Metric Interview

Exclusive interview with returning Canadians...
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Now onto album four, Candian foursome Metric are neatly established as a popular act within their niche, said area of expertise the production of punchy, powerful pop-rock.

Yet the band – Emily Haines (vocals, keys), Jimmy Shaw (guitar), Josh Winstead (bass) and Joules Scott-Key (drums) – are set to surprise a few turned onto their anthemic wares with new record ‘Fantasies’, a far more intimate-sounding affair than their breakthrough LP, 2005’s ‘Live Through This’ (which reached the UK the following year).

The band’s latest long-play collection isn’t without its share of euphoric highs, but as its lead single ‘Help, I’m Alive’ is indicative of, the album’s aiming for a greater emotional connection with its audience, something its makers aren’t sure they achieved with its predecessor.

While spawning the huge worldwide hit ‘Monster Hospital’, ‘Live It Out’ was perhaps a slightly overly brash, ostensibly boisterous offering that has now been followed by a record shaped with a greater care for its coherence and absorption across experiences – rather than soundtracking a moment to remember, it can become that moment itself.

Clash catches up with Emily and Jimmy in London, to talk about these differences, the troublesome business of album leaks, and how touring’s a dream, but only for so long…

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Metric – ‘Monster Hospital’ (MSTRKRFT Remix)


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So, here’s album four, but it sort of follows album one, as your debut ‘Grow Up And Blow Away’ only recently saw the light of day…
Emily: That’s what we were saying. To us, we’ve made three records, and ‘Grow Up And Blow Away’ was some sort of sketch. But it belonged to the record label, so they put it out. We weren’t dying to see it put out or anything, but we did get so many requests for it to be available in a good audio form.

And ‘Fantasies’ you’re releasing through your own label here in the UK?
Emily: Well, we had a few options on the table from various labels, and possibilities open to us, but this seemed to make the most sense. And it’s exciting for us.

But Last Gang are handling the record in Canada, and Arts & Crafts…
Emily: In Mexico, yeah.

Are you big in Mexico?
Emily: The first time we played there, it was to over 1,000 people and they knew every single word. That was pretty surprising, but a similar thing happened in South America. We did this insane show in Sao Paulo, and won awards for best band in Caracas. We don’t know how things began to happen there for us, but it is now.

The internet, I’d dare suggest, plays its part…
Emily: It’s a positive side effect of how music distribution is changing. Before, you could only get the major exports from Canada in South America – you could get Celine Dion, but not Kevin Drew. Now, they have access to the internet, so they can get music they actually like. The question, of course, is whether or not we actually sell any records there.
Jimmy: We’ve never released records there!

You’ve been stung by a leak for this album, which has seen you bring the release date forward and stream the whole album on your MySpace page.
Emily: No comment…

Reeeeally?
Emily: I dunno.
Jimmy: It seems like kids who listen to music have a different process now. It’s all part of the process.
Emily: It’s not like we didn’t expect it to happen, but it’s still a huge bummer when it does. We kept it under wraps for six months, and we think we know who leaked it. It’s somebody who has no right, and who took it upon themselves to distribute our record because they want to show off. I’ve not really got an issue with the people who want to listen to our album that way; I’ve got a problem with the person who made it available in the first place.

Is that band at a level where this really makes an impact?
Emily: Well, that’s the thing. There are some artists, like Lily Allen, who can get on stage and say: “I know you downloaded my record, but I don’t give a shit, because I make no money from records anyway.” Well, that’s great for you, sweetheart, but you’re all sorted. But with a band like Metric, that affects a number of people, as we’re self-financing our music. Like, the guy who mixed our record, what he earns is based on our record sales. It’s people like that who are hurt by downloading. It’s a bit more complicated than people saying: “What do I care? I’m a millionaire.” The teamwork that goes into making an album, that’s what can suffer.
Jimmy: I feel like many musicians come across as being okay with it, because ultimately what can you do about it?
Emily: What are you gonna do, become Metallica? It’s like, frankly, I’d really appreciate it if people said they’d listen to it, but then buy it too. That’s why we’re streaming the album on our MySpace – it’s our chance to prove that the album’s worth their £8.99. They can pay that for this record.

When you came to the UK to tour ‘Live It Out’, it was after you’d played some huge shows in the States and Canada, including supporting The Rolling Stones. Did it feel like starting all over again, or was that an appealing challenge?
Jimmy: There’s a bit of both in everything. Like, the first time we played was to 4,500 people in Canada, and I couldn’t stand that show.
Emily: Well, we did all drink a bottle of red wine each.
Jimmy: Yeah… But the first time we played here, at the Camden Barfly, I accidentally pinned this guy against the PA, Emily was crowdsurfing, it was a legendary show. So it doesn’t always depend on how many people are there.

It’s more about the atmosphere, the electricity…?
Emily: Yeah, definitely. We also made the choice at some point: what is our goal? Everyone in the band has a sense of humour, and some of the places we’ve found ourselves in have been hilarious. Like, we were on a beautiful boat on the Seine when we found out we were going to open for The Rolling Stones for two nights, but 45 minutes before that we were running across Paris with all our gear, coming off a horrible tour. So there are so many ups and downs, but my point is that we never get too bummed out, or attached to anything.

