IN THE STUDIO: Emily Haines Talks Metric LP
Singer-keyboardist Emily Haines of the edgy synth rockers offers an exclusive first look at the band's spring release.
Last November, Metric capped their first decade as a band with gigs at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art and Miami’s edgy Art Basel festival, and tied a bow on their touring cycle behind 2009’s Fantasies. It was a satisfying climax: They’d played to the biggest audiences of their career, including a stint supporting Muse’s North American arena tour, collaborated with Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore on music for a Twilight film, and accomplished all this while selling 500,000 copies worldwide of an album they released and promoted entirely by themselves. (See Metric perform at SPIN’s office.)
But as she settled into the process of co-writing Metric’s fifth album — an as-yet-untitled set on target for a Spring 2012 release — singer-keyboardist Emily Haines went back to her roots, splitting time between Toronto and her second hometown, New York City, for what felt like a new beginning.
“It was as though I was just starting out, hanging around the local bars and writing songs late at night on the piano at home,” she tells SPIN. “I was trying to push my writing forward while walking down streets I’ve been walking down since I was 15. Riding my shitty bicycle. Like none of the last 10 years of being in Metric — going from playing clubs to playing arenas, wrangling with the business side, all the personal drama — ever even happened.”
Now, the band — Haines, co-writer and guitarist Jimmy Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key — have 13 songs ready to mix, which they recorded in their own Giant studio in Toronto and at New York’s historic Electric Ladyland. “We went into this album with the attitude that we should do what we feel like doing, as we’ve always done,” she says. “You know, go toward what scares you, and then keep going.”
Here, Haines offers some insight on the album, the band’s Twilight experience, and more.
SPIN: Did you think you had to forget Metric’s past 10 years to make this record feel new?
Emily Haines: The cool thing is that it wasn’t really something I tried to do. It just seemed like the natural state. That everything had sort of come full circle. And here we are, a band that had been together 10 years, and it feels like we’re making our first record. Almost as though everything we achieved was like the qualifying matches, and now, finally, we are actually in the game and have an opportunity to make the music we always wanted to make. When we started out, we felt like we literally needed to go door to door let people know we existed. Now, a little bit less of our brain has to be stuck in that stuff, and more of it can be applied to the music.
While it started as you and Jimmy, with each record Josh and Joules have become more involved the studio. Is it a complete and total four-piece band now?
Everything has its moments. The band will always be, at its the foundation, me and Jimmy — that’s how it started. That’s the heart. But you get 10 years in with these two people that you love and, naturally, everyone’s a big part of it.
What kind of sounds can fans expect?
On Fantasies, I felt like I was on my best behavior because I kind of lost it [on Live It Out], and things got a little out of hand. We got our hands back on the reins with Fantasies, and made a straight-up, solid album — that’s definitely something we’re seeking to continue. There’s no room for anything weak on an album these days, in my opinion. We have too much respect for our fans to just indulge in something for ourselves — we’ll save that for the concerts. [Laughs] Sonically, we just want it to be fucking beautiful. That’s all we’ve ever wanted, and we just keep trying to inch closer to the sound we hear in our heads. And this time, we’ve had the benefit of being able to get even more vintage microphones and beautiful synths into our studio. We installed hardwood there, and made the place feel really good, so we could keep pursuing the sounds that we hear in our mind. That’s probably too esoteric an answer, but that’s the truth.
Did playing larger and larger venues over the past few years have any influence on what this new record became?
It did. When we’re writing, we are always connecting music to where it’ll fit in our live show. In a lot of ways it feels like that’s what our albums are: just repertoire that will fit into this ongoing beast that is a Metric concert. On this record, more than ever, we’re visualizing how to make sounds that can fulfill what we imagine the live show can be. We’re definitely not visualizing a little basement club with these songs. Arenas are weird, and driving golf carts indoors is a strange experience. But there are also so many incredible outdoor festivals, and we just want the music to be big, to fill the space and be welcoming to people. When songs have that quality, that’s when we feel like we’re headed down the right road.
Was there any sort of marked uptick of fans when you did “Eclipse (All Yours)” for Twilight: Eclipse?
I didn’t ever see any difference. But I know everybody had a comment on it, and it was the same thing when Death Cab did it — it really cracks me up. I don’t know why everybody cares so much. But I never noticed any difference. There were never vampire teeth in the front row. But now I have a great, creative, collaborative relationship with Howard Shore, who was the composer, and the reason we got involved to begin with. So I ‘m looking forward to some more projects with him in the future. That’s was the point of doing it.
Metric will always be connected to Broken Social Scene, and Eight and a Half, featuring members of the Stills and Broken Social, just recorded in your studio. How is the BSS posse getting on these days?
The connection is really still strong, and it’s changed, as it would, over the years. But to have Eight and a Half working at Giant is amazing. It’s more of an inside support network. None of us seem to be opting for big photo appearances together, but you drop a text to someone and give them the support, when they’re doing something new. That’s always been part of the dream for all of us. It’s way more fun if you have your friends, you know? It’s just better.
What are some lessons you learned from self-releasing Fantasies, and what, if anything, are you planning to change this time around?
I have this theory: The whole way the industry’s set up is like parents and children. Musicians are always like, “Oh, I have to do this interview because my label, Daddy, told me,” and it’s condescending the way the whole thing is structured. But when you remove that and you’re the person that made all of the choices, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. But I love it. I love that nobody tells me what to do. I would never trade that for the world. And, as a result of Fantasies’ success, we are in a position to create partnerships with companies on reasonable terms. This is always my beef. It’s an antiquated model, the way record deals are structured. We just want to make a fair deal, coming up with something that’s not totally exploitative. And due to the fact that we were able to make such progress on our own, we now have partnerships in place which I think will make it a lot easier for me to focus on playing music, which is really all I ever wanted to do. But, like anything, you have to fight up the mountain for a while first.
Have you had to staff up a bit? Are there more people working for the band full-time?
Yeah, there’s going to be less of me on my laptop, and more people helping out, which is great. We love working in groups, and it’s a super democratic organization. The more, the merrier. I’m happy I have more people involved, leaving me more time to be the musician I want to be.