“I really want our art guy to win,” Metric singer-keyboardist-songwriter Emily Haines told the Current on April 16 from the Honolulu airport on her way to Sacramento. She was talking about Sunday’s Juno Awards (the Canadian Music Awards), where Metric won two of five nominations, including Best Alternative Album for Synthetica.
And that’s all you need to know about Metric: there they were, days before the Canadian version of the Grammys (a trophy they had won twice already), and all Haines could think of is hoping Justin Broadbent, the guy who designed the package of the band’s terrific fifth album, wins his own Juno. And she knew damn well that award would go to him, not the band.
But that’s Metric. Utopian stars who still think rock and roll can be fun and success is good and all that crap, but who also clearly understand what’s real and what’s temporary, what’s worth saying, hearing and grooving to, and what’s disposable.
Haines didn’t have to talk to the Current or anyone; the band wasn’t doing interviews and the Synthetica press rounds has been long over. But hey, the band’s making a rare San Antonio appearance and she agreed to a quick chat on very short notice, minutes before taking a plane.
That’s Metric: what you see is what you get.
Thanks for coming to San Antonio. Sometimes we think no one loves us…
We like to go everywhere in the world. The rhythm section (bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key) are both Texas boys, so I’m sure they have some history in San Antonio.
Is the U.S. a hard nut to crack? You’re having great success, but you should be much bigger.
I don’t know if it has to do with the territory, but we’ve made choices as a band that’s made our path more of a slow-and-steady approach. We really said no to a lot of things and tried to maintain control of our career. It's really about us and the people who want to hear our music. A lot of times you see things shoot into the stratosphere and it’s exciting, it’s amazing, but they often come right back down. That’s not a good destiny for us, though. We’d like to be out there for people for many years to come.
Synthetica doesn’t sugarcoat things: things are bad, there’s a lot of b.s. going on, yet your albums (and especially your shows) are full of light. How do you achieve that balance?
First of all, thank you very much for telling me that, because we’re pretty nose to the grindstone. We do it and hope that it is translating, so it makes me very happy that you’re getting the point. For all the things that we are trying to address, as human beings we’re very grateful to be alive at all, playing music and expressing ourselves. Ultimately, rock and roll is something uplifting that allows you to have a good time and be connected to your friends. It shouldn’t be a downer to be aware of where you are and what’s going on. Be engaged in life, you know? In music nowadays… Well, always, but especially now, music is approached as total escapism, you know? [laughs] Lyrically and sonically it’s all like… ‘Wow! All right…’ I have my moments of that too, but we’re trying to balance things a bit. We need to pay attention, especially the younger ones. Pay attention and be involved. Life is for living; don’t make it a total downer. Shouldn’t be a downer to be aware… or awake.
On one of the episodes of The Making of Synthetica on YouTube you said you once wanted to be a rock star, but now you just want to become “a totally androgynous badass writer.” Can you elaborate?
[Laughs] It was my good fortune that I grew up in a different time. There was no American Idol or The Voice and all that stuff, putting all these kids in front of people and making a kind of a mockery of their genuine ambition and emotion. There was nothing like that for me. I was in a small town and was obsessed with Michael Jackson, writing letters to him, sending him songs, being sure that he would want me to be in his band. As my career evolved, I never saw myself in any special category. I just really liked to play music with my friends, in no special genre category. But then this new genre emerged, the super-manufactured pop star, and whatever part of me that found that entertaining, I now feel it draining away from me. I feel maybe it is about time to make it clear that what I really like to do is writing. I love to perform in front of 10,000 people, but my most important role for my generation and for my time is to be a songwriter. It’s kind of a recent revelation.
So what should be expect from you and the band as performers in San Antonio? Last I saw you was at Austin City Limits last year, and it was wonderful. But is this Jack Daniel’s gig one of those “short set” deals?
Not at all. We’ll give you a full set, hour and a half. New songs? I don’t know. There’s been a lot of writing going on, but we’ll see. Our set has really evolved since Synthetica came out in June. We’re always integrating elements from our past and ideas for the future, and we improvise a lot. It’ll be a great night. Can’t wait.