For Emily Haines the best part of a new Metric album is the weeks, days, and hours before its release. A time when fan speculation rules social media, and the band get to enjoy those fleeting moments of excitement, completely unaware of what might lie ahead.
Speaking to Clash on the phone during a lightning quick trip to London, we can’t help but ask if she still feels those butterflies, the palpable nerves that light up the path to a new album. “I actually do!” she exclaims. “And I feel like it’s compounded by a sense of astonishment that this could be such a fun and long ride. And I think everyone in the band feels that. We still really love each other… it’s weird!”
Of course, it shouldn’t really be weird at all. Formed almost exactly 20 years ago, Metric have always seemed like a happy creative marriage, the band’s fusion of pinpoint guitars and ultra-fashion electronics excelling across six studio albums.
The seventh - ‘Art Of Doubt’ - is the reason for our call, and it’s their first in three years. It’s the sound of a band willing to change – guitarist Jimmy Shaw hands over the production role to Justin Meldel- Johnsen, leading to a record that encapsulates that nebulous phrase ‘band-sounding’.
“It’s the synths, and the guitars – it’s not one or the other,” she explains. “For this record we knew that what we wanted to once again go after the Holy Grail of capturing the sound of the band live. The feeling has just always eluded us, but it’s the heart of who we are and that’s never gone away when we’re onstage... but then we get into the studio have all these other sonic ideas.”
Emily continues: “I think until now we really didn’t realise the value of what we have, it’s so precious… It’s the four of us and it’s the language we all speak”.
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If 2015 full length ‘Pagans In Vegas’ found Metric leaning towards their electronic values then ‘Art Of Doubt’ is the return of the guitar – a mixture they’ve made their own, that fusion of the digital and the humane, the classic and the relentlessly future-facing.
“We’ve always had synths on our records and also in our shows,” Emily insists. “It’s hard to imagine now but when we were starting out live in 2001 in New York and LA it was kind of scandalous to have a keyboard onstage. I’ve been playing those sequential circuits since the dawn of time, so it’s cool – or a bit weird – for me to turn on the radio and hear that everyone’s cool with synths now.”
Metric entered the studio with a real sense of purpose, working hard in pre-production to define each song, to outline each detail. When the time came, they acted; when the opportunity rolled round, they seized it.
“I write all the time, I prep things,” she explains. “At this point we have a pretty elaborate work-flow. And for some reason on this record I suddenly really appreciated that we’ve been developing that this whole time. It’s really fluid now. The way of working hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten more refined.”
“All my writing is basically praying at a piano, locking yourself in a dark room, kinda vibe! I mean, sometimes I get fragments of things from travelling, but you generally get it done by putting your ass in a chair,” she says, before breaking out into gales of laughter. “Bums in seats, is maybe the more appropriate way of saying it!”
For a record so resolutely rehearsed, practised, and prepared, ‘Art Of Doubt’ is also a visceral, hell-for- leather experience. At times, Clash offers, it sounds as though you’re really losing yourself in the studio. “Well, I did,” she replies. “And it’s funny when you’re in that moment it’s awkward, because you genuinely feel what’s happening.”
“It’s all about method,” Emily continues. “There’s always a part of me at least – I don’t know about anyone else – but you almost wish you could keep your cool and not be fully immersed in the experience. Then you end up with something that isn’t as engaging, and doesn’t have enough on the line. I really push myself to not hide in the studio… and I felt like I could do that this time. I’m really happy if that’s coming across because I definitely did the work.”
Emily Haines is phenomenally hard-working. It might well be three years between Metric records but she found time to release a solo album – 2017’s excellent ‘Choir Of The Mind’ - alongside international touring. With this solo outlet behind her, she was able to approach the lyrics on ‘Art Of Doubt’ from a slightly different angle.
“It’s more descriptive, a less confessional style,” she explains. “That’s partly because I had just done a solo record as well, my second one. I think I had worked through a lot of personal stuff between making that record, and then I did this tour where the shows were quite unusual. I built a mountain for myself, and then climbed it, and then by the time I got back to Metric I was like, OK, this shit’s fun – let’s just have a good time and make a rock ‘n’ roll record! I did my therapy before I showed up in the studio.”
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Not that ‘Art Of Doubt’ is simply a care-free part – sure, there are wild moments, but there are also tracks like ‘Dressed To Suppress’, or ‘Dark Saturday’, the latter of which deals with what she terms “this extreme grotesque flaunting of unthinkable wealth.”
“It’s a vignette of the reality that we live in, this repulsive, self-aggrandising, super-rich, rubbing it in our noses, world-wide,” Emily gasps. “A bit of… OK, enough is enough.”
“I think a lot of us like our lives, and our friends, and the way that we live. Just the idea of this constant barrage, being reminded of what we don’t have. This idea of ‘I’m so rich, everything is free’ as opposed to being someone whose whole meaning and purpose in life is that they’ve built it from nothing. That’s me, that’s what makes my life, my life. That’s what makes my life meaningful. And that’s true for pretty much everyone I know.”
This independence in their personal lives seeps into every area of Metric – they’re involved in each decision, and despite their success is remains a tiny, close-knit crew. “We run the company,” she says. “It’s hard to believe – I find it hard to believe – but it’s like four people running this thing. Our road crew is 10 people, and then we have our little office out of Montreal. We’re releasing all our own records, we’re funding all of this. We’re not playing with Monopoly money. It’s a deep commitment. We’re involved in every aspect.”
And it’s this simple fact that allows the personal to become political, and the political to become personal. The disgusting wealth of ‘Dark Saturday’ recalls the sweeping hard right movements emerging across the Western world, but Metric have a simple message, one that avoids stomping on the soap box. Recently touring alongside Smashing Pumpkins in the United States, they sought to use their platform to open up conversation, to help us understand one another.
“It’s not politicised in the traditional sense,” she agrees. “I don’t get up onstage and talk about my views, I don’t go on Twitter and say that. I just want to represent a certain spirit of… can we talk? And I feel like every time we’re able to hold the attention of 10,000 strangers in the middle of Iowa I feel like we’re doing something right. We are open-minded enough to find that through line. There’s got to be some universality there, I think.”
From their fusion of indie rock and electronics to their nuanced songwriting Metric have always sought to find balance, to create conversations. With ‘Art Of Doubt’ now on record shelves, it seems that they’ve started quite a few more.
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'Art Of Doubt' is out now.
Catch Metric at the following shows:
17 Birmingham O2 Institute 2
18 Glasgow Queen Margaret Union
19 Manchester O2 Ritz
20 London O2 Kentish Town Forum
For tickets to the latest Metric shows click HERE.
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