Toronto’s “emotionally primitive” (their description, not ours) synth-rock group Metric are still learning new things about themselves. “It feels like we’re growing, thank God, because otherwise we’d have to quit,” frontwoman Emily Haines laughing gingerly. Even though the group is 15 years into their career — rightfully earning the title of veterans — Haines and her production-savvy bandmate, multi-instrumentalist (and fellow Broken Social Scene affiliate) Jimmy Shaw, maintain a fresh-eyed enthusiasm when discussing their latest project over the phone. On September 18, the foursome will release Pagans in Vegas, the first of two upcoming albums; a companion piece, which still has yet to be titled, will follow in the next year.
Recorded at Giant Studios in Toronto, the future-looking Pagans in Vegas has a “million synthesizers, walls of modular stuff, [and] crazy instruments,” as described by Shaw and proven by the 13-track LP’s advance singles: “The Shade,” “Cascades,” “Too Bad, So Sad,” and “Fortunes.” By contrast, the second LP favors simpler, acoustic arrangements. “We didn’t use any instruments made after 1970,” Shaw says.
Work on the two records began earlier this year, following a break that lasted for the entirety of 2014. Haines, Shaw, bassist Joshua Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key took the time to recharge after touring on behalf of their fifth album, 2012’s Synthetica, a combative analysis of the technological, consumer-based modern world that grabbed a spot on SPIN’s 50 Best Albums of 2012 list. During the hiatus, Haines withdrew to Nicaragua and Spain, seeing the sweat-inducing climate as an opportunity to self-cleanse, clear her mind, and cope with personal issues she doesn’t discuss with SPIN in detail. “I felt like all the stuff that was bubbling up, [things] I was struggling with, it just got worked out really quickly within those songs,” she says. “It was an amazing feeling, one I don’t have all the time.”
Haines describes the bulk of her work for the 2016 full-length as “pure and natural,” reverting back to the naked and melancholic styles of her 2006 solo album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back. Recording for the forthcoming album was finished recently and done piecemeal on the road — Steve Albini’s Chicago space and Nashville’s Blackbird Studios were among the locations — while Metric toured as openers for Imagine Dragons.
Offsetting Haines’ stripped-down approach, Shaw gravitated towards the flashy and stimulating for Pagans, drawing inspiration from goth-pop greats the Cure, house stars Underworld, and synth-rock giants Depeche Mode. “There is a whole well of it in my past,” he says. “I never even really acknowledged it before, but this time, it felt right to acknowledge [those influences]… It just felt like a bold thing to do. ‘Yeah, there is the reference, it’s right there on my sleeve, man.’”
With “Audio Overlord” John O’Mahony and Haines at his side, Shaw says that he felt creatively untamed, particularly on the two closing instrumentals, “The Face Pt. I” and “The Face Pt. II,” which showcase his synth soloing ability. As Shaw sees it, Pagans in Vegas allowed him to be himself — permission to jam for eight minutes granted. “I don’t want to obey anyone, any rules, anymore,” he says. “I want to put out the music that I write.”
For Metric, 2015 is about what feels natural, unrestricted, and — most importantly — enjoyable, which doesn’t seem to be a problem. “I just felt like I remembered that it’s supposed to be fun,” Haines says, laughing into the phone’s receiver. “Making album covers that are supposed to be tiny little thumbnails is not that rewarding but I feel like we just kind of pushed through on this and found out how to still make really creative and fun f–king music.”