I have this weird thing where I like to claim some personal ownership in Emily Haines. Maybe it’s because we both grew up in Toronto. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen her play a bunch of times. Maybe it’s because she made me smell her armpit once. Or maybe it’s because I have deeply strange personal issues. Whatever it be, the lead singer of new-wave funsters Metric is by far one of Canada’s hottest exports (that face! that voice! those legs!), and after a four-year stay in between-album purgatory, she and her bandmates have returned and are rejuvenated, with a catchy, fizzy new record. Maybe it’s because she makes great music.
Fantasies follows the Metric paradox of moody lyrics set to groovy riffs. But for a band known for lamenting the woes of society, this album feels less state-of-the-union, and more state-of-themselves. Haines recently underwent a self-imposed, self-reflective exile in Buenos Aires (beautifully evoked in this documentary) where she wrote songs for the album, far away from the white noise of the music industry hype machine. But speaking to Haines recently, she was excited about the new record, ready to take her show on the road and defiant about online vitriol, and the inevitable album leak. Not to mention, a little potty-mouthed.
You did a video for “Gimme Sympathy” before “Help I’m Alive,” which was the first single off the album. Why’s that? Well, actually “Help I’m Alive” is like the song that ran out the back door of the studio and snuck away with the other 9 songs looking guilty and not telling us where the song went. In December, we did this tour across Canada, that we had planned for a while, that was sort of in conjunction with a couple of charities that help out kids. We decided to call it the “Help, I’m Alive Tour”, because that made sense, kind of spurring the idea of compassion. And at the last minute said, “Well, let’s put out a limited-edition vinyl,” of the tour, for the song “Help I’m Alive”, and as soon as we did that, it leaked. We found that it leaked by getting phone calls from fuckin’ Australia. Basically, the song went to #1 in Canada, and performed better than any other Metric song ever in the world
So when you recorded that song, you weren’t like, “This is the first single?” No, and it’s kind of that thing that happens on albums where—you know there’s always everyone’s favorite song? And then there’s some people who don’t know the music business who are like, “That should be the single!” And everyone who knows the business is like, “Oh, no way, that can’t be the single.” That was totally that song. It proved what we always hoped to be true, which is those rules are not written in stone, and people are open-minded about music, and it’s not all like, corrupt and tied up. Your little song can make it if people like it, you know?
In the documentary you said that you were unhappy and you weren’t sure where your life was headed. I’m sure a lot of people must have heard that and been like, “What is she talking about? She’s a rock star, how could you be unhappy? There’s no direction? What is she talking about?” What would you say to people who would react like that? I’d say, has nobody read Great Jones Street, by Don DeLillo? [Laughs] That’s what I’d say. You should read it.
What’s it about? It’s about this rock star who just disappears from the whole reality that he’s in because he just can’t handle it any more. And for me, it wasn’t like a particularly dramatic thing. I think I was just being honest, that the idea of what a life is supposed to be like for a successful musician is such a trap, and it’s a trick. We’re really determined as people to not have our lives be something that we’ve lost control of, and that’s the trade off, you know? Like, that’s the cost of success—that you never have time for anyone but yourself, you’re constantly exhausted, you don’t have a home, your relationships are always in shambles. Like, no fuckin’ way. I’m not doing that. So when we came off of the last run, it was like, we’d been touring for 3 years before Live It Out—you know, 300 shows a year, literally—and then 3 years after Live It Out, and then I put out a solo record, and then I did that for a year, and the day I get home and drop my bag it’s like, ‘Okay, time to write a new record.’
And who determines that? Why is it time to put out a new record? Well, that’s the record label we were with at the time. And that’s the logical thing, it’s what you’re supposed to do.
But, isn’t an album supposed to be something that comes organically? That’s what I’m saying! We did write a lot of music while on a successful, sold-out tour, road-testing those songs, but at the end of it we were all like, ‘I don’t want to make that record.’ That’s a record about a band trying to make a record, songs about trying to write a song, and being tired, and sick of airports. I don’t want to inhabit that, and I have too much respect for our fans to subject them to that. So, we discussed it as a band, and it wasn’t like me disappearing from them. It was just like, we got to drop this plot for a second and get back into the bigger picture of what it is to be alive, and remember that the world is a blast, and incredible. And all these little things that are accumulating and seeming so important—it’s just such a narrow existence. I thought that I really had tunnel vision. I think that some people enjoy that, like being the center of their whole life, but I don’t do well in that setting.
Why did you choose Buenos Aires as the place to kind of escape to? Because nobody knew us. I didn’t know a single person. I didn’t know anything about it except things that intrigued me historically, and architecturally. But more importantly, I was just looking for a room that had a piano, and it was literally like a search engine thing, like, ‘PIANO, ROOM, CITY, RENT’.
Did you write all the songs off the album in Buenos Aires? A few of them. We did others in this barn house studio that we found in northern Seattle after coming off the UK tour, which was a really good time, just leaving civilization. We just pulled a little Fleetwood Mac. That was a bit debaucherous, but that’s okay. I’m sitting with the band right now, and everybody just sort of laughed and cringed at the same time when I mentioned that.
In the doc you also mentioned that you wanted to escape the pressure of sound like bands that were considered cool at the time. When I referenced that, it was just like, this feeling. It’s like, okay, so in the whole world there are just these 4 bands? It can’t be. I think it was just feeling so sick of hearing hype about things. It was the difference of being moved by music, and being impressed by music. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, I want to be moved. I don’t want to be like, “That’s a hot riff.” I don’t really give a fuck about that.
Even though you guys are known for hot riffs. We are kind of big on the hit riffs, but it’s got to have some emotion behind it.
Do you expose yourself to online hype and negativity? The internet has become this place where you can just slander people anonymously and get away with it. I know, I totally take it with a grain of salt. I’m a big believer in democracy, and if somebody wants to hang out online, and I can’t believe—on both extremes—the time people have to praise and defend us to the ends of the earth, and I also can’t believe the people who have the time to say that we’re a Blondie rip-off band, or something. It’s just like, whatever you want to do, dude. That’s cool. I’ve never really gone on and commented on anything in my life, so I can’t really relate, but I can’t imagine that there’s any point in stifling that, you know? It’s pretty hilarious, and I don’t really have anything to hide, so I don’t feel very offended.
A lot of people tend to pay attention to the negative over the positive. Right? I try to ignore it all so that it won’t really affect me one way or the other.
Were you worried about the album leaking? We kept the record under wraps for 6 months, and when it was in our hands, the record was air-tight. We knew that it would happen at some point, but we were really disappointed that it happened through one of our label partners, but that’s how it happens 99% of the time. So then, our way to deal with it was to stream the whole album on MySpace, which we did very quickly. We put it up as sort of a reaction, because as a music fan you want to hear it, we understand that, but we were sort of heartbroken at the thought of people hearing a second-rate, audio-quality version. I don’t care that you all downloaded my record for free, I don’t care because I don’t make any money from albums. But not all of us wear silver spoons. For a band like Metric, we self-finance this, we put all of our own love and energy into it, and I totally understand that people are going to want to hear it, but it comes down to an ethical decision for each individual. If you feel good about it, then I can’t argue with that, but I think our album is good enough to pay, what is it, 8 bucks? I really do. I think it’s worth it. But I’m never going to say that we should be suing somebody for getting it for free.