Metric Talk the Collaborative Process of 'Synthetica'

Metric Talk the Collaborative Process of 'Synthetica'
Photo: Justin Broadbent
Any creative work can be a complex and emotionally draining process, and the process of writing and recording Metric's latest album, Synthetica, was no exception.

The Canadian indie rock superheroes are set to release their fifth studio album on Tuesday (June 12), and already Synthetica's first single, "Youth Without Youth," debuted at the No. 1 position on the Mediabase Canadian Alternative Radio Airplay chart. Their last album, 2009's Fantasies, earned a spot on the Polaris Music Prize shortlist and resulted in two Juno wins in 2010. Synthetica is now poised to earn the group even greater success and notoriety.

But when asked by Exclaim! whether the band's past achievements meant that they were used to the praise and attention by now, guitarist Jimmy Shaw was quick to shake his head and say, "Oh God, I am not used to it at all."

As Shaw explains, no matter the accolades Metric have racked up in the past, he and vocalist/synth player