ABQ Free Press conversed with frontwoman Haines in an interview that segued seamlessly from the dwindling indie landscape to solo projects and the one question she wishes no journalist would ever ask her again.
When There Was Wilderness: An Interview with Metric’s Emily Haines
BY M. BRIANNA STALLINGS
Once upon a time, North America boasted a fertile musical landscape full of vibrant, colorful sounds created by passionate artists who adhered to the “DIY or Die” mantra. These musicians started bands, labels, zines, distros and venues.
Renowned for diversity and fierce independence, this “indie” scene flourished on the outskirts of major labels’ carefully manicured gardens. One of many bands that emerged from this verdant terrain was dour Canadian electro-pop group Metric.
Founded in 1998 by former couple Emily Haines (synths, vocals) and James Shaw (guitars, synths), Metric’s original, ironic moniker, Mainstream, changed in 2001 after the pair was joined by bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key. Since then, Metric has put out six studio albums — three on their own label, Metric Music International — including their latest, “Pagans in Vegas.”
Metric’s “I Can See The End” tour hits Sunshine Theater (120 Central SW) on Wednesday, March 2nd.·Doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the age 13-plus show starts at 8:00 p.m. Presale tickets are available for $25 at holdmyticket.com. ABQ Free Press conversed with frontwoman Haines in an interview that segued seamlessly from the dwindling indie landscape to solo projects and the one question she wishes no journalist would ever ask her again.
ABQ Free Press: What meaning does the word “indie” have at this point in music?
Emily Haines: At some point, the word “indie” became more about a guitar tone and a hairstyle than following the ethos of the great underground bands who paved the way. Indie rock became a narrow sonic niche ruled by white dudes, then it peaked and died. That narrow sonic definition (lo-fi, etc.) always excluded us, even though everything we do was and is connected to our DIY roots, including building our own recording studio.
For us, we have always been independent. We run our own company now with a small team, and we put together release partnerships with like-minded people around the world. Sometimes we feel like the last standing symbol of those ideas in this extended pop moment we are living through. We’re happy to carry the torch but wish there were more bands left to keep us company.
Metric is riding the cassette revival wave with “The Shade” EP, featuring three cuts from “Pagans in Vegas” and bonus track “Office Towers Escalate.” What do you think motivates this recurring cultural interest in old media — vinyl, VHS, cassettes?
My brother has owned a record store specializing in vinyl for about 25 years. It’s been a valuable source of firsthand information on the changing way people seek out and enjoy music. He’s the one who told me that lots of younger kids are rediscovering cassettes — not only as an alternative medium for commercially released music but as a way to record and distribute their own music without having to add it to the devalued data heap that is the internet. When he told me this, it resonated with me. I love the idea of another generation reviving cassettes. They’re portable, and they feel good in your pocket.
There’s another dimension to my love for cassettes thanks to my father, the late poet Paul Haines. He was famous in his circle of musicians and artists for his crazy mixes and compilations. He would create these mind-blowing mixtapes. He used fragments of sounds he’d recorded on radio stations in faraway places, add some obscure piece of music, bring you back with some Lester Young or Paul Bley, then throw in The White Stripes or PJ Harvey. He made hundreds — if not thousands — of these tapes in his lifetime. Receiving one was a great honor. And he would never let you know what you were listening to; in fact, he’d get mad if you asked. His tapes were meant to be experienced, not analyzed. So yeah, I guess you could say I grew up with cassettes.
You’ve shared a lot about the untitled analog album made on the heels of “Pagans in Vegas.” What about another Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton record?
We made big plans for what we’re calling “The Lost Tapes,” aka LP7. I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to what we were saying, but I guess they were. The album turned into something much more involved than we could have imagined, when we set out to complete it this year. I just decided that I don’t want to rush it. It’s one of the few remaining perks of running our own show: We can do whatever we want.
Someone posted recently that the 10-year anniversary of the release of my solo album with The Soft Skeleton, “Knives Don’t Have Your Back,” is coming up and suggested that I do a small tour and play the whole album to celebrate. I responded “Hmm . . .”, and it became a bit of a thing.
You’re touring later in spring with Death Cab for Cutie. Should fans expect to hear songs from the forthcoming album on this tour?
Our “Lights on the Horizon” tour of Canada, yes! We were working on various ideas for months of what we wanted our big headlining arena tour to look like this year, and our agent suggested we invite Death Cab to co-headline with us. We loved the idea and are really happy they signed on. Metric will be closing the show every night, so yeah, there will definitely be some flashes of the future and the past in our set.
What’s the one question you’re tired of answering?
“How has your sound evolved over your six albums with Metric?” Anyone who has been listening to the music can answer that question best for themselves.
M. Brianna Stallings writes so you don’t have to.
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