Interview: Emily Haines, Metric


The great dilemma for modern rock musicians is the need to maintain the creativity of earlier generations along with the constant fear of unwittingly copying their output. This is a conundrum perfectly captured in the song Gimme Sympaythy by Toronto-based band Metric, playing one show here this October.

The lyric of the song, one of the highlights of the group's excellent fourth studio album Fantasies, released earlier this year, asks the question, "Who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" over a stylish, pulsating synth-rock backing.

"Every time we write a song, there's this sense that we could write the most amazing song ever tempered with the feeling that everything’s been done already," Emily Haines, the group’s singer said in a recent telephone interview while on tour in North America. "It's like, 'sweetheart, do your best but you’re never going to be the Beatles,' so for us it's about finding that place where we can still aim to be the best while knowing we’re in a cynical time where we feel there’s nothing left to do but remix."
At first sound, the cynical view might seem justified, as Metric, whose name was chosen to express the electronic precision of their music, evokes the ghosts of the new wave bands of the 1980s, but with a more dance rock feel, a sound that has typically occupied the borderlands of rock rather than the mainstream.
"Everyone needs references, but we're not directly inspired by those bands," Haines explained. "Maybe five years ago our music would be a more marginalized sound, but right now is a very exciting time for music in America. There's a shift towards more open mindedness on the part of the radio programmers and on the part of listeners and a sort of optimism despite this being a very difficult time worldwide."
This new attitude is well justified in the case of Metric, who, despite their 80s references and a production credit on Fantasies for Stephen Hague (known for his work with Erasure, New Order, and the Pet Shop Boys), are creating music that succeeds in sounding fresh and classic at the same time.

Much of this is due to Haines herself whose clever songwriting and sugary vocals work as the perfect foil to the darker more technological aspects of the group's sound, provided by guitarist James Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead, drummer Joules Scott-Key, and Haines on synthesizer. This is especially evident on the album's powerful opener Help I'm Alive, the core of which was written during a depressing and dangerous moment in the singer's life.
"I was having a really sad time in England," Haines revealed. "Probably I should have left there much sooner than I did, but I stuck around and I remember staying out late somewhere where I shouldn't have been. It was bad situation, and I started singing into my cell phone, 'Help I'm Alive' with that melody."
This snippet recorded on her mobile phone was one of the things she brought with her on an extended stay in Argentina leading up to the writing for the group's latest album. This trip, which she took on her own, was designed to break the recording, touring, and writing cycles common to a successful rock band and to give her a new perspective on songwriting.
"I wanted to go a place where I wouldn’t need to look for new experiences," she recalled. "I have the goal of living where you don't know what's going to happen and then writing as a result. The alternative, which I find so sad, is locking myself in a room and thinking of something clever to say. I don't want to live in my mind. I want to live in the world. It gets me into some fucked up situations but in the end it's worth it."


C.B.Liddell
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
4th September, 2009
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