Metric's New World
By
Bret Miller
4/22/2004 8:48:51 AM

Like the measuring system we’ve all heard about but never really gotten to know, the band Metric have been around for several years now. Pianist Emily Haines, equally adept at classy piano and dirtier synthesizers, met up with Julliard student James Shaw, whose hyper guitar playing fit perfectly with her keyboard style. Joules Scott-Key joined on drums and Josh Winstead brought in the funk with his bass rhythms. Metric embrace all that has gone before, yet they come off as distinct at a time when so many bands are digging into the New Wave vaults. On their full-length debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You? [Enjoy Records] Metric is a well-oiled machine. Songs like “Hustle Rose” build in emotion through several moods until the slinky bass begins to groove and the listener is totally engrossed. “Combat Baby” is the incessantly catchy song that LA radio station KCRW has been flogging for years, and for good reason. Haines sings half-pleadingly, half-pissed “I try to be so nice/Compromise/Who gets it good?/Every mighty mild seventies child/Beats me.” Haines’ deadpan commentaries on Hollywood living and the state of the world all go down easily thanks to the seriously grooving music behind her. At the El Rey Theater this last January, Metric made many new fans with their charged performance.

NT: I thought your band was from Los Angeles and then someone said you were from Canada.
We’re kind of from all over. Two of us grew up in Canada and the other two are from Texas and we all met in New York and then lived in L.A. for about a year and a half. Now we’re on tour and right now we don’t really know where we live. We kind of represent the North American world.

NT: Has the city of Los Angeles or the people added to your music?
What I really liked about Los Angeles is that it is so different from all the clichés about the place. The obvious one is that people were very clearly pursuing something fairly shallow. There are just so many other incredible people and interesting things happening. My neighborhood is all retired, Hasidic Jews and unemployed homosexuals and bike-riding cops. It was like behind the scenes (of Hollywood).

NT: It sounds like you lived near Fairfax and Melrose.
That’s right! (Laughs) I really like the history of old Hollywood. The place forces you to confront unpleasant things about yourself. Living in New York I felt like…there were so many distractions you can not really have to deal with yourself. (In L.A.) I felt it forced me to really choose what it was I was trying to do and just do it with passion. And decide what I wanted to attract, what kind of people and amazingly we met really down-to-earth passionate people who cared about music.

NT: What initially drew you to New York?
I left school in Toronto. James, who plays guitar was studying trumpet as a kid, already lived in New York. I guess I just graduated. I was in Toronto and I felt like I needed my ass kicked and so I was drawn to New York. I moved there to be in a band and make music. My family is really nomadic, traveling people. I was born in India. James was born in England and there were Americans living in Canada. It’s kind of a hereditary desire to explore and travel. It seemed logical to check out New York. We lived right in Williamsburg before Williamsburg was Williamsburg. I remember my mom saying “There’s this really hip neighborhood, you should check it out” and I said, spare me. But once again, my parents were way cooler than me--and they were absolutely right. It was the one place we could find a space to work in that wasn’t insanely expensive and you didn’t have to be a stock-broker’s daughter to get an apartment.

NT: It sounds like those lofts near downtown L.A. where musicians and artist live.
I’ve seen that. That’s what’s weird about this whole thing with realtors jumping on the loft idea. It’s really comical. The main reason that anyone would ever tolerate living in a horrible industrial situation like we had in New York—we still have the place, we just sub-let it out—the only reason you do that is to have the space to make music and make noise and really live in your work. Why anyone with any money would want to live in an industrial part of town in a glorified condominium that’s just one room, I’ll never understand.

NT: Did you live in the same complex as members of Liars and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s?
When we left and took the band to Toronto was the day that Karen [from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] moved in. That was before things started going crazy with them. I think Liars moved in shortly after that, while we were away. This other band, The Young People, was living there when we came back, but they moved out too. I think everybody’s gone. Everyone really kept to themselves, it wasn’t like a hippy jam session thing at all. It’s so hard to find a place that can accommodate all your gear. It just works for musicians. You reach point in your life when you want to get your own place. You don’t want to share your kitchen and a bathroom with all these people. You don’t want come off tour and have to stand in line for the shower. It became sort of a symbol of success if you could get the hell out of there. I was happy for The Young People, to see that they’re going to be on tour in Europe with Liars, so they’re out of there too.

NT: Now you’re on the road again sharing a van with a bunch of people.
I like touring, it’s fun.

NT: But you get the shower to yourself.
Yes.

NT: Metric made an album a few years ago that didn’t get released. Is it available at all?
No. Because they [the record company] own it. We were happy just to put the whole thing behind us and get out of the deal. I didn’t care, I was really upset for a minute and then I realized that all those songs had been put through the ringer. The whole time we were doing all that work all these record labels were sniffing around, so every process became like demo making. All the songs went through so many incarnations and so many people’s opinions and shaping and all these producers’ crap that I realized that I didn’t want to waste my energy being upset about it. I knew I was going to write so many more songs. So we just let that go. They own those songs so we just wrote new songs. We put this band together which is much more the kind of work I wanted to be doing anyway. I feel like I’ve accomplished something more than that record did so I see it as a blessing. It’s an irritatingly optimistic way to look at it but I just didn’t want to waste my life freaking out about it.

NT: It sounds like a very expensive demo.
Totally.

NT: Are the songs online?
This is what’s hilarious, everybody who has had any interest seems to be able to find all this music. We showed up in Dallas and all these people already knew the band because they’d gotten every single song we’ve ever recorded off the Internet. That makes me really happy. I think that’s perfect, basically that record deal helped me to learn so much about what I never ever want to do and who not to trust and what traits to avoid in people. Even so, lots of people got to hear it.

NT: The album was kind of like doing a job that you didn’t like and now you’re moving on to something else.
That’s kind of how I felt. Also, it was really restricting because that work was studio-oriented that it was hard to play live. I felt like our live show was really boring and I wasn’t challenging myself, it wasn’t possible with that music to accomplish what I wanted to. I realized that, and granted, it was the hard way and it was a lot of years of work. So when I wrote the next record I was able to write the script for myself, if that makes any sense. The freedom I wanted to give myself.

NT: So after all that, you found a drummer who worked well with your band. It was all for the best.
Oh hell yeah. That was a huge addition. He played on some of that earlier stuff too but we all felt we just couldn’t take it where we wanted to. When we came to L.A. and Josh Winstead joined the band, our bass player, that’s when it really jelled. He’s old friends with Joules, from Texas, so it was cool. They’d been friends for like 15 years. It’s a real band and that’s what I wanted in my life.


If you’re lucky enough to be able to make the trip, see Emily and James perform with Broken Social Scene this May at the Coachella Festival in Indio, CA. Until then, get Metric’s new album Old World Underground, Where Are You? and go to www.ilovemetric.com.


[Live photo of Metric's Emily Haines by Bret Miller]



















 

Copyright ©2021 Night Times, LLC. All rights reserved.