Coup De Main spoke to METRIC frontwoman EMILY HAINES recently about the band's fifth studio album 'Synthetica' and working with composer Howard Shore, as well as her thoughts on being the inspiration behind 'Scott Pilgrim' character, Envy Adams.
"Sometimes it’s better to live through someone’s work than the person themselves, and to realise that every human being as we said is flawed, but through art they can be perfect."
COUP DE MAIN: Hi Emily! Where are you calling from today?
METRIC - EMILY HAINES: Hello! I’ve been on kind of an impromptu radio run, so in the last day I’ve been in Denver, Salt Lake, Kansas and Minneapolis, and now I leave for New York. So it’s nice to take a moment to have a conversation with you.
CDM: Obviously, the big thing that all your New Zealand fans want to know is... when are Metric finally going to come visit us?
EMILY: I know! Well, I’m just looking at this schedule and thinking it’s outrageous that we have yet to make it to New Zealand, and I’m going to withhold any 'Flight Of The Conchords' references or the fact that I spoke to Howard Shore so many times while he was there working on his latest film ['The Hobbit']. I feel as though this is the missing piece of the Metric puzzle - when will we come to New Zealand?
CDM: We’re waiting for you, definitely! What does the title of your new album ‘Synthetica' mean to you personally?
EMILY: Many things... I mean it’s also, for me, there is no... do you know the expression "the personal is political"? I suppose, for me, it’s hard to say what’s personal at this point. Ten years in with my band, five records, I was the lyricist and the song-writer... it’s all personal and it’s all public in a way. ‘Synthetica’ passes my test of having multiple meanings to an album title - I always feel as though, with language and music that things are open to interpretation, so ‘Synthetica’ is... it could be a place, it’s a Blade Runner, nightmarish, human... it’s a sound, it’s the synthesis of everything you’ve ever done.
CDM: 'Blade Runner' has served as an inspiration for many bands. What do you think it is about the movie that inspires bands so much?
EMILY: I don’t know about anybody else, but for us we’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from visual arts more than some other music for whatever reason. Stanley Kubrick also is a big, popular director in Metric World, so I suppose there’s a fascination, at least right now for us with that question of what is real and what is artificial and questions of identity personally for individuals, and also in terms of larger questions and what’s happening in the world. Maybe it’s just a great movie, you know? There’s also that.
CDM: Your new album’s opening-track, 'Artificial Nocturne' begins with the line “I’m just as fucked up as they say..." - which to me seems quite appropriate to the themes of the album. Was that a conscious decision to have that as the opening line?
EMILY: It’s very hard to separate what is a conscious decision and what’s not. The writing process is very much like being in a dark tunnel, and you don’t really know what you will end up with until you have created it. So we definitely... when that line came through and became as impactful as it is, we felt as though it was the logical beginning when we were in the process of sequencing the record. It felt like the strongest beginning, and yes I suppose the most truthful. And the interesting thing for me is that when I play it live, it feels as though I’m speaking for a lot of people who feel that way - and that in fact, anybody who doesn’t accept that they’re flawed, is a robot.
CDM: In track four ‘Breathing Underwater’, you sing: “They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes." Can you explain your sentiments behind that line?
EMILY: It’s just an observation. Sometimes it’s better to live through someone’s work than the person themselves, and to realise that every human being as we said is flawed, but through art they can be perfect.
CDM: Do you think that things like the Internet and social networking are blurring that line?
EMILY: I suppose it depends on what you post. I suppose it depends on what you say, and to me they are completely different realms. It’s like comparing commercials with feature-length films or something, they’re different realms. And we have to live in our own time; we can’t just romanticise the past.
CDM: Lou Reed contributed vocals on ‘The Wanderlust’ - how did that come about?
EMILY: It’s such a long story... it’s a trick going into all the details but essentially, it was just the great chemistry that we seemed to have since we first met at a Neil Young tribute in Vancouver. We’ve performed together in Sydney, at a festival that he and wife Laurie Anderson curated. Later we performed together in Central Park in New York City, and we were finishing our album in New York at Electric Lady Studios. He was in town, he seemed like the logical person for the world-weary traveller voice we needed, and he was gracious enough to come into the studio and work with us, and contribute to the album.
CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to ‘Synthetica’?
EMILY: I hope that they have the experience of listening to a full album, where they can stop everything and lose themselves in the experience of the music, and feel that they are compelled to reflect on their lives, as I was compelled to reflect on my life when writing the record.
CDM: What do you feel are the main points of difference between your new album 'Synthetica’ and your 2009 album, ‘Fantasies’?
