Published Jan 01, 2006Every die-hard music fan remembers when they first heard their favourite bands. I was introduced to Metric through Leslie Feist, who insisted I check out the nascent synth-pop band's residency at a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Toronto, years ago. Thoroughly charmed, I was pleased if a bit surprised to see the band on the cover of a local weekly a short time later but crestfallen to read that they were departing for shinier Los Angeles.
Fast-forward four years, and though things didn't work out down south (their hazy electro-pop debut Grow Up and Blow Away was shelved when their indie label went under), a new label, a rockin' new record (the endlessly catchy Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?), and a soupçon of good timing meant suddenly Metric were everywhere on the radio, in glossy hipster mags, and in a town near you.
A triumphant homecoming last January saw the quartet play four sold-out shows at the Mod Club in Toronto. Watching the wide-eyed indie kids raptly follow fiery front-woman Emily Haines' every move as she stalked the stage, it felt like sweet salvation for a band that had been through hell and back.
So you'd be forgiven for assuming the group would be brimming with bravado when it came time to finally make the follow-up to Old World. But nothing comes easy for Metric, it seems. The band's nomadic existence and endless touring caught up with singer/keyboardist Haines, guitarist Jimmy Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key, and they were forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
"The more you do it, the more you realise what a compromise it is to put your whole life into a band it's hard not to lose sight of regular life," Haines points out. "So we made a real commitment that all four of us were going to match each other equally in the project and just make it the most beautiful thing we could for as long as it lasts. It wasn't even so much a conversation, it was just that each of us individually had some time to figure it out, and we all came back to it with twice as much energy and passion."
It certainly shows their dynamic new Live It Out is the work of a band on top of their game; Haines' unmistakable android coo sits pretty atop Shaw's increasingly aggressive guitar lines and the rhythm section's elastic, insistent grooves.
Looking to capture the intensity of their live show, Metric recorded Live It Out themselves in Toronto with Shaw producing and Haines penning all the songs. One of the best things about Metric is that they're a smart pop band at a time when the term is almost an anomaly; the killer hooks cleverly take the edge off Haines' pointed commentary.
"I fought the war, but the war won!" Haines declares on first single "Monster Hospital," and you know that she's talking about battles both personal and political. "I do feel like we're fighting perpetual war for perpetual peace; you could try to focus on the particulars of one fight, but you realise that on every scale, there are battles that you're losing, and I guess that was just an acknowledgement of that," she explains.
"It is definitely hopeful, though. Before, I felt like I hadn't really had the opportunity to even be a part of a lot of bad things. But since everything that's happened with the band, you start to see why you lose all your favourite musicians to pool parties and cocktail photo-ops it's like everyone just wants to end up at that VIP party.
"It's been really interesting for us to finally have some of those doors open and realise that that's not where we want to be anyway. I see it in young kids, in everybody everyone's aspiring to this Nicole Richie-fucking-sunglasses-shopping-reality that just makes me sad. And I'm totally complicit in it, too, but I wish it could be different, you know?"
Though Haines' smart'n'sexy stage persona and membership in the beloved Broken Social Scene collective have made her an indie It Girl (she plans to release her own album of solo piano "orchestral compositions" next fall), she's more interested in being a "decent human" than a rock star. To that end, she and Shaw (once a couple, now separated) moved back to Toronto last year.
"We had this whole adventure of travelling, living, and writing music in all these places, and we just hit the point of realising that there is a place that's home, and it is Canada, and that we weren't going to go any further in our personal lives and with the music until we just came home. And I'm so glad that we did," Haines enthuses.
"When you're constantly in new places, you never really have to look at yourself, and that's part of why we came back just to actually look at what had happened in the whole picture. It's exciting to be in a band and stuff, but I don't want to be one of those people who never calls their mum, you know?"