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Interview: Emily Haines of Metric

"Our music is an ink-blot test. I end up psycho-analyzing interviewers."




Justin Broadbent

How does it feel to work within an industry built on such rote exploitation?
“Our band has always had this spirit to it of fighting. If you’re not fighting, then you’re drowning. Because of that, I think I’ve always frightened record execs, so it has always felt like a struggle. And it’s such a simple premise of what we want to do: we want to make records and play concerts. Why does that have to be so complicated? That’s why this record feels so great for us. Releasing this ourselves, it feels as though we’re free of all that exploitation. We couldn’t be happier with the so-called ‘death of the music industry.’ I can only imagine this next chapter will be so much more interesting than what we got in the ’90s: boy-band CDs in shitty jewel-cases.”

Has there been a real sense of change in Canadian music, recently?
“There’s been a lot of conversations, recently, where people have said: ‘Why is there this moment in Canada where there’s a whole generation of kids that’ve changed the identity of music here?’ No one ever associated Canada with being this inspiring, progressive place for music, and now there’s Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars, Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire. What we’ve been able to retrace back is that we all came from parents who moved here from the States in the ’70s, in the Trudeau years, to send their kids to school here. And we all ended up with these amazing musical educations, and went on to go to these top music schools here and in other countries from a public school education. It’s like we were all part of some experiment.”

But, these days, it seems like music funding is always the first thing cut.
“Less so in Canada, I think. If that happened here, it’d be a tragedy. It’s such a source of national pride. And just good business. Sure, with this generation, we were all able to receive these tax-funded grants, when we were starting out, of a few thousand dollars. Very little money, basically start-up capital to make a record, take some photos, and tour overseas. I’d be interested to know how much money was spent on this minimal initial investment, and how much money Metric, Broken Social Scene, The Constantines, Feist and everyone else have brought back into Canada.”

Do you ever address thoughts like these —the workings of the modern world— in your songs?
“On this record, definitely. In North America, the past eight years have been like the Dark Ages, a pretty grim time. It’s felt as though corruption was rampant, as though justice was nowhere to be found, that everything was lies, that elections were rigged, that things were falling apart and nobody cares, and that the only way forward was cynicism. What we found when making this record —which coincided with the election of Barack Obama, and this larger movement— is people saying: ‘I’m not going to sit back and passively allow things to go so poorly anymore.’ You don’t have to be a radical to have a basic sense of value and worth as a citizen; you can say ‘I don’t agree with this!’ and not feel futile. With us, I feel like previous records were us trying to make a very concise list of what’s wrong with the world, but now I feel as though that list has been published, and we’re all well aware of what’s not working, and there’s no need to lament that. Now, it’s more exciting to look forward.”

Is it difficult to funnel such grand ideas into pop-songs?
“How do I get all that philosophical crap into my music? I think that’s exactly what’s so beautiful about music: something that takes me way too long to put into words can be a very eloquent and uplifting three-minute songs. That’s why I’ve been in this band these last six years! Without music, we’d all just be talking forever, without end. It’s an amazing thing to be able to take these thousands of thoughts I have and turn them into a single song. But it’s not challenging to do that. It’s challenging to do everything else but make music. It’s challenging to do this interview.”

Do you really sit down to write songs with ascribed intent? Or does working out the ‘meaning’ come later?
“Of course it comes later. Music isn’t a monologue, it’s a conversation. You need people to hear it, to tell you what they think songs are, before you get a full sense of what they truly are. I write to write, everything else comes later.”

So you have an interest in what people think your songs are about?
“All the time! I feel like our music is an ink-blot test, and I end up psycho-analyzing interviewers who I talk to. When we were in Amsterdam, recently, we did these ten interviews in a day, and we heard it all. ‘Fantasies is your most up-lifting and upbeat record ever!’ and ‘This is such a gloomy and dark prognosis of the future!’ And: ‘this is your most intimate record, it feels so small and private’ and ‘this is your loudest, most stadium record!’ It’s impossible not to get all different kind of readings from any record. You just have to take them all with a grain of salt.”

What’s your feeling about the record, personally?
“I’m really happy about it! However it’s perceived by the world, and to whatever effect it exists in people’s consciousness, it was something that the four of us made with everything that we had, everything that we’d earned. We achieved some success with Live it Out, but we put it all back into this record. We all had this positive feeling to what we were doing, this sense that you have to make your life your own, and hope that it means something, that you’re leaving behind something other than a carbon footprint.”

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