Live @ Oxford Zodiac
May 17, 2009
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

Named for their “metered approach to musical structures and training in The Arts.” Metric principally began life in 1998 as a duo – Emily Haines (vocals / synthesiser) and Jimmy Shaw (guitar) – based in Canada, before the band’s “life-force” relocated to New York and several years later, recruited Josh Winstead (bass) and Joules Scott-Keys (drums). Having led “a nomadic lifestyle” throughout their career, setting up home in Toronto, Montreal, Brooklyn, London and LA, all at different times. When asked about their raison d’être and the type of musical stamp they would like to leave on the music world. Haines – a gorgeous and commanding frontwoman with a great voice – once answered, “The whole point of Metric was to create music that appeals to the masses and that gets on the radio; we’d like to be placed somewhere between The Rolling Stones and Sonic Youth.”

Of their early new wave and gyroscopic oeuvre, which is brimming with supersonic cherry bombs, jackhammer jams and sobering laments, Metric’s bio states: “Their debut album, Grow Up And Blow Away, was recorded in 2001, but the official release was delayed for years by their record label. As the years passed, the band’s sound changed to the point where they no longer felt the album would be what the fans expected to hear, so Metric recorded a completely new album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, that was released in 2003. Their third album, Live It Out, was originally released in 2005, but followed by a Drowned In Sound UK release in 2006. Last Gang Records later purchased the rights to their delayed album, Grow Up And Blow Away, did minor changes to the tracklisting and released it in 2007.”

During the intervening years, each group member has also pursued various side-projects outside of Metric, with Haines and Shaw both members of Broken Social Scene, and the rhythm section of Winstead / Scott-Keys playing in Bang Lime. Emily, a prolific and passionate songwriter (her father is the late poet Paul Haines), has even sung guest vocals on a number of friends’ records and released a vulnerable, broken and bruised, piano-driven solo album (typically how most of Metric’s songs originate before sonic cosmetics are applied), under the guise, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. A poignant portfolio of songs, that pushes emotional buttons and emphasises the power of the personal, with Haines elaborating, “I love that music just as much as I love rock ‘n’ roll, I really need both. But for a long time, I feel like I neglected that side.” And when discussing her lyrics, she has brought to light, “One of the rules for me as a writer, is that no lyric gets through if it only has one meaning.”

Now back with Metric – “her number one priority and the engine behind her musical identity” – the band issued their mouth-watering, vibrant and burnished fourth studio album, Fantasies, in April 2009, which they’ve described as "Fleetwood Mac playing dance rock" and really sees them sharpening their claws / hitting their stride! As it’s an electrical storm of a record that could even be thought of as a tempting honey-pot of addictive / uptempo tunes touched to perfection – all of which will give you butterfly twinges and leave a warm afterglow in your soul! Because this time around – housing heat-seeking choruses as-wide-as-the-skies that fly at anthemic altitude – Metric have retooled their sound, eschewing their default melancholy setting and acute, vulpine angst-ridden music. With the new LP offering a lot more hope, optimism and rays of sunshine than previous efforts (also represented visually through the sleeve’s artwork depicting a lit light bulb in a sea of darkness).

This is partly due to the group having deliberately spent time apart prior to recording sessions, during which Emily not knowing if she would ever write another song again, fled to Buenos Aires. Thankfully, she did – most of the album in fact – with a lot of the band’s original ideas that had already been road-tested, being deserted in favour of these newer compositions (but only after they had first passed the ‘campfire test’), which are moulded to smooth-edged, cart-wheeling, star-encrusted and radiating melodies, with brio and finesse! One review exclaimed, “Fantasies draws from each of their previous releases, but shines with a new refined confidence and some career-best moments.”

Further detailing the release of the long player, part of Metric’s Official Press Release reads: “The band decided to shake up the ways in which they make and release their music, knocking back lucrative record deals and favouring instead to seize control of their career, thus freeing up the band to put out their own music around the world, how and when they like. To that end, the new record is entirely self-financed, with the band setting up a global label operation (Metric Music International) and assembling a team to release it in major territories around the world. “It’s pretty insane,” guitarist and co-founder Jimmy Shaw remarks, “but it’s really exciting. We might go down in flames, or it might be the best move ever. Either way, it will have been on our terms and for us that is success.” Letting the music dictate itself, rather than the other way around, the result – as produced by Gavin Brown and co-produced by Jimmy Shaw and mixed by John O’Mahony (Coldplay and The Strokes) – is their best yet. A beautifully unpredictable record of gilded surfaces and textural density, and a seamless and completely engaging mixture of psychedelia, electro and rock, perfectly encapsulating the band’s restless ‘dream state’ vision for the album.”

