Emily Haines of Metric
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Canadian indie-pop outfit Metric continues to forge ahead as a tightly knit unit, even after singer-songwriter Emily Haines’ foray into solo territory with 2006's Knives Don’t Have Your Back. In the past few years, Haines and guitarist James Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key have built their own recording studio in Toronto and started a record label, Metric Music International. The group is now touring behind its new record, Fantasies, which Haines wrote while on a retreat in Buenos Aires. Haines—who also moonlights along with Shaw as a member of indie-rock supergroup Broken Social Scene—spoke to The A.V. Club ahead of Metric's show tonight at 9:30 Club about her seclusion in Argentina, the death of the music industry, and why she loves asses on car hoods.
The A.V. Club: How has the tour been treating you so far?
Emily Haines: I’m happy to be back in New York and just kind of resting up for the [U.S. portion of the] tour. I got really sick on the Euro tour. I got road-dog flu. [Laughs.]
AVC: What’s that exactly?
EH: Oh, it’s where you can’t really separate your symptoms from a hangover. Your behavior is so bad that there’s really no one source that can be blamed. We all got it. We’re all troublemakers. So, believe it or not, I find being back in New York to be really relaxing.
AVC: The newest video for the single “Sick Muse” was just released. It sounded like the process of making it was very minimalist and done somewhat on the fly.
EH: Yeah, it was a really great experience, actually. We decided we wanted to do something that was simple: one day, and it’s shot in our studio. We were like, "Let’s do a video that doesn’t have a crew of 35 and a craft services table. Let’s just do this." So it was literally just the camera set up in the room and us against a white wall being us: playing around with light in the most basic way and trying to capture the feeling of the song and the feeling of the band. Videos often get kind of weighed down. I don't know. What are music videos? I think the definition is changing.
AVC: There’s definitely a shift going on as far as the point or purpose of music videos.
EH: I don’t know if we ever knew what they were for. I think the only really great professional commercial music videos were the ones that were just booties on cars. You know, greasy asses and a car hood. That’s a music video. [Laughs.]
AVC: Pop a bottle of champagne and get out on a yacht.
EH: Yes, exactly. Pour the champagne on that yacht. Or, pour it on your necklace and then pour it on the yacht. It’s like, we’re all trying to be creative and do interesting things and it’s kind of like, "Ugh." It always looks a bit contrived, and we’ve sort of gone in the direction of being more interested in short films, particularly my work with Jaron Albertin on my solo record. I really liked the video he did for “Doctor Blind.”
AVC: There’s also the video for “Help I’m Alive” off Fantasies directed by Deco Dawson that the band titles a “short film.”
EH: Yes, and that kind of reminded me of a kid’s TV program on acid or something. Like, Yo Gabba Gabba! on acid. With music and everything right now, it’s like the way forward is to embrace the fact that not everything is working that well. Let’s not lament the death of the $350,000 music video. It’s okay. We’ll get over it. Let’s embrace the fact that you can do something completely unusual, like the documentary of me in Buenos Aires [on ilovemetric.com]. To me, it serves so much more of a function than me walking on a beach or airbrushed and trying to lip-synch meaningfully. I’m excited about anything that’s not the past.
AVC: Have you felt people trying to push you and the group into that kind of hyper-airbrushed, packaged world?
EH: We’ve had some pretty hilarious interactions with people who’ve tried. It’s the thing that’s made us who we are—not really by choice. But it’s pretty funny trying to see someone try to turn me into some kind of female commodity. I’m totally game. It’s just that it doesn’t work. So, we’ve had some pretty laughable moments of like, “Yeah, okay, that video is never seeing the light of day.” There’s nothing for us to conform to, so I seriously commend those who have attempted to steer us in some direction that might seem more marketable. But it’s fucking impossible to market Metric. You can’t. I don’t know what you’re selling.
AVC: You went to live in Buenos Aires for an extended period of time to write Fantasies. What inspired you to go there?
EH: Well, it was kind of a process of elimination. The last thing I needed to do was go anywhere where I was Emily from Metric. It fucking felt really stupid. I don’t live in my head. I write from having real experiences, and I needed to have some real things happen. Not at a bar with my friends from Broken Social Scene. And my head was just full of the logistics and the inside part of being in a band, and I just refuse to put our listeners through songs about writing songs or songs about trying to set up a record label. I’m just not going to write a song about that. So I was literally just Google searching “room,” “piano,” and “rent.” That was how refined my search was. I stumbled upon this apartment in Buenos Aires with this Steinway piano in the front room. I needed to go somewhere that would force me to get away from also having everyone take care of everything for me. You know, just go back to giving my own passport at the desk. The things I discovered there and the people I met have been some of the most important people in my life. It just completely woke me up to the world being big and magical and that I don’t live in this tiny existence where you’re the focus of your life. I get really bored with that.
AVC: How has it felt to be back with the band after your solo excursions, both on your own record and to Buenos Aires to write the new Metric record?
EH: Well, I’d written the songs and I had a vision. That was the thing. I’d written “Help I’m Alive,” and that’s what we needed. This is the amazing and terrifying thing about being a musician. It’s just all songs, just moments. Writing is such a strange process that I totally feel removed from and quite superstitious from even discussing. It’s just being in a state of openness to observations. Then, the idea that you could create three minutes of time with your three best friends and then people, as we speak, are listening to “Help I’m Alive” in their house or in their car. It’s just such an incredible thing, and I feel like so many musicians, because of all the shit they have to deal with that’s not about music. It’s just so difficult to remember and prioritize that. We, as a group and among our group of friends, are just like, “Fuck that.” This is such a gift. We’re all music fans. I’m not going to live my life talking marketing plans. I’m just not fucking doing it. [Laughs.]