Metric Headlines Noise Pop 2016: Q&A with Emily Haines

The deeply introspective, sometimes electronic, sometimes indie rock, but always passionate band from Toronto, Metric, headlines San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival at the Nob Hill Masonic Center on February 23.

In 1998, a band from Canada named themselves after a setting on their keyboard that just so happened to resemble the country’s system of units for measurement. It happened to be the perfect fit. Their growth has since hinged on the development of technology, but still bares a backbone of witty and sarcastic lyrics. Emily Haines has a knack of urging listeners to ponder her message through whispery, pleading vocals that could turn ragged into plush, whether she’s singing about “Bro’s Before Hoes,” challenging someone to “Grow Up and Blow Away,” or apologizing for a somewhat deliberate heartbreak “For Kicks.”

Their latest record, Pagans in Vegas, is perhaps their most gentle effort to date. Their upbeat crafty textures and facetious lyrics are all still there, just in a more playful and upbeat form. Songs like “Cascades” and “Celebrate” could be heard at a club without a second thought, while the tracks “Too Bad, So Sad” and “Blind Valentine” have the right amount of cynicism one comes to expect from their unique musical juxtaposition. A recent release of a four song acoustic Ep for the Spotify Sessions really illuminates the vast capabilities of this band.

We caught up with Emily Haines to chat about the differences of playing electric versus acoustic, her almost unfortunate incident with Lou Reed and what’s in store for 2016.

You just released a four song acoustic session on Spotify, handpicking songs from Pagans in Vegas. The tracks seem more intimate and stripped down, and evoke different feelings than the original versions. Were there challenges reinventing these tracks acoustically?  

That’s part of our whole creative process from the beginning. We have the “campfire task” that a song, no matter what the production, needs to stand alone as a song you could play with a guitar and a bunch of fuckin’ hippies around a campfire.

The one that I think translates the best is “Cascades,” which Jimmy [Shaw] and I had an argument about live over the radio. He said there was no fuckin way it would work. We did for the first time ever on the air and it ended up creating this visual sort of beach scene with waves in the background. I definitely hear rain, or envision a long dirt road. It’s a completely different reality than the lyrics invoke when you change the instrumentation, and it was interesting to see the songs really do turn into something else. It was a personal victory for me.

Would you ever consider a fully acoustic tour?

There’s always the question of the solo album that I made; someone pointed out that it’s been ten years. There’s always a possibility for us as life-long musicians, and the fact that we show no signs of stopping.

As a musician, you’re not trying to retire from it. I’m not trying to hit the point that I never write another song.

It’s about personal experiences and growth. It goes without saying there’s a geezer version of the band and I suppose at some point it will become impossible to not rock out inappropriately. I sort of thought it would be now, but I’m still enjoying it and the crowd is enjoying it.

In San Diego you’ll be doing a VIP sing along with fans before the show. Have you done this before? If not, what will you be expecting?

In our experience, when the band started getting big, you do have to give back to the radio stations and fans, but it can just be awkward sometimes. We’re just treating it like a pre-show warm up. The idea kind of came from me – I’m gonna write up lyrics and get everyone engaged, and hang out with people as opposed to the posed photograph thing. I wanted to move beyond the selfie. I think it’s gonna be fun, and before the show we’ll get a sense of who’s in the room.

Just start a campfire and I’m sure everything will be fine, unless you burn the place down.

That actually almost happened at Radio City Music Hall. It was kind of the pinnacle of our career. We had Lou Reed join us and perform the song he recorded with us, “Pale Blue Eyes.” It was one of his last shows and was such a huge night. We sound checked and developed a good rapport, but you still have to be on it and emotionally and intelligently. I was just resting before the show and had a couple of tea kettles going at full steam. I didn’t notice they were right underneath the fire alarm, and Radio City, it’s like the White House of venues. The alarm went off, and we were like, ‘Oh man, is this happening?!?’ I sabotaged my own moment. Luckily it wasn’t bad.

That’s pretty rock n’ roll if you ask me!

True. Although some of those clichés become funny. Like crowd surfing, you just kind of grow out of it. Or like hangovers, they’re not what they once were.

On Pagans in Vegas, you let Jimmy sing a track. Does that sort of resemble a turning point in your musicianship?

That was our “bold” move. We’re gonna do what we want.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

The next thing on the table is LP7. It’s one half of a larger project. Pagans is really far in the direction of the electronic world. This is more derived from my writing that resembles Knives Don’t Have Your Back, more of an acoustic 70’s type feel. That’s what’s on the horizon, but we have zero rush. I’m really enjoying the feeling of picking and choosing a bit. We’ll do this north American run; a few festivals in the summer. I’m getting a place in Berlin, so that’s where my eye is next, having a new experience and searching for something else.

So you’re searching for something?

Of course, I always am. It’s romantic. How else would I be able to entertain people?



Written by Anthony Presti

Anthony Presti lives and breathes music. He not only writes about some of his favorite musicians around the globe but also plays as a singer/songwriter. With an eclectic taste in music, his favorite live act is The Devil Makes Three while the band he's seen the most are the Deftones. Presti is always a passionate bay area sports fan, avidly following the Giants, Warriors and 49ers.

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