Last month, Metric released their 6th album, Pagans In Vegas, and announced that a companion album will follow in 2017. The band, which formed in Canada in the late '90s, is fronted by Emily Haines, who we talked to in September during a brief break from touring. Below, she discusses some of their earlier shows (remember Southpaw?), the struggles of living in NYC (even she is being pushed out of her apartment soon), and meeting Keith Richards, which went exactly as you'd expect.
So about a decade ago I saw you play at a small club in Brooklyn called Southpaw. I don't know if you remember that. Oh shit yeah, I do, I do very much yeah. That was a night (laughs).
Then many years later I saw your Radio City show as well. It’s really remarkable how you've managed to release great record after great record over the years and also do it entirely on your own terms, releasing music on your own label, not selling your soul. I really appreciate you saying that because you know this as a writer that there is a lot of invisible cannibalism of your life that goes on in order to reach that mark and this, as we continue, is a weight to carry. There are very few of us in our little organization carrying it. We want to be on the regulation court. We want to be in the big game, but we have none of the infrastructure behind us. There are times when it is pretty scary. So I appreciate you saying that.
The first song on your new album, ”Lie, Lie, Lie”, is a really funny, sardonic commentary on how people can be destroyed by the entertainment industry. As your band has grown to playing arenas and venues like Radio City, is it increasingly difficult to stay grounded and unscathed? (laughs) Well, I miss a lot of my friends. You know looking back the band was just getting off the ground around 2003. We had no idea that all the wonderful music, all of the independent music that was coming out at the time, that that was going to be sort of a moment. I hope that we are making a positive contribution. We are certainly trying to as to what degree we embrace the changes in how people enjoy music, while leaving something for the next generation. I wouldn't wish to be a young band trying to Soundcloud your way to a hard core devoted audience.
The main thing that I felt, and why I needed that song in my personal arsenal is because it is a great irony to me. I've seen it happen to people where as they become more successful, they tend to become more muzzled, less outspoken. For me the combination of bigger audiences and just the lack of context of the internet basically poisoned all meaning because everything is devoid of context. It made me feel a lot less free. So, in the old days I would have a concert and whatever we do or say, we are gonna do with this time. The audience and the band in it together. Now, once you've had the experience of someone filming you, and it's already on YouTube before you left the stage and someone is texting you when you get off stage saying "what the fuck was that?" You never recover from that.
I find myself constantly weighing what's the point of speaking my mind as opposed to the consequences of explaining your life to people who will never understand. So yeah It's tricky. But the weird thing is that I am still really happy. I guess because the friendships are still really strong in the band and because we manage to work with people who are equally as insane and devoted to whatever this is. Like the feeling of the kids taking over the adults world. Every accomplishment is more meaningful to us because of the way that we do it.
The new album, Pagans of Vegas, is actually a companion piece to a second album that you’re releasing next year, which you recorded while on tour with Imagine Dragons and for the time being refer to as “The Road Record.” You’ve also said that you’d never be able to get away with doing something crazy like that if you were not your own label. Yeah, I am really excited. It’s true, we have the freedom to drive our own business into the crowd, so yeah it's amazing (laughs). Duly we proceed. What's really excited me is that it freed me up on Pagans In Vegas because sonically it sounds like a follow up to my solo work. That to me was really freeing, because I could fully embrace the vocals on “For Kicks” or just going all the way with whatever Pagans wanted without feeling like I have to make it more "Metric". Metric is fucking us, and I'm really excited for the people who are into it and get the point of the band that we are preparing to hopefully deeply entertain you for the next year and a half because the other record is cinematic, melancholy, orchestral, lyrically opaque. So it is going to be an interesting run. And we haven't even figured out at all how we are releasing it or when. That's exciting to me that we can release it on our app or we can do all kinds of things.
So I know that before you work on albums, you like to travel to far off places. Did you do something similar for Pagans in Vegas? Well I wasn't supposed to be writing and neither was Jimmy. That was the other thing that took us by surprise. In 2014, after Synthetica, that was an insane run, from Fantasies to Synthetica and the Twilight soundtrack and, like, meeting the Queen. Shit got really deep, and by 2014 it was like ok, thanks. Jimmy and I made a solid pact that we were off and that it was TBD when we were even going to be remotely interested in making music again. And just the fact that having that complete freedom, what we both did was write records. It's amazing and worrying at the same time.
You two are music workaholics! But also I think weirdly we found that why-you-make-music-to-begin-with kind of spirit. To keep that sense of joy, that life is supposed to be fun for fucks sake. That in itself is such a worthwhile goal. Not just stupid fun, but just fun, righteous. So I went off...I'm sure at some point I'll go somewhere cold, but I tend to go to jungly weirdo spots. It's nice to be hot when you grew up in Canada. So “Lie, Lie, Lie” was written in Nicaragua and that was the first thing. I didn't plan it, all I wanted to do was drink rum.
I was going to ask what was it about Nicaragua that made you want to go there and I guess the answer is the heat and the rum! Well, no, I had found this place that was like a helicopter into an eco-jungle hideout. That works for me. I just went there to remember some shit or get it together and not be in New York basically.
Do you have a place in New York? I do. We're getting evicted, so yeah that's cool, awesome! What’s happening with our building is such a sad moment to me in New York. The other tenants are artists, an actress on Orange Is The New Black...we are all working and the rent's not cheap. It's just not Russian oligarch level of rent. So they bought the whole block. There are no bodegas, it’s just euro malls and tourism and lots of frozen yogurt, which I think is the new arena of money making. Take a look. Think about it. Pinkberry, get rich.
