Metric's Emily Haines on rising from the indie underground
Melding new wave with unapologetic lyrics, Toronto-based Metric has risen through the underground music ranks since forming in Brooklyn circa 1998.
Lead singer Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw have collaborated with members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio and Stars, and both played in the Canadian indie collective Broken Social Scene alongside a rotating group of musicians, including Feist.
Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, released in 2003 on Last Gang Records, showcased the band’s raw edge without going grunge. But their 2005 release Live it Out cemented Metric’s place in the alternative music scene. In Canada, three tracks — Handshakes, Poster of a Girl and Monster Hospital — were Top 20 singles, and the album went triple platinum.
Metric will take the stage Sunday afternoon at the Ford Amphitheater for the 97X Next Big Thing concert. As she stepped off the bus in Houston, Haines talked by phone about how Metric’s attitude and recording process have changed significantly with their latest album Fantasies, and how the band has grown from angry to optimistic.
The new record is getting a lot of airtime from mainstream radio. Do you feel like Fantasies has broken the underground stigma around Metric’s music?
It’s really interesting for us to see that people are open-minded about music in a way that a lot of times they haven’t been given the opportunity to be. What we’ve seen with this record is that program directors at commercial radio stations are giving their audience a chance to hear something they’ve never heard. They are finding out their audience can handle something that’s a little more underground.
Your father (Paul Haines) was a fairly influential poet in the jazz scene. How did his work affect the way your approach your music?
I think it affected me in a really positive way, particularly the lyrics he wrote for Carla Bley on her album Escalator Over the Hill. Obviously I am not making jazz music, but those compositions pushed my sense from a really young age of what was possible out of the realm of music at the time.
It seems like the sound has changed from very primal and raw to this album, which has a more mature edge. Do you feel Metric has changed in that aspect?
The world “mature” always scares me. When I was writing Fantasies, I felt like I wanted to be looking forward to something unknown and something more optimistic and imaginary. My previous efforts were more about telling it like it is and being outspoken about the things I thought were wrong in the world. I think this album for me was (about) creating something more balanced and creating music that could take us forward into something we haven’t done before. So if that’s maturity, then, oh well, I can live with that.
The recording process has changed so much in the past few years. Has that changed how you approach making a record?
We realized that all four of us had that a lot of our frustration that came out in our music, because of the more prevailing attitude towards music and the music business. We spent a lot of time with lawyers getting out of every single contract that we had and building our studio simultaneously. We are trying embrace not working for a record label that we are then sort of indebted to. Sure enough, this record sold more copies in the first four weeks than the last one did in the past four years in the United States, and it was self released. I feel like it’s a great time for musicians and music fans, and its up to the business to catch up. We are doing it our way and it feels great.
What is it like performing live?
The main thing that all four of us do with our approach to playing live is have the utmost respect for the fact that people are standing there and we are meant to give them something. It’s really cool thing when you feel what can happen when you put it out and the audience sends it back. I love it when I don’t feel like we’re being watched, but we are instigating something, and we are all participating in the same thing.
-- Arielle Stevenson, tbt*