently lost the original. There were no copies, it was the same one. Which, in light of your laundry question, I'm sure you can imagine the ramifications of that. (laughter) So, in fact I lost it in Philadelphia, and just got a replacement made for this last tour.

BP: And uh, the internet's pretty amazing. I mean, you guys have a website, and it's got a forum, and uh, there's a place for your friends to upload pictures from all your shows you've done, so, you know, we can see pictures of you over the last couple weeks...

EH: Yeah!

BP: And here you are, you've been on tour for over a year, and it looks like you've taken up stage diving, and you're rolling around on the ground, and you're getting all sweaty, and you know, huge grins onstage. You guys look like you're having a blast out there.

EH: Yeah, it's pretty amazing, the live show has definitely been the emphasis this year.

BP: I mean, you guys haven't burned out or anything, and you're just going and going?

EH: Well, I think it's time to stop and we're stopping. You know, the last show that we just did, it was great, and there was no sense in any of us that we should be continuing. We're all really excited to take some time off. James is going to Europe, and it's going to be a really nice time.

BP: So all this whole time, you were out there working behind your current album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, that's your current album that's out, right?

EH: Right.

BP: And you're going to start a new one?

EH: Yeah, we're just in New York now, making preparations to just- you know- get back into the mode of writing and being in one place for a minute. So there's definitely a lot of new music we're going to record soon.

BP: One thing that's interesting to me- and I can get really paranoid when I look at like the American mass media you know- I'm always you know, thinking that, wow, you know, I'm missing out on some culture because of corporate media consolidation/ownership, and things like that. When I look at your guys' band, I mean, you're Canadian, right?

EH: Two of us grew up in Canada, yeah.

BP: And I can understand like politically, from reading the Toronto Star, you know, where you guys would be coming from. And so you're putting out this pop music, and, certainly there's a degree of irony in that, you know, when you're putting out lyrics that are, you know, saying "Let's drink to the military" and you're making videos of G.I. Joes getting shot in the head and bleeding all over the ground, I mean, obviously you'd be freezing yourself out of the American mainstream media, even though you're a pop band, I mean, do you see the irony there?

EH: Well, I think the irony is twofold, in that we are, in many ways, an American band, because the two other members of the band are from Texas, and we all met in New York. And I'm in fact dual citizen, my parents are American, they're ex patriots. And James is also... um, whatever with his green card and stuff... So this band was definitely formed in America. And I think the things that we comment on, we feel like we're participating in. ...I would love to have a more outsider feeling, but I recognize that every dollar I spend in America goes towards things like the military... We feel complicit in the things that we're concerned about.

BP: So you guys like to use your pop format to make some jabs at the existing social system?

EH: It's not a matter of liking to do that, it's a matter of being a writer. At least in my case, I was raised to comment on the world around me, and if it was all- you know- daffodils, there would be a lot of songs about daffodils. But, it's not, so it's not really a conscious decision to be disappointed.

BP: You're just commenting on the social culture around you?

EH: Yeah.

BP: So you've chosen pop as an art form. I'm wondering who you look to as successful in their creative and artistic executions of that style. Who do you look at?

EH: There aren't really... I mean, it's funny the word choice... I know other people in bands who are maybe more intelligent and financially smart about what they're gonna undertake. But, in this case, I don't feel like there's a lot of choosing happening. It's like, if you get four people together, this is what it sounds like. I mean, you make some small decisions, but it wasn't a conscious thing of like "we want to be a POP band." Because, in my opinion, I can't imagine a worse definition or style of music in the world. I don't know really who to call on from the vast pop... you know, it's horrible, for the most part. (laughter)

BP: There's music you like though, there's gotta be music you listen to...

EH: Yeah, oh no, of course. But mostly they're guilty pleasures. But sure, there have been bands like the early Talking Heads stuff, and, uh, you know... Modern Lovers... uhhhh.... ahhhh.... you know, ah, I always have trouble coming up with this. Point being, that there have been lots of bands who've explored the pop realm and managed to do something interesting with it. So we draw on that.

