Metric's Emily Haines on Synthetica and "Examining What's Real and What's Artificial"
Photo by Brantley Gutierrez
Even though she is currently in Spain, enjoying vacation time, Metric's Emily Haines can hardly hide her exuberance about visiting Miami again.
Talking over the phone, Haines notes a couple of rather unforgettable connections between her and the Magic City. One revolves around a past Metric performance and the other is a bit more personal.
"I love going to Miami. I always have such a good time. Art Basel has gone down as a legendary experience," she says, alluding to the band's headlining late-night performance on the sands of South Beach as part of Art Basel Miami Beach's Art Loves Music series in December 2010.
Her other link to South Florida: The love that her father, poet Paul Haines, always had for our city. "My dad, when he was a young man, during the 50s and 60s," she recalls, "he was a writer and he would always go to Miami for what you could find culturally in that era. I kinda have romantic reasons for [visiting] Coconut Grove. It's a great place to go and write and just be part of the moment. It's a different moment, but it still makes me feel the same way when I go there."
Haines' connection with her father, who passed away in 2003, remains strong. His influence and presence even infuses her lyrics on Metric's latest album, 2012's Synthetica. In particular, she points to one of her favorite tracks on the album, "Dreams So Real," a powerful song with a pulsing melody and very direct, almost hypnotically deadpan vocals.
"My father wrote a poem called, 'Dreams So Real,' and the title is taken from that," she reveals, adding about the lyrics: "It's sort of the questioning side of the whole process. You hope that you are making a contribution, culturally or socially or something. You hope that your music is helping people out, and that it's time well spent and that the effort is worth it.
"Every now and then, it's like, 'Oh, man, is it? Am I making any difference for anybody other than myself? Should I quit and go do something else, something concrete, actually concrete in helping people?'
"So I'm pretty happy it's something I get to do, because that is something that has always nagged me, and now I can express it."
Released over a year ago, Synthetica is yet another vital, vibrant release from Metric. It marks the quartet's seventh full-length release in close to 15 years, if you also include the band's pulsing, moody score for David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, co-written by Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore.
During their decade and a half together, Haines and crew's blend of synth-pop, power pop, and heavy guitars has only grown more refined. She sings in an occasionally fierce, occasionally intimate, occasionally grand voice while the songs often jerk and bob along to catchy hooks by guitarist James Shaw. There are dynamic layers of swelling electronics that sizzle with static, rather than bubble with effervescence. Real drums and dance-y bass by stalwart rhythm section Joules Scott-Key and Joshua Winstead lend a consistent, dynamic swing to the tracks.
This year, Synthetica won the group three Junos (Canada's equivalent to the Grammys), for Best Alternative Album, as well as packaging and the production by Metric member Shaw. It was a triumph. And Haines seems especially pleased with her bandmate's win for production.
"That was a long time coming," she says, praising the man with whom she founded Metric in 1998. "As the band has developed, Jimmy has always been at the helm, developing as a producer, building our studio. We make all our own albums out of our studio. It has been a long time that he has been in the shadows, behind the scenes, and it was way, way overdue for him to get recognition for that."
The album has also been a modest commercial hit, debuting on Canada's album charts at number two, and in the United States at number 12, according to the Billboard charts. "We have a remix of 'Breathing Underwater' that is back on the charts in Canada," Haines notes. "It just cracked the Top 10. So things just keep on in their own momentum, and they just keep going forward."
That's why Haines does not see any reason to slow down support for Synthetica. After all, the band previously spent close to three years touring in support of 2009's Fantasies. "You just follow the momentum of the album itself," she explains. "You like the music, you put it out there, and you just follow it ... This summer we're just doing things that feel good and sound like fun. I think, in the fall, there is a tour, and if it feels good, we'll be doing it."
Synthetica also has a special resonance as a concept album, which is captured in the made-up single-word title. "It was kinda an accidental concept," Haines admits. "It sort of emerged in the process of writing it. It's a theme more than a concept.
"But it was just this sense of examining what's real and what's artificial. In this moment in time, it's a pretty big question and often hard to tell. Also, questions of identity for me personally, for the band, and sort of collectively for where the human race is at, to put it on the biggest scale, where we are at with what is happening with the planet, with climate change, where we are at culturally.
"[Are you] still on track, becoming the best version of yourself or have you strayed? It was really one of those moments to check in with our neighborhoods, with our families, and within ourselves and with the band."
These thematic concerns have also given the singer a new perspective on Metric's catalog, especially when it comes to live performances of new material alongside older songs. "It's really amazing to play it all and how the songs mix with the older material," she says. "It's been really cool to imagine ten years of putting out records, and it's now become this body of work that covers a lot of ground and a lot of emotional high points."
But lest anyone consider Metric's message preachy, Haines says, discussing what "Dreams So Real" means to her: "I'm not a saint, that's for sure. My aspiration would be to be someone that represents some kind of integrity that you can look to and be like, 'Yes, well played,' and you find inspiring because the person doesn't seem like a complete pushover or a total conformist or all these things that we are all pressured to be."
It's also not lost on Haines that her gender may play a role in others' perception of her. However, Haines prefers to look beyond that. "I have never focused too much on the gender side of it," she insists.
Instead, she understands her place as a role model to young people. "A lot of kids are into our music. It's guys and girls, and increasingly it's like transgender kids. It's kids and anybody who is going through a questioning time. It seems like our band is helpful. I feel like I should be.
"You want to represent something positive and inspiring for people. I hope I am doing that."
Metric. As part of the Bud Light Music First Tour's 50/50/1. Thursday, August 1. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $27.50 plus fees via livenation.com. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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