metric, on their own terms
  • MONDAY, JULY 13, 2009

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Did they tell you, you should grow up, when you wanted to dream
Did they warn you, better shape up, if you want to succeed
I don't know about you, who are they talking to?
They're not talking to me.


From the opening lines of "Twilight Galaxy," Emily Haines makes it clear that no one has the power to tell her what to do or how to do it. Ever since Metric recorded Grow Up and Blow Away in their home studio in London in the late nineties, they've stood out from the multitudes of dance-pop bands with punky overtones and female vocalists. Although those earlier songs had a self-described innocence, they also had the confidence and lack of pretension of a band determined to do things on their own terms, in their own way, rather than to accommodate a preordained image.

"There are way more people able to record and release their music now and it has resulted in a bit of a confusing musical landscape," says Haines, concerning the massive influx of bands in the current music scene. "I don't think there are any dire consequences to this phenomenon though. It's a phase. Quality will prevail."

No need to worry, Metric did prevail. Three albums later, Fantasies remains fiercely independent, and their ever-growing fan base is overwhelmingly supportive. Whether Haines is singing about the absurdity of polarizing a musical landscape into Beatles vs Rolling Stones in the delightfully iconoclastic "Gimme Sympathy," or answering our interview questions entirely in emphatic capitals, the message is unmistakable: They are Metric (hear them roar) and they are living it out.

At first glance, Fantasies seems hard to place in the context of their earlier work. Does the wavering piano on "Help I'm Alive" carry with it the introspection of Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, or do the defiant vocals on "Sick Muse" wage the same biting criticism as "Poster of a Girl" or "Handshakes"? Does the title of the album refer to shattering illusions, or providing new fantasies for people to get their escapist grooves on to?

If you're looking for a definitive explanation, feel free to go ahead and figure one out for yourself. For Haines, the songwriting process is still a mysterious one, and she prefers to keep it that way. "It is impossible for me to explain how things happen when it comes to writing music," she says. "We just follow each other through the process until we have created something honest we can stand behind."

The key with Metric has always been keeping it honest. A quick look at the lyrics of almost any given Metric song reveals something both captivating and direct, a no-holds-barred poignancy that goes above and beyond hooks. But of course, the hooks are there, ready to draw you in. "If you get far enough along with Metric that you are actually listening to the words, I hope you will enjoy the music more, not less," says Haines. No need to worry there. Just as "the worst thing in the world is really liking a song until you listen closely to the lyrics and then feeling embarrassed that you ever liked it in the first place," few things are better than discovering that the songs you've been bouncing around the room singing incessantly for the last few days are actually saying something worth hearing.

To ensure total control of their particular vision, Metric has broken with their record label and released Fantasies on their own, which, according to Haines, was the best move they've ever made.

"The old model is built on the premise that if you give a band $1,000,000 they will sign anything. That system was built on the willingness of the musician to trade their future in exchange for what sounds like a lot of money in the moment, and for a "push"...It was intense setting it up but now that it is in place we are in a much better position, it's taken so much of the frustration out of our lives.

We can't compete with the massive budgets of some prestige major label acts and we don't have the power to "saturate the market," but who gives a fuck? Do I really want my face on a billboard? Or to shove our music down people's throats in the hopes of convincing them to like us? The idea of spending $500,000 on a radio campaign seems hopelessly out of touch with the future of music and yet that's the going rate. I have no idea how this is all going to play out for Metric but at least we are in the game on our own terms."


On their own, Metric is entirely free to do whatever they want to do. And for now, that means more music, and more touring. It's no big surprise that this restless band is so "suited to a nomadic life." Haines and James Shaw are Canadian. Joules Scott-Key and Josh Winstead are American. The band formed in Williamsburg but frequently collaborates with Canadian bands with whom they have close friendships (often as a result of a shared history in Broken Social Scene). Haines has spent time in London and disappeared briefly to Argentina before recording Fantasies. "Touring, and traveling in general," she explains, "is addictive."

Lucky for us, this means Metric will continue to keep on the road, for as long as it feels right to them. When we saw them at Terminal 5, we were blown away by their high-energy, explosive live show (we have the show recap and photos to prove it). They may have evolved from the meandering new wave sound of Grow Up and Blow Away, and they might be tackling more personal topics than the imperialist war machines and capitalist social structures of Live it Out, but they are still uniquely Metric, and we can't wait to see where they take it from here.

"Being a musician is for me an adventure so I am open to seeing where Fantasies will take us. We will take a break when the time is right." -Nina Mashurova

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