And I guess, when you look back, the bad times are followed by highs enough to keep going…
Emily: It’s the strangest of fun, too. I can laugh so hard at things in hindsight, and I wouldn’t change those times for the world.

The album’s sound, to me, is a lot closer than ‘Live It Out’, by which I mean more intimate.
Jimmy: In a sense I agree. I feel like the last one had a front to it, that’s how I feel about it; it wasn’t exactly emotionally accessible all the time. It was standing up and kicking out. And I think we wanted this new one to be more intimate. Whether that’s through the sounds, which could be heard as smaller, quieter…
Emily: I think it sounds bigger.
Jimmy: I think the sound is in a bigger space, and it’s a lot less in your face. But it’s all open to interpretation, and that’s the great thing about music. I don’t know what someone’s going to get from it, and I certainly can’t expect anyone to feel the same about this record as I do.

Do you think fans will need to sit with it a little longer than ‘Live It Out’, given its softer tones?
Jimmy: I don’t know, to be honest with you.
Emily: I love how people can feel the complete opposite way about something to how you do yourself. But people who have said that ‘Live It Out’ is unlistenably hard, I can’t help but mock that comment, because we’ve never made anything remotely punk rock in our lives. It’s not a hard rock record…

Pop with punch is what I hear.
Emily: It’s punchy pop, exactly. Everybody’s got a different pair of ears running to their brain, and it’s impossible to monitor what everyone is hearing.
Jimmy: It’s not just who is hearing it, but when and where they’re listening to it, too. You can hear some records in the wrong state of mind, and you can be convinced they’re shit, but if you come back again in six months’ time you can discover that, actually, you love it!
Emily: Like, right now, I’m experiencing that with Interpol. Their last album, ‘Our Love To Admire’, I wasn’t so fond of when it first came out. We’re great friends with them, as we came up together around the same time, but that record I didn’t click with initially. Now, though, it’s brilliant. I’ve got it – the whole thing, and what it means. I feel that some albums are like time capsules, and they have their moment a long time after they’re released. The idea isn’t that music is ready to wear, and that extends to fashion of course – what someone is working on now isn’t going to come out for some time. I love all these facets.

Touching upon when things aren’t ready at the time they’re initially conceived, are there any songs on this new album that have been floating around for some time?
Jimmy: No, not at all. We started from a clean slate. We finished touring ‘Live It Out’, and the tank was empty. We all disbanded and went our separate ways, and worked out how to, like, make a sandwich again.
Emily: It was really like: “So, walk me through this again… Laundry?” But the writing for this record took us the time, rather than the recording, as we were 100 per cent into not repeating what we did on ‘Live It Out’.
Jimmy: And now the next time we won’t repeat what we just did, just then.

You’re quite spread out as a band, right?
Emily: Yeah, Joules is in California, Josh is in New York, and Jimmy and I live in Toronto. But a lot of times we find we work closer when we’re not together. It can be hard for me to write when I’m right next to Jimmy in a small studio; it’s important to have space sometimes. I think it can be easier to be a writer when you impose a degree of isolation upon yourself, and I think as musicians we’re all involved in our own creative processes.

Do you think your side projects – your solo record, Emily, and Josh and Joules’ Bang Lime – serve to make your time together as Metric a more intense experience?
Emily: I think it does make things more intense. It’s like friends you only see every few months, but when you see them you catch up from exactly where you left off. It’s a cliché, but it’s true, and that’s how it is for us. As soon as we’re in the same room, we get so excited, because we don’t see each other so much. Even after touring, when we took time off from each other, that wasn’t an internal thing; we had to get our personal lives back on track.

You never get under each other’s feet on tour?
Jimmy: We never have any problems with each other at all.
Emily: It’s just absurd how little of a life we all have when we’re away so much. And sometimes that’s not okay.
Jimmy: We had no actual home for two years.
Emily: And even before ‘Live It Out’, and all the touring, we’d had four years of effectively being homeless as we worked on the band.

So the touring life seemed appealing, at that point?
Jimmy: When you first start touring it’s amazing – “I don’t have to pay rent anymore” – but when you finish it’s a real shock, just in terms of how you’ve been living out of one bag for so long. I love my house, now. I love that I can walk in the door… I’m obsessed with leaving it really clean and tidy, so I love when I come back in after a tour and everything’s so neat.

Okay, finally (PR is waving at Clash to wrap up)… ‘Monster Hospital’: an albatross around the band’s neck, or are you proud of the song?
Jimmy: Oh, I think it sounds awesome still!
Emily: Like, we did a 6Music session with Nemone today, and she played it and I felt really proud of it. So yeah, we still love it.

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‘Fantasies’ is released on April 6, and the single ‘Help, I’m Alive’ is available now. Find Metric on MySpace HERE and see them live as follows…

May
11 Manchester Academy 2
12 Glasgow Oran Mor
13 Coventry Casbah
15 Brighton The Great Escape festival
16 Bristol Thekla
17 Oxford Academy
18 London Electric Ballroom

Check for tickets HERE

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