BP: It seems like there's a lot of bands that are doing kind of a new wave 80s thing right now, and you guys have little bits of flavors in that too, you mention...

EH: Are a lot of bands?

BP: Yeah, a big wave of this right now. I'm noticing a whole bunch of new wave bands...

EH: I thought we were sort of behind the times. (laughter)

BP: ...there's a lot of bands like that now. I'm just wondering who you would like if you had to look at the 80s musically.

EH: Ohhhhhh, it's- again- that's so hard again, it seems like it would be a conscious reference to some 80s bands. But, um, you know, I mean, New Order.

BP: New Order, okay.

EH: Uh, you know, uh... (turning away from the phone) What other bands, guys, do you care about from the 80s? (back) You know, Talking Heads I already said. The Pixies. Sinead O'Connor The Lion and the Cobra. I don't feel like saying Blondie, you know, because it REALLY never influenced me in any way I think.

BP: You guys get compared to Blondie sometimes?

EH: Well, sort of. You know, guys... and a girl... and there's only like three options of things to compare us to... (laughter)

BP: Well you get compared to Garbage probably, Shirley Manson...

EH: ...if you're going on gender, there's, yeah, there's like a handful of things, so. ...I think the influences are, and I know what you're asking me to do is pay homage to specific bands and (annoyed) I really have done enough interviews now that I should just have a pat answer for you, of what those bands are but I don't. Because we're all inspired by lots of different things and it's really never come down to modelling ourselves on any sound or any band.

BP: I want to talk to you about the Pro One, you play a Pro One onstage, right?

EH: Yeah! Yeah!

BP: I used to have one of those things and...

EH: Oh yeah?

BP: They're hard to play man, you turn one knob, and all of a sudden, everything stops, and then you turn that one knob back, and the sound doesn't come back. I mean, you're going out onstage with that thing, that's CRAZY.

EH: Yeah, I know. It's human, it's dangerous.

BP: And they break...

EH: Um, I've had mine for about eight years. There have been times when notes have stuck, and there have been little problems, but we seem to be able to do self-repairs on it. I really like that it's an unpredictable instrument, because that's what makes it a musical instrument.

BP: And then you play another keyboard too, right?

EH: Yeah, I'm kind of embarrassed of that one though, it's just a regular old E-mu synthesizer, so it's covered in duct tape.

BP: I saw that, yeah, duct tape, is that like to hide the brand or something?

EH: Well, it's just looked... I didn't like the way it looks. You know. This isn't Hot Hot Heat, you know what I'm saying. (laughter)

BP: So the current album you guys have still has bits of your guys' electronica side when you were like a duo, right?

EH: The what, sorry?

BP: The first project Metric did was an EP, and you guys were an electronica duo, right?

EH: Yeah, yeah. It was just more domestic.

BP: And then when you did the Old World Underground album, you played with the band members, but there's still bits of like drum machine, and studio tricks that aren't necessarily a full band, right?

EH: There weren't a lot of studio tricks, we used other instruments. Like we used other synthesizers, and yeah, we used drum machines and stuff. But everything on the record was played live.

BP: And then, probably, after a year of touring, the band would be a lot more rock and raw and rolling along after all that?

EH: Yeah, a couple of the new songs are definitely moving in that direction. And I think we're just looking forward to recording. That was always kind of a goal, is to be able to play the songs enough live to really have them become themselves before you record them. In the past, it's hard, if you're not a touring band. You have some idea of how to develop the song, but a lot of it is imaginary. So in this case, we've been able to play the music a lot and we can just capture what we already know works.

BP: You tested it in front of an audience already.

EH: Yeah.

BP: So, do you guys have enough material for a new album, or are you still writing it, or both, or...?

EH: There's a lot of material already, but I think we're looking forward to having the time to just come up with as much as we want. I've got lots of new stuff, and everyone will contribute.