EMILY: There are many differences. One is that it is 2012, and that was 2009 - 2008 to 2009 - so we had a new President of the United States, we had a sense of optimism and hope, 2012 is a very different feeling around the world, as one element. For us, we are constantly evolving as people so hopefully we’ve change from album to album, so I feel as though ‘Synthetica’ is very much the natural progression from ‘Fantasies’.
CDM: Which songs on the new album are you most looking forward to touring on this album cycle?
EMILY: We’ve just finished our rehearsals and we’ve started performing these songs live, they’re all feeling really good with the other songs - ‘Artificial Nocturne’ is particularly enjoyable, as is ‘Synthetica’.
CDM: Are there any songs in particular that you’re most excited about your fans hearing?
EMILY: I think the album is an album, and I think the whole thing is an experience. So, you know, we love all our children equally.
CDM: In advance of the ‘Synthetica’ album release, you created an online game of hide-and-seek for fans to listen to the album - whose idea was that?
EMILY: Most of our ideas are a combination of the band's and our very small company, which is our managers Matt [Mathieu Drouin] and Fuzz [Francoise de Grandpre], so Jimmy and I and Matt and Fuzz dream up all kinds of ideas, and the wonderful thing about being a small organisation like ourselves is that we can get an idea and put it in motion right away.
CDM: You’ve got your own company, Metric Music International. Is it important to you that the band remain as independent as possible?
EMILY: Well in fact, for us, we’ve always wanted to work with other people, we just always found the terms that are presented to musicians to be unacceptable and usually quite insulting, so we’re very happy to have been able to independently establish the value of the band, and now have partnerships with people all over the world that we’re comfortable with, and that we feel are appropriate for a real partnership between the musicians and people who want to participate in getting the music out to other people.
CDM: What do you see as an ideal business model for bands going forth in the future?
EMILY: I actually don’t think there is an ideal - I think that every band is different, and in fact that’s one of the biggest problems with the old-school music industry is that... one band would be successful according to a certain approach, and then every other band in the label gets sent down the same tube. I think every musician is different, every artist is different, and in a perfect world people would be able to pursue their own path and have the inspiration and the drive to, and the energy and dedication to take their path to its fruition. I don’t really believe in formulas.
CDM: With Metric in mind, what do you think have been the main contributing factors that have helped the band stay existing for ten years plus now, and counting?
EMILY: I think it’s the fact that our emphasis has always been on playing live and being friends.
CDM: You recently contributed to the soundtrack of David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ film, how did that come about?
EMILY: That was just a result of our earlier collaboration with Howard Shore, a composer obviously, one of the pre-eminent film composers in the world. A very talented man, he approached us to come and work with him on the ‘Twilight[ Saga: Eclipse]’ soundtrack - we composed a theme-song for ‘Twilight’ ['Eclipse (All Yours)'] with Howard, and always hoped that that one collaboration would lead to something more substantial, so we were very happy when he asked us to write and perform the score with him for ‘Cosmopolis’. He sent us the music that he had written on manuscript paper, and we performed it and we also wrote songs that we sent to him, that he integrated into the score. It was a really, really great experience to be working with such heavyweights.
CDM: And funnily enough that was the second film that you guys were involved with that has Robert Pattinson in a lead-role!
EMILY: It’s true! And when we met him at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, we all laughed about that.
CDM: 'Scott Pilgrim' author Bryan Lee O'Malley has said that he was inspired by live photos of you, when originally drawing his character Envy Adams' singing poses, and Metric were the inspiration behind the 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World' film's fictional band, The Clash At Demonhead. How does that make you feel?
EMILY: I think it’s great! I mean, it’s a strange life... you really don’t know how you will impact people or how things will play out. That was a pretty amazing combination of things that unfolded, and I’m happy that we inspired Bryan, and I’m happy that my song ‘Black Sheep’ was heard by a lot of people.
CDM: Had you heard about the comic before you were asked to be involved with the film?
EMILY: The director Edgar Wright had reached out to me and sent me the books, but I wasn’t familiar with it before that, no.
CDM: Do you have plans for any new Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton music?
EMILY: I don’t, but I have been writing a lot and that’s part of my musical life, it will always be there.
CDM: What are you five favourite things in the whole wide world?
EMILY: Water, air, light... music and love.
CDM: Lastly, do you have a message for your New Zealand fans?
EMILY: We will make it to New Zealand some day!
METRIC's new album 'Synthetica' is out now - featuring the singles 'Youth Without Youth' and 'Breathing Underwater'. Click HERE to purchase via iTunes.
Watch the 'Youth Without Youth' music video below...