Having been wowed by one of their UK support slots with Bloc Party a couple of years ago, instantly becoming a fan. I caught up with the genial Jimmy at the Oxford Zodiac for a 15 minute chat, a few hours before the group’s aggrandised, depth-charged, stroboscopic and supernova set, to discuss how in 2009, life is measuring up for Metric…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.Kate Bush once said that “music gives her the freedom to be who she wants to be.” Is this the same for you?
“Yeah, it’s interestingly put – I don’t know that I would phrase it in the exact same way, but I do think that it is who I want to be. So it’s not like music is allowing me to do something, it’s what I have always done and it’s who I’ve always been!”

2.What for you, have been some of the landmark songs in the history of popular music?
“I think Across The Universe by The Beatles, when I was like 11-years-old, sort of changed my perspective on things. Maybe Babylon Sisters, which is the first track on Gaucho by Steely Dan, and there’s got to be some Smiths tune in there somewhere (thinking), probably This Charming Man.”

3.Is there a track that you consider to be ‘A Perfect Pop Song’?
“I mean, they kind of come in and out right? It’s like there are moments of feeling that about a song and then it goes away, but in the last couple of months, I felt like the song, Re: Stacks by Bon Iver, was pretty close to a pure emotion – it was pretty amazing! I feel like The Rolling Stones’ Sweet Virginia is a pretty awesome pop tune as well!”

4.Of all your songs to date, which one has been your favourite to make from start to finish?

“Um, there are certain processes and it’s not necessarily that I think that the song is the best thing we’ve ever done, but there are certain processes that I really enjoy, like for example, Front Row, on this record. We had spent the entire night in the studio doing everything that we needed to do, and then at like 11.30pm, Emily went, “Oh, I’ve got this song that I kind of wrote the other day.” And the whole thing literally came to fruition in about 20 minutes – it was written and tracked in its entirety, in 20 minutes! So before we left the studio, we said, “We don’t even know what that song really sounds like – let’s hear it again (laughing),” because it was so fresh! But that was cool (smiling).”

5.Prior to the release of your new album, fans were able to pre-order a number of different and beautiful limited edition versions through your Official Website. But are you yourself an avid record collector and do you have any favourite collectibles?
“I’m not really a record collector – I never really have been. I mean, I have a massive iTunes catalogue, but I’ve never actually done the collecting records thing, like sifting through record shops. That’s never really been me.”

6.Would Metric ever consider releasing an acoustic, rarities or remix LP, perhaps as a companion piece?

“Yeah, I think so, but I think we’re more tempted to go on the side of the acoustic stuff, because it still feels like it’s us. I think this band in particular, is a little bewildered by the concept of remixes. I understand that the world loves them and the world needs them and everybody’s into them – it’s all cool and I have nothing against it. But, I just find it a little hard to understand. You know, it’s the song but it’s not the song, it’s you but it’s not you – I get a little confused by remixes.”

7.Are there any records that you would like to see dissected track-by-track as part of the ‘Classic Albums’ TV Series, whereby musicians, producers, engineers etc. talk in detail about the making of an LP now considered to be a masterpiece?
“Well, you know what (excitedly), I’ve been in a studio in my life where they had the raw tracks to all of the Queen records! We brought them up in Pro Tools and you could solo Freddie Mercury’s vocal tracks! That absolutely blew my mind (big smile), like, it BLEW MY MIND! It was incredible, so that was kind of a highlight.”

8.On a similar note, there was a recent debate about what the darkest and most uplifting albums ever recorded are. But what’s the darkest album and the most uplifting album in your record collection?
“Closer by Joy Division, is a really great dark album, that’s for sure! In terms of an up album or a light album, I don’t know? I feel like it would probably be a pop record, like Thriller or something, you know what I mean? Thriller’s a pretty up record – you don’t put that on and cry about anything (laughing). I don’t know? That’s a tough question.”

9.HMV has been running a ‘My Inspiration’ advertisement campaign, which features photographs of musicians and groups, along with an act / lyric that means a lot to them personally. But if Metric were asked to appear, which artist or band + lyric of theirs would you choose?
“Which artist or band and which lyric? Oh God (long pause + thinking)… For me, it would probably be David Bowie and it would be something off Ziggy Stardust, but I don’t know what lyric it would be. I’m going to come back to that one, I’ll see if I can muster it up.”

