Our Man in Miami: The Night Metric Made Scope the Measure of All Art Basel Pleasure

She’s a hard-charging kitten with a whip smart kick; she’s wile-eyed and sly—the femme fatale exemplified. And many a man would give many a thing to have her break his heart. She’s got riot grrrl swagger, starlet era grace, and a face that holds truth to be self-evident—or else. She’s cool, she’s keen, and she fronts a real mean team (and yes that’s a direct reference to one of the greatest songs ever). She is Emily Haines, of the band named Metric, and together they are the pitch perfect measure of 21st century rock. So when the fearsome foursome took the stage at Scope in the middle of a mad Miami Art Week, the wow was beyond palpable.

Put on in conjunction with VH1 as part of their You Oughta Know series and a little assist from the good folks at Fiat, Metric’s Scope Miami Art Fair stand was another one of the many, many pleasures that pop up during what’s commonly called Basel. It was also one of the most sublime. And when you’ve got a week of sonic wonders—which included everyone from Scott Weiland to Daniel Johnston—that’s saying something indeed. Then again, when you’re talking about Emily Haines, saying something is pretty much a given, as is the fact that the something said will be slathered in superlatives each and every time. Miami had been abuzz about Metric’s Scope showing long before Basel, and the consensus was “can’t wait” all the way.

Yes, the band had floored The Fillmore Gleason just a few months back; and yes, everybody and their best friend’s brother seemed to be at that show. If anything though, that only increased the anticipation. See, contrary to superstition, there’s no such thing as too much of a great good thing—especially when that great good thing can rock the wind right outta you. So it was no surprise that an over-capacity crowd thronged to Scope for the force of nature that is Metric, or that the crowd wowed every moment of the storming.

Beneath the sun-drenched days and star-filled nights, Miami is at heart a city of extreme weather, and Miamians dig their storms. So too do the thousands upon thousands who descend upon our town for Hurricane Basel, and whose descending instantly makes them honorary citizens of what, for one wild week, becomes scene of the Greatest Culture Storm on Earth. As every Miamian knows, the best place to be when the storm blows is smack in the center of its eye. It was there, at Scope, at the foot of the stage in front of the Category 4 force Emily Haines, that Metric proved you don’t need no stinking barometer to know when you’re fully blown away. 

Stream the New Metric Single, Get External Stimulation

Juno Award-winning Canadian rock band Metric’s newest album, Synthetica, won’t be out until June 12, but the first single from the band’s forthcoming fifth full-length, "Youth Without Youth," is already streaming at the band’s SoundCloud page. If the track is any indication, the album will be a high-energy, gorgeously orchestrated, dark humored take on rock music and will likely soundtrack any number of this coming summer’s adventures.

Emily Haines, who handles vocals, synth and guitar for the band, wrote on the group’s website that the album “sounds like the culmination of everything we have done. We’ve always had a sound in our heads that we hoped to realize and we finally heard it coming back out of the speakers this time.”

The album, recorded at the band’s own Toronto studio and in New York does not follow 2009’s Fantasies LP in wanting to explore the world, Haines writes. “Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation,” she says.

Synthetica is about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection. Synthetica is about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions. It’s about what is real vs what is artificial.”

Going on, Haines also says the record is about insomnia, fucking up, fashion, getting wasted, dancing your ass off, poetic justice, sex and leaving town as a solution to unsolvable problems, among others.

Fame Fail: Emily Haines & Beatrice Inn Do Not Get Along

It’s common practice for us to ask celebrities what their favorite bars and restaurants are, so you’ll know where to stalk them. Usually they’ll list a couple of places with a few reasons why, and sometimes they’ll struggle to remember the name. But rarely will they outright refuse us. Like Emily Haines, for example. The Metric singer told me buzz off when I prodded her to reveal her secret favorite New York drinking den. Instead, she just bad-mouthed the Beatrice. Yippee!

I do have a favorite place, and there’s no fucking way I’m telling you, because nobody goes there and I really want to keep it that way. But I’ll just drop Barrio Chino, because it’s a good place for drinks and food. Where else is a good place in New York to drink? You know, Beatrice. I’ve never been treated like such shit by a waiter. And bartender. I was like, “Don’t you know who I am?” And he was like, “No.” And I was like, “All right, whatever.”

Metric’s Emily Haines on Their Personal New Album

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.