Metric's Emily Haines: I will never be a manufactured pop star
Photo by Brantley Gutierrez
Emily Haines won't give up the past for the sake of her future. The lead singer of the Canadian rock band Metric is captivating to watch onstage, fiery and opinionated but controlled enough to reign it in and expose pieces of her life in song. The latest in this chain of expression is last year's Synthetica.
Haines spoke in succinct fashion with Gimme Noise before this weekend's two sold-out shows, one for MPR's Wits and the other at the Walker Art Center and 89.3 the Current's Rock the Garden. It was easy to imagine her pacing the room as she does the stage during the phone interview as we discussed the band's progression, her father, and why anatomy is destiny.
Gimme Noise: Now that it has been out for a while, how do you feel about Synthetica compared to your past works?
Emily Haines: I think everything you do you take a risk and you push yourself, so [2009's] Fantasies was a long time coming. Every record we've made has had its purpose, and we've pulled something creatively from them as a band. You always hope that you're doing good work, and luckily Synthetica totally surpassed our expectations in the way it was received, so it's all good.
GN: Do you feel it was a continuation of Fantasies, or was it a totally different album?
EH: I feel it's a continuation. All I can base it on is the fact that I perform this music 300 nights a year, so it's very interesting to feel how the songs fit together in a set. The live shows are really where they fit, so what's interesting for us is how carefree they meld together, and even the songs all the way back to [2003's] Old World Underground -- how they connect back to the newest music. We feel that cohesion in the records that we make going forward. I think we're on the path we want to be on.
GN: Are there some songs you don't enjoy performing as much because you don't feel a connection to them anymore?
EH: Um, no. If we didn't want to play it, we wouldn't play it, you know? I don't have some weird job; I just play rock 'n' roll for my life -- so it's my life. We really enjoy the process of curating every concert; we sing songs that fit well together, and it's cool. If anything, there's songs that I miss playing, some of the lesser-known songs, but there's nothing to really dig out there.
GN: You have a line in [the song] "Breathing Underwater" about never meeting your heroes [Full lyrics: "They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes, When they bow at their feet, in the end it wasn't me"]. Even after listening to that song, those lyrics always stick with me. Where did you draw from when you were writing that line?
EH: It's something that I know a lot of people think about and obviously that's why that line connected with people. But the idea is that there is no human being who can embody that fully -- spiritually or creatively. I've been watching this film on immortality; it's ultimately about everyone striving to be more than human, right? We push ourselves to express something that's far beyond us. You can never expect for that vision to inhabit reality. To me, I actually find a comfort in that. A lot of our favorite artists also forget that, because the point is even if you can meet them -- aside from dreaming about possible collaborations or wonderful music that could have been written -- the point is that everything they do was always outside of them and beyond the person who wakes up in the morning and tries to figure out what to do next.
A lot of people want to know if that line was based on Lou Reed, and all I have to say to that is that he is nothing but a lovely and incredible artist and human.
Photo by Justin Broadbent
GN: I was at your last show in Minneapolis, and you said something onstage about Metric being a band that will not be played on top 40 radio. Is that something that bothers you?
EH: I don't think I said something about top 40 radio, because we get so much radio play, so I don't think it was about that. I think it was the theme of Synthetica, the album itself, the idea of it not being manufactured and processed. I was saying I will never be a manufactured pop star. I'm not a very malleable piece of clay, so I think that was more likely where I was coming from because that is the theme of the album. The idea that a lot of the people that are put in front of us are the ones we are supposed to admire, but in actuality it makes us feel worse about ourselves, because it's unattainable.
It's not the same as we were discussing about meeting our heroes, but instead it's this sort of manufactured artificial sort of product. For me, instead of finding that person to aspire to be, it makes me feel defeated, because I feel like I'm just a human being. I think in other times in history, we've had a few more people out there whose traits are something other than the most blatant and superficial attempts for celebrity or other pursuits. Those themes are all over the album, and that's what I was probably talking about onstage.
GN: As a female musician, was it difficult for you when you were starting out, and how do you feel about it now?
EH: Well, I don't know. Anatomy is destiny. You're lucky in some ways, and you're unlucky in others. You'll never hear me complain about being a woman. It's amazing to be a woman, and frankly along the way, of course, there are obstacles -- everyone has obstacles. But frankly, for me, the way I dealt with it was that when it came up, it was so rare. I'm surrounded by a really great family. A lot of them are really amazing people who are both guys and girls, so I never felt alienated from a gender perspective. But if there was ever a time when people wanted to treat me differently or felt like I was getting something based on my looks, the great solution is to absolutely ignore it.
It's a matter of whose vision is stronger. That's the point of what I'm doing. I manifest my vision of myself. You can't reduce me to something less than I am by looking at me. However anybody wants to look at me, they can look at me, and whatever anybody wants to say, they can say. That's what's called existing on planet Earth. So for me, whoever has the stronger vision wins. I'm trying to manifest this version of myself, one which I am totally not there yet. The thing I'm aspiring to be has always carried me above any derogatory thing anyone says. So that's worked for me. It may be a denial approach, but it's also the strength of your own vision.
