Thursday, December 12, 2013

SYNTHETICA AESTHETICA: An interview with Emily Haines of Metric

From the band’s birth in 1998, via sold out arena shows, working with Lou Reed and now making an album into an app, Metric’s EMILY HAINES tells ANDY HAZEL that her motto is still 'be where you doesn’t belong'.

When the call goes through to chat to Metric’s lead singer and songwriter Emily Haines her about her upcoming Australian tour, she speaks matter-of-factly about a milestone that any musician would consider a peak of their career. “Yeah, we’re about to play Madison Square Garden, we’re on in a few hours. We opened for the Stones here [in 2006], so I have great memories of it,’ she says warmly before cracking up laughing. ‘It is crazy though right!?”

Since forming Metric in 1998, Haines claims to be constantly in awe of her life. “You find ‘normal’ within it, but if I ever stop being excited or grateful or amazed, that’s the time to bow out. I would hate to be so jaded or uninspired that I couldn’t appreciate how amazing moments in my life actually are. This tour we’re on couldn’t be better,” she adds keenly. “We’re playing in new places, with new bands and a whole bunch of new people are hearing our music.”

The latest place Metric find themselves in is the iTunes App Store. Not content with releasing their new album Synthetica, and a remix album Synthetica Reflections, the Toronto four-piece created an interactive app that allows viewers to isolate instrumental tracks within songs and effectively remix the album themselves. Crossing paths with app developer extraordinaire Scott Snibbe – mastermind behind Bjork’s Biophilia project - Haines explains that once they began discussing the idea, the chance was impossible to turn down.

“There is no reason to put out an app just for the sake of it. It facilitated an idea we already had, and, just to be clear, I’m making zero comparison with what they [Bj√∂rk and Snibbe] did,” she says hurriedly. “That was a multimillion dollar project, and it was totally incredible. For us, seeing Synthetica on the App Store, it’s just a beautiful companion to the record. It’s a throwback to the way listening to an album used to be an immersive experience. You’d buy it, take it home, put it on the turntable and stare at the cover and take in all this associated imagery. With the app, I love the swirling visuals and the way you can customise the music…it’s perfect for kids and stoners I guess,” she laughs. “I really want to open it up to people. The whole premise is you get to be in the music and change it. Instead of predicting and pushing something, it would be great to get a sense of what people want and upgrade it to keep it accessible and enjoyable.”

While Synthetica, the band’s fifth album, is their most successful yet, there is never any sense from Haines that this is anything other than a point on a much longer journey. So far, the band’s journey includes scoring the blockbuster Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and David Cronenberg’s 2012 puzzler Cosmopolis, belying a strong work ethic, one that’s all over Synthetica. “I fought for every word on that record,” Haines explains. “I had to defend every idea and phrase, because…well, that’s just the way we work. I do feel like Synthetica sounds confident, but doubt is never going to leave entirely,” she trails off.

This inherent humanity and realism infuses their synth-driven music. As Haines explains, she is fuelled by the tension between the human and the technological realms.
“On this album, we contemplated; where does you as the pure version of yourself end and where does the external world begin? And how much can you inhabit it? These ideas can be applied to a sci-fi film, dance music or an indie rock band. From the beginning our idea was always to make our way into wherever we didn’t belong, to be that one song on the radio where people are like ‘whoah what’s that?’ And in a lot of ways that on Synthetica we’re really in this zone now.”
Festival-goers may know Haines best for her work with Lou Reed at last year’s Vivid Festival. Their long-standing friendship is a topic that is still, understandably, sensitive. However, the mention of his name, after a silence, inspires a potent reflection.

“We can philosophize about ideas and direction, but in the end it’s all music. The power of music is one thing no one can explain, why certain music lasts and how it connects. It’s amazing to think how important this man was to so many people; he had one hit! All those records people grew up on and that kids are still growing up on now, it had the power to create something that people who would be strangers, the contents of a subway car basically, could share. What is that transformative power of music?” She asks before responding. “I don’t know, but it’s something that can’t be cheapened.”

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