10.Throughout the history of music, there have been people who are ‘Born To Be Rock Stars’ and then are the ‘Unlikely Rock Stars’. But which musicians would you place into either of these categories – and also, where would you place Metric?
“I think we’re definitely born to be doing what we’re doing you know? I think that the age of the full-on rock stars is possibly over, and I think that the idea that you can be very, very successful (pausing), I mean for example, Jonny Greenwood in my opinion – now that we’re in Oxford – is as big a rock star as you can get at this point. But at the same time, he’s not a rock star you know? He’s a man, he’s a musician. I think that it’s kind of cool that you don’t have to be that character anymore – the world is sort of a little more accepting of someone who’s just plainly talented.”

11.February 2, 2009, marked the 30th Anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death, although an NME.COM Blog entitled, ‘Why The Sanctification Of Sid Vicious Must Be Stopped’, argued that he doesn’t deserve to be thought of as an icon, due to the troubled life he led. What are your feelings on the canonising / romanticising of tortured musicians, and the ‘live fast, die young’ ethos often associated with rock ‘n’ roll?
“Well, it is glamorised, but at the same time, the whole point of rock ‘n’ roll in a sense – outside of the music itself – is the idea that someone is going to live out a dream or a fantasy for you. You don’t have to ‘live fast, die young’ because someone else is going to do it for you – you can live vicariously through these people. So it’s up to the likes of a Sid Vicious or a Jonny Greenwood, if they want to ‘live fast, die young’ you know? It’s completely up to them and for me, no-one should really tell anybody how to live. Sid Vicious probably lived the way he wanted to and anything that happens that’s not the perfect way of doing things, is probably going to get romanticised by a lot of people, because they don’t have the balls to do it you know (laughing)? So, I don’t think we need to pass any sort of retroactive, moral judgement on people who died at 27, having lived a crazy, crazy life. I think it’s all good.”

12.Do you think it’s a good thing how the record label, Rough Trade, actively encourages young musicians to send demos to them?
“I think that’s the best thing and it’s a shame that all labels don’t do that – that’s how you discover bands! Because a lot of labels don’t have the time to look at every single artist or band on the Internet, or go to every single show, so how else are they going to do it?”

13.Has Metric surpassed your expectations, and what have been some of the standout moments in your career so far?
“I think it’s kind of like everytime we meet expectations in our lives, in our music and in our career, the expectation grows, and then we have to try and take time to grow to meet that and then it grows again. So, I’d say that we’ve probably met our expectations a few times. Are we meeting it today? No, because it will happen soon you know? But we’ve had some amazing moments, like opening for The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden was pretty massive, and playing after Sonic Youth at a Festival in a castle in France was amazing! There’s definitely been some highlights (big smile)!”

14.And during this time, have you ever ‘Googled’ Metric?
“I try my best not to read reviews, because it seems like it’s really light-hearted, like someone sends you something and you just check it out, and then it sticks with you in a really awkward and unnecessary way.”

15.Many music magazines now feature a guest columnist discussing a topic of their choice, but if you were asked to contribute an article on a subject that interests you, what would you write about?
“I would ask, ‘How Important Is It To Know Your Neighbour?’ Because I find that if you know your neighbours, your life is completely different, but I think that a lot of people don’t see the value in it.”
*I mention that in the UK, there’s already a ‘Get To Know Your Neighbour’ style Government Campaign*
“Really? Huh, that’s cool!”

16.In reference to the title of your new album, do you have any unfulfilled Fantasies?
“I’d love to own a spaceship (laughing)! Joking aside, we feel that the title can be interpreted in a number of different ways, such as what your own personal fantasies are, or even the way you view the world around you.”

17.Have you ever had a favourite DJ, and do you think there will ever be another important / influential DJ like John Peel?
“I never really have had that, like in Canada, I find radio is a lot less influential than it is over here. In England – I mean John Peel is a great example – there have been really influential DJs and people who have sort of changed the way people listen to music; what they listen to and what’s cool and what’s happening. But I don’t find that it’s really the same in North America, or at least not that I was ever exposed to you know? In fact, my favourite DJ is my best friend Kevin, because he plays me AMAZING records all the time (smiling)!”

18.Where’s the most unusual place that you’ve ever heard a Metric song?
“I think I was in a department store somewhere, and you know how the first floor always has perfume counters? I was walking through there and I heard a Metric song, and the combination of the sound and the smell really through me off – I had to get out of there (laughing).”