BP: How would it be different than the current album, you think? You don't know yet?

EH: Um, I think we know what our sound is now. I think that record was again, sort of trying to place it somewhere, so we made sort of sonic decisions which I recognize are referential. But I think now, what I would love, is for it to be the best nights that we've played live, for people to get the new record and just be like "aw, that's just exactly what I remember and love about this band."

BP: You guys have some great songwriting. I'm really impressed with that song "Calculation Theme." How did you put that one together?

EH: That's a song I wrote in Montreal originally, probably like eight years ago. And it's evolved over time, it was on guitar. And I've always imagined it as this strange dance track, but you can't really do a dance track in 6. (laughter) I had some strange ideas, and... I ended up working out that melody on the keyboard, just as this one line thing that I play. And it came to be in the last year or so.

BP: You used to be in a band called Broken Social Scene, right?

EH: I still am! Ongoing.

BP: Are you guys going to be doing anything with that?

EH: Yep. We always are. There's a new EP that's out, I have a song on there. The EP is called Beehives. I have a song on there called "Backyards." And then, I've been in the studio with them doing some more recordings for the next record. We just did a West Coast run with them down to Coachella, James and I both did. He's going to be in Europe with them as of June, doing a bunch of dates, including opening for Television, that's kind of amazing.

BP: Wow.

EH: In some PALACE in Italy.

BP: Cool.

EH: Lollapalooza is happening in August, so either one of us, or both of us are going to be part of that. So that's an ongoing part of my life.

BP: Wow. Sounds like you're going to be really busy the rest of this year, huh?

EH: Yeah (laughter) that's the idea though, right, we're supposed to WORK.

BP: Right. So you're not going to be kicking it there at home for very long, you'll just be back out on the road again?

EH: Well, it's June and July are going to be pretty empty. We've got a couple of dates in Canada, festival dates. June and July are kind of our time off. And then, yeah, as of mid-August, it's going to sort of get back in motion, and then we'll be doing a national headlining tour in the Fall.

BP: Oh, excellent, you're coming out to the West Coast?

EH: To the West Coast?

BP: Yeah.

EH: Of course, yeah. I'm going to be in Los Angeles as of the day after tomorrow, for about of month. But we'll definitely do a West Coast run.

BP: So you probably have some favorite bands after touring around so much, that are playing out right now?

EH: I really like the Secret Machines.

BP: The who?

EH: Secret Machines. And that new Walkmen song is pretty amazing, "The Rat."

BP: Do you have an iPod?

EH: I don't, I can't afford it. But when I make some money I'm gonna get one.

BP: When you're on the road, do you use Hotmail or anything like that?

EH: Do I use what?

BP: Hotmail, are you on the internet or anything like that on the road?

EH: Yeah, I'm not a dinosaur, we have internet access. (laughter)

BP: Alright. (laughter) I'm still interested in the whole nomad thing, because that's quite a life to pick. How many other people have been out there that whole time with you guys, do you know?

EH: Say that again?

BP: There can't be that many artists who are touring for a year solid.

EH: In fact, there are. We just got off the road with The Stills. And they've had very very little time off also, and they're continuing on for another like 25 days or so. And I think it's always a bind, because, it is in fact an opportunity. I mean, most bands, don't- you can't- like nobody wants you (laughter), you know, that's what hard about ever saying no and knowing when to stop. Definitely, in our case this year, there was some real momentum, and it just didn't seem to make sense to say "no, I'm going to go sit at home for a month" when people want us to come and play. I think it's the best way to really earn your place, and it's the most authentic. There's lots of bands who are big name bands, and in the cities we all know who they are, but they get out to a place like Nashville and they sell sixty tickets. In our case, we went to Nashville once. The second time we went with Broken Social Scene. And last time when we went back the show was sold out. So, you know, whether we're recognized in the mainstream media or not, we'll always have those people, and I really value that. And you can't buy that, you earn that.

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