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Measure by Measure

A conversation with Emily Haines of Metric.


Emily Haines is a busy lady. When she's not raising a ruckus on tour with the band Metric, the 36-year-old likely is making music with Broken Social Scene. There's also the chance that she's saddling up studio-side somewhere with legends such as Lou Reed to knock out a few solo tracks, occasionally finding time to throw on a some old vinyl and seek inspiration. Haines found time to entertain a few of our questions before heading out to support Muse on its fall tour (the band will headline its own show at the National on Oct. 25).

We promise you one thing: Emily Haines is as cool as you would want her to be.

Style: You guys are getting ready to head out on the road with Muse. How do you expect that'll go?

Emily Haines: We're ready for stadium love! Ready to rock the enormo-domes of America.

You'll have to kick it up a notch with that kind of venue I would imagine.

We give it our all every time, whether it's a little fashion party or a big show. When we played with the Stones at Madison Square Garden it was, of course, this massive thing but easier than playing a show with say, 20 of your closest friends.

In between those gigs with Muse, you all are squeezing in a few of your own shows like the one you'll play here in Richmond. Is that a nice break when you switch from opener to headliner for a few days?

Yeah, definitely. Playing with a band like Muse is kinda like playing a festival. You show up, do your thing for half-hour and try to capture a snapshot of the larger picture of who you actually are. So, it'll be nice to get in the full complexity of a whole Metric set in the other shows. There's only so much you can do in a half-hour, ya know?

Speaking of squeezing things in, you and James Shaw remain involved in Broken Social Scene among other side projects, how do you stay human with a schedule like that let alone creative?

[Laughs] What's funny is that it's my time off where I get into more trouble, as my Twitter account indicates. But that's almost more exhausting. When I'm focused on working, writing with other people or doing film stuff with either band I feel like I'm channeling my energy in a productive way. It's nice to keep it alive. I know on paper, it looks impossible but it's good for the soul.

Any more solo stuff in the works for the near future?

Not sure. I've got a couple of offers on the table, things that people have asked me to write. Recently, I did this thing with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. I think my mind is still blown. Laurie Anderson rules, by the way.

I would imagine so.

I sort of saw her as being from another generation and I always thought "O Superman" was one of the coolest songs ever written, but I was completely out of touch with how active she still is as an artist. We did this thing at the Sydney Opera House and she schooled everybody. There's a next level of consciousness going on there.

And how was it working with Lou?

I was like the only one who sang with him! We worked on these songs together and it was him sitting there with a guitar and me singing. I basically sang "Perfect Day" to him, which was pretty odd. Then, we did a song about death, which I was a little more comfortable (laughs). As for the solo record, I'm not really sure when that'll happen. There has to be some point where I'll get tired and that's when I'll put myself in front of a fireplace with a piano and try to make sense of everything that has happened.

Can you confirm that Metric will start recording another record before the year's end?

Yeah, I mean this is not a job. It's a life. So, when I think about going into the studio it's not luck. "Punch the clock. Return to the studio." It's almost a luxury, because it's really just now that our studio is finally what we have always hoped it would be. Even with "Fantasies," we tried to get it happening but there were so many technical things to deal with and we didn't have the equipment we wanted. Since then, Jimmy has accumulated all these vintage microphones and put hardwood floors in the studio. I'm excited to be in there, but that still doesn't mean the record won't take three years. We've already done one session and it was a good time.

Are you guys taking the sound in a different direction or sticking with what works?

I figure we'll start where we ended and then see where we go. I do feel really different from the way I felt when we did "Fantasies," that's for sure. That was such a fucked up time and so much happened between "Live It Out" and "Fantasies," so I don't predict the same from myself. I feel like I don't have to clean out my whole life before I start writing, thank God. That's exhausting.

There are some great live clips out there of you guys doing acoustic versions of otherwise electro-pop songs. Do you work that into your shows often?

We do sometimes actually. That's the exciting part about being able to develop as an artist, is that when things to a certain level you can start to do something more interesting. For us, when we were playing clubs we're just trying to make sure someone doesn't throw a beer can at our heads. You know, we have to keep them occupied long enough so that they don't talk over you or eat nachos in front of your microphone. I think we've graduated from that, to be able to focus on creating moods and a full concert experience. That's what we're aiming for, pyrotechnics included! For the Muse tour and these dates around it I think we're going to stick to the bang ‘em up, rock-dance experience.

I was shopping at Amoeba Records recently and "Fantasies" stood out as one of the newer albums that also got released on vinyl and I know you all have also done a few 7-inch releases that you've made available at your shows. Do you consider yourself part of the vinyl revolution?

Hell yeah. My brother has a vintage record store. He begrudgingly added CDs, but they're on their way out again. One of my favorite pastimes is just shutting the door and putting on a record. He just gave me his back catalogue of old soul records, which is pretty good for schooling yourself before going into the studio. You know, put on an Al Green records and feel … useless (laughs). We'll see if it [vinyl] can ever really catch back on, but people are realizing that they're better.

Well, the artwork looks so incredible.

It does, right! So much better for the visual artist out there to see artwork that doesn't look like a thumbnail.

Speaking of visuals, as a listener it is common for music to evoke images upon listening. Does something similar take place for the music maker during the creative process?

Yeah, as a group of people we tend to be influenced more by cinematic ideas than sonic ones. So, in fact we come at it in a very visual way and it gets expressed in a sonic way. I'm actually excited in that shift; I think we're calling it the ‘death of MTV'. Videos now, what are they? You can't really use them as the same promotional device anymore. It kinda goes back to the vinyl thing, it's a shift in the music industry and creating opportunities to do some really cool shit.

The digital short for "Collect Call" is gorgeous. Who came up with that?

Isn't that great? It's one of my favorite Metric videos because I didn't have to wear eyeliner or lip synch! I had minimal input. I approved the content and have known Chris Mill for a while. I really just got to be the recipient of the work.

Paste Magazine declared that indie music is dead earlier this year, though Metric has survived if not thrived without a label. What's your take on the state of indie music?

We can't win and we can't lose. That's been the paradox of Metric. This one A&R guy told us that we're too indie for the mainstream, but too mainstream for the underground. It sounded like a curse, but it's turned out to be a perfectly delightful place to reside. I think indie is dead when it's like a front, a guitar tone, or like a denim wash, but when it's an ethos that drives what you do and makes you happy I think it's hilarious to say it's dead.

Metric plays the National on Oct. 25 at 8 PM. Doors open at 7 PM. Tickets $20-$23. For information, call 612-1900.


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