19.If a Metric ‘Tribute Album’ was recorded, which artists / bands would you most like to see cover some of your songs?

“Oh My God, I don’t know (long pause + thinking)? I’d love to hear what Animal Collective would do with a Metric song – that would be really cool! Because it would sound completely different and it would be so exciting to see where they would take it. Yeah, totally!”

20.And if there’s ever a Metric ‘Tribute Band’, what do you think they should call themselves?

“(laughs heartily) Regardless of what I said, they would probably be called The Matrix. How about the band that I would like it to be the most? That would be Keanu Reeves’ band, whatever they’re called – Dogstar, I think? They should be called The Matrix. Perfect!”

21.Fans almost always shout out song requests at gigs, but of all your songs, which is the most requested + are there any cover versions that you often play during soundchecks?
“Um, well people yell out for songs from Grow Up And Blow Away all the time, like Raw Sugar and stuff like that, because we’ve never played them! So, I think that’s why they yell them out. The ones that they could yell out, they know we’re going to play anyway, so they don’t bother you know? In soundchecks, Emily and I do a couple of covers, like just acoustically – we play Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right by Bob Dylan, and what’s that Elliot Smith tune (thinking)? Between The Bars. We also played one Elvis Costello tune once as a full band, and I think we played The Passenger by Iggy Pop once, on a French TV station or something like that.”

22.Do you see many familiar faces in the audience when touring around the world?
“I feel like I used to see more, because the crowds were consistently the same size. But in the last couple of years, the crowds have grown quite a bit, so I think I’m starting to not see the same ones anymore – maybe they’re just further back in the room (laughs heartily)! I don’t know?”

23.NME TV recently screened ‘The Top 10 Bands You Need To See Before You Die’ – with the Top 3 being: 1) Muse, 2) Kings Of Leon, 3) Oasis. But who would be in your Top 3?
“Let’s see, I mean Radiohead are a phenomenal live band for me. I like Interpol – they’re kind of boring live, but I just love their songs and I think that they’ve got a great energy and a great vibe on stage, it’s really stoic and awesome! And I’m kind of in the band, but a Broken Social Scene concert when there’s like 25 people on stage, is one of the craziest sights ever! So I’d say those would be in my Top 3: 1) Radiohead, 2) Interpol, 3) Broken Social Scene.”

24.Much has been made about the future of The Music Industry, but for you personally, what do you think would be the best thing that could happen?
“I think the more that the musicians can take back the Industry, and the more that the people who have actually made a way of making a career out of being a middleman – between the listener and the musician – the more they can go away and stop controlling the Industry from a place in the middle. Then, I feel the most important thing that could possibly happen, is that the musician feels empowered to do what they want with their career, and they’re not listening to businessmen telling them what to do.”

25.What’s the biggest lesson that your career has taught you?

“I think it’s that lesson – yeah, it’s that lesson actually! I’m the one who’s completely in control and everybody who told me what to do with my career, when I knew they were wrong, I’ve got them out of my career. And now we own our own label worldwide, we release all of our records, we pay for everything on our own, the return is five times bigger, and we don’t have to deal with people telling us what to do from an office in another country you know? We run the show and it feels great (big smile)!”

26.Is it important to you all, to keep challenging both yourselves and your audience?

“Yes, it is important to challenge ourselves and I think we challenge our audience to stay young – to stay young at heart in a way. To be alive and know that you can do whatever you want to with your life, and that the only way to change the world, is to do something about it.”

27.If you were asked to put together a TV show in a similar vein to ‘Storytellers’ – whereby 5 musicians play songs together, talk about their music / respective careers, jam and tell anecdotes etc. Who would you ask to appear?

“I think I would have Keith Richards, Brian May, Jack White and who else would I choose (thinking)? Jonny Greenwood and… myself (laughing)!”

28.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“Chips, as in French Fries? French Fries – totally! I couldn’t live without French Fries (smiling)!”

A very special thanks to Jimmy, to Metric’s Tour Manager Lana, and to Warren @ Chuff Media, for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

Twilight Galaxy
Help I'm Alive
Satellite Mind
Gold Guns Girls
Gimme Sympathy
Sick Muse
Empty (long version)
Front Row
Dead Disco
Stadium Love
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Monster Hospital
Live It Out (slow version)

“Gimme Sympathy
After All Of This Is Gone
Who Would You Rather Be
The Beatles Or The Rolling Stones”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?