By: Heather Seidler, Photos Courtesy of Emily Haines
It’s only been two weeks since indie-rock quartet Metric wrapped a string of sold-out shows opening for Muse across the United States. It’s been six years since I saw Emily Haines play her first and only stripped-down solo show at Spaceland in Los Angeles. You may know Emily as the magnetic lead singer/keyboardist of Metric, with enough gusto to convert devout catholic school-girls into throwing karate kicks and doing a sexed-up robot dance; or some of you may know her simply as the “Jackie-O of hipster rock” as Spin Magazine deemed her. Regardless, the Metric frontwoman’s remarkable stage presence is evident whether she is performing with gravitas in front of thousands or vulnerably whispering to a room of fifty transfixed fans.
Metric’s latest and fourth studio album FANTASIES, proves they have grown beyond the charming borders of their glammed-up synth pop sound, and close inspection reveals infectious songs within songs within songs, complex and subtle layers with poignant melancholy permeating the melodies and lyrics, which could be due in part to Haine’s solo sojourn to Buenos Aires, where the album was partially penned. After making the Billboard Top 20, touring for over a year straight and composing the theme song for the Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Metric refuse to slow down, now preparing to return to their self-built studio in Toronto to record their 5th studio album.
Shortly before dusk, at the poolside of the Standard Hotel, I sit down with Emily Haines to talk candidly about music, politics and the last great cause.
“It’s irritating to people when you break the third wall of how we are supposed to be here to do this one thing and make it about something else,” Emily explains. “At some point, to maintain your sanity and integrity, you have to use the medium to do something other than just forward yourself.”
The daughter of anti-establishment jazz poet Paul Haines, Emily is outspoken about politics. Whatever Metric’s manifesto declares, one thing is for sure—“We’re all okay with anal sex, let’s be okay about politics,” affirms Emily. Metric inevitably make their politics sound incredibly seductive and impossibly cool.
Haine’s never settled down in one place long enough to be defined by any one city, scene or style, living across Canada, London, Los Angeles and New York. After having spent a bulk of the nineties living in Williamsburg, NY, sharing a loft with members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, not being able to afford a roll of toilet paper and having their first album benched by Restless Records, I ask Emily how she kept from getting disenfranchised and disillusioned by the whole experience. “I feel loyalty to our fans, truth be told, maybe a little too much. It’s really important that I feed them something that doesn’t suck, that I not be a rock-star in my head.”
So then how does Emily feel about the band’s hard-earned success that has catapulted them across the airwaves, “What scares me about it, to be totally candid, is the feeling I had before [Fantasies] was released,” she replies. “That it was never going to go bigger, never going to be millions of records. When you are in the low-to-middle range of record sales, and you’re in the early stages of your career, there’s twenty thousand people knowing it, it’s too personal, especially because of the way I treat people. I don’t know how to see them as masses, so it terrifies me to think there are individual people taking pictures of me or knowing everything about my life. When people get a proper push and they get to come at it without ever having to work their way up, I think you are spared that awkwardness. Your fans are prepared for you, there are avenues to be pushed down and people will be there. There’s an infrastructure around you. Not me, I’m pretty exposed.”
It’s apparent Emily’s musical chops are not seduced by the stimuli surrounding her, “I had a record guy once tell me that I was going to be the next Macy Gray and that’s when I knew I was in completely the wrong world.” While living in world in which you are either ahead of your time or past your prime, Metric subverts listeners by reeling them in with glossy sheen and providing an almost subliminal text to diversify the backdrop. “I was the one with the world at my feet/Got us a battle, leave it up to me,” sings Emily on the album’s opener Blindness.
The new millennium is drowning in unhealthy amounts of manufactured American teen shtick-pop, in desperate need of good old-fashioned danceable synth-rock songs you can twist to as well as sit down and listen to. Enter Metric, warriors against the plethora of pop idols swimming in rock’s bloated toilet bowl. Metric aren’t carrying banners or advancing agendas, but they do have something to say, and I for one, am all-ears.