It doesn't work when it comes to things like war or something larger. I don't think you can apply this theory or idea to other realms necessarily, but for this particular sort of instance, it's my approach.
GN: That's good advice for young girls who are trying to make it in the current music industry.
EH: Yeah, you have to be a visionist. It's not like you can just sit there. You have to be vigilant, and you have to be active in manifesting another version of what it is to be a female artist.
Photo by Justin Broadbent
GN: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe I read a while ago when you were doing your solo stuff about how you stopped in the middle of your show and decided you didn't want to do that particular music anymore and this was the beginning of Fantasies. Is that right?
EH: Oh, yeah. No, I just decided on the middle of it that I was totally done.
GN: Why did you decide that?
EH: 'Cause that's what I felt. It's like saying, "Why did you decide that you're not in love with someone anymore?" You don't stand and go, "I've made a decision." You feel what's right and what you have to do and you follow that. It was six years ago. I would do it again in a minute. That's how I felt.
GN: What were people's reactions when that happened?
EH: I'm sure some people were pissed off. I'm sure some people were happy. I brought a bunch of people onstage, and they sang the songs. Who cares? It's not like I was an airline or product that you have to demand and say, "I expect standards at this show." Anybody who was confused about that, it was clarified that night.
Everybody knows I love nothing more than playing with my whole band. We put so much love into what we put onstage and all the music and all the energy and dedication and commitment for the music and to our fans -- that has never trumped the truth of what you need to do as a person. I'm sure some people were pissed. Other people told me it was my rock 'n' roll return. Everyone has opinions, which is great. That's why it's called entertainment.
GN: Were some of the pieces on your solo stuff based on your father?
EH: [pause] There's a lot of things that happen in life, and that was one of the things that happened when I wrote that record.
GN: The reason why I ask is because my father passed away two years ago, and I have had people tell me that it gets better. When you lose someone that close to you, I don't think it ever gets better, but you learn to cope better.
EH: I would say that's true, or you have a different perspective on it, but I totally agree. It's not like you ever just say, "Oh, well, remember when I used to be sad about that?" Your emotions change, but they don't go anywhere. In fact, part of making that album, the things I did around that time as part of grieving, whatever I was doing, it was to help transform it and realize it was an incredible power in that feeling of when somebody that you love and admire is taken away from you.
My dad -- his work and what he did by laying out to me of what was such an unusual and strange background of underground music -- it was his way of being a courageous artist. His unusual thinking and different ways of looking at things created a world for me to become myself in. It's a good feeling that I'm sure you -- and you're only a few years out from losing your father, so it's going to be a while. I'm ten years out, so for me it starts to become something else. My mom says, "You feel their presence all of the time." I've had a lot of people tell me that Knives has helped them through difficult times in their lives, whatever it might have been, and that's amazing. That's exactly the point. You're a writer, I know it helps you. It's also a service to others.
GN: Let's change gears for a bit and talk about Wits.
EH: Yeah, I'm excited to be a part of that. Everything we've done with NPR has been such a great experience. The people that keep that service going, they really raise the bar for art and culture. We're so honored to be included in their repertoire, so it's going to be really good.
GN: Have you been rehearsing for Wits?
EH: Yeah, I'm not gonna go over my production schedule with you, but yes, we're ready.
GN: When I first attended an episode of Wits, I was surprised that it was more dialogue than music. Are you nervous about getting up onstage and improving?
EH: No, Jimmy [Shaw] and I have actually done quite a few panels. We actually did an interesting thing at the Harbor where they had different managers from different artists. They had U2's manager and R.E.M.'s manager and us. We were representing the next generation of the new model -- whatever it is we're trying to do in this era as opposed to the other ways that music industry used to be. I really enjoy getting an opportunity to be a part of a discussion, because the reality of life as a musician, especially when you play as much music as we do, is that you end up with a lot of your time spent in parking lots or locked in hotel rooms. So any opportunity where I'm part of a conversation and contributing is great.
GN: You guys also helped sell out Rock the Garden the next night. Is that going to be full band?
EH: Yes, and yeah, it's going to be great. We have great history in Minneapolis. We always remember the time we spent Thanksgiving with the staff of the 7th St. Entry. We happened to be there for Thanksgiving, and we had a day off. It was so lonely, so it was an absolutely amazing when they shared Thanksgiving with us. They totally welcomed us, so we have nothing but love for Minneapolis.
Metric will perform as a duo at Wits on Friday, June 14, 2013 with comedian/actor David Koechner at the Fitzgerald Theater.
AA, sold out, doors 7 pm, show 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 15, 2013 (full band) Rock the Garden with Silversun Pickups, Bob Mould Band, Low, and Dan Deacon at the Walker Art Center.
AA, sold out, 3 p.m.
Both shows are sold out.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.