So are you going to move to Brooklyn or... No, part of the reason that we are up north is that I want water somewhere far away. Then maybe I won't have to take helicopters to places like Nicaragua for a retreat, though I will still be in New York all the time, God help me. But yeah "Lie, Lie, Lie" was the first thing I wrote in Nicaragua. Some things you really have to labor for and that is what makes it worthwhile and part of the craft, but this one was just like I took a picture, I had rum and I had hot sauce and sun and a little shitty guitar and I just played it and I found this tune that I liked and I knew that as soon as I played that chord I wrote that song, and I knew I just instantly had superpowers because I felt like I needed to say that for a while.
I think that is one of the best tracks on the album actually. Thank you. So that one and "The Governess" and some seeds from fortune came out of that time, but mostly Pagans is Jimmy's brain. I mean "The Face Part Two"...oh my god. That was the CS80 and was a one time, improvised performance. He just played it.
I know that you grew up around a lot of avant jazz. I thought maybe that song might have been influenced by that. I’m also curious if you felt that background comes through in Metric’s music in general. Well no, that's all him. And in fact usually that side, the fact that I was practically fed Carla Bley in a baby bottle when I was a kid has always be relegated to my solo stuff. You know the songs that I bring to the table the band loves it but it's always like speed it up 20bpms and put loud guitars over it to make it so a stadium full of people can rock out to it, which is an amazing process but I'm really excited to have this next record where the songs didn't get put through that. So the avant stuff shows up I think a bit, like the horn arrangements and the string arrangements. I wrote the horn and string arrangements, but there are a few flavors in there. Shit doesn't get too jazzy in Metric until now (laughs)
I think of Metric as a musically serious band. Everything is very deliberate and there is a level of refinement and sophistication to the music that just isn't something that other bands do really. And I think of jazz musicians as taking their music very seriously as well. Yeah I think that everyone in our band in our own way from the very beginning is extremely dedicated. Our drummer Jules grew up in a small town in Texas under questionable circumstances, and when he was a kid he built a bomb shelter and put a drum kit in it and taught himself how to play the drums. And if you know him and love him as we all do dearly, that’s so him. He is so equally concerned about the end of the world as he is with mastering whatever Neil Peart from Rush did. Josh was the same way. He studied biology but at the same time was always playing music. His father was a bass player. He also made a solo record that, no one even knew he was doing it and he made it and it’s gorgeous. So you're right that it’s all in there. In a good way what I like about Pop music is that you hide it all. You hide the embellishments and all the skill behind a perfectly executed hook and it’s the pursuit of that the most elusive of goals that certainly keeps us busy. (laughs)
This idea of hiding skill in pop makes me think of how in the pop industry now, there is this Scandinavian contingent of songwriters that is covertly writing all these songs for Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and... Everybody.
And no one has any idea that the public faces of these songs are not actually the ones writing it. So something I find really refreshing about Metric is that you actually write your own music. Oh it's unheard of! And if you do, you are supposed to be in some other category we have never been too comfortable being embraced in, a perfect little indie rock category. It's not like we are unaware of the sonic choices or the lyrical choices that would make us a little more Pitchfork-friendly or whatever that is anymore, but it is true that that is a whole other thing to be. I want to write a song as good as something Rihanna is singing. I don't have a team, but I'm still gonna try. But I think it is a total racket. The real winners and the real rockstars are the writers, and all the faces sadly are often women. You are compensated well if it succeeds, but it’s a very different meaning than getting writing your own stuff and getting up there and baring your soul. I just wish I had some more company. I'm just glad I got Beach House out there. Peaches is putting out a record. I got Kurt Vile nearby. I find the stuff that keeps me going.
Speaking of neighbors, I find it fascinating that you live in New York. Every Canadian that I meet is generally really nice, and let’s just say New Yorkers on the whole are maybe a little different. From your perspective, does New York seem like a tough city? Well I am a dual citizen, actually both my parents are American. My father passed away but they both were in New York in Beth Israel and they actually lived where the original World Trade Center was built. Their building was torn down to build the towers. That's where they met. They had a whole chapter in India, which is where they had me, and then they came to Canada because the Canadian artist Michael Snow helped my father get a job in a deeply northern elementary school teaching French. My whole family is expatriate and loves Canada as do I. But I have always been drawn to my roots in the States. My love affair with New York goes back to Williamsburg in 1998. They just tore down the building where I used to live, Metropolitan and Bedford, we used to have this loft and then all these other bands lived there and it was kind of a moment. But I heard there is a bar there now that is called Canada which just freaks me out. (laughs)
(Laughs) and a Duane Reade. That is kind of the story of New York these days. The love is there forever, it’s just that it breaks my heart but I keep coming back for more. You're living there. You don't have to be Canadian to get your heart broken by New York. Let's put it that way. But you love it!
One last question. I don't know where I heard this story but only you can confirm it. I heard that when Metric played with the Rolling Stones in Madison Square Garden years ago, that before you even played, Keith Richards stumbled into your dressing room and yelled "You guys fuckin’ rocked!" If that's true, I find it kind of charming he wanted to make the opening band feel good even though... They hadn't played yet? (laughs) That is a funny anecdote. I was sure what you were going to say was, is it true that he came up and grabbed your ass and flirted with you in the first 30 seconds of meeting you, because that is what happened! So I don't know if that other one is an urban myth or an amalgam of various bands that played with them before. We actually have a picture of that night, meeting them before the show and we were told you could never ever show that picture to anyone, and we took that pretty seriously. It would have been 10 years ago this January, so we might fly in the face of history and just release that photo of the three of us with The Stones in 2006.
Throwback Thursday! Well thank you for talking to me. I can't wait to hear the new album and Pagans is great, so keep on keeping on. I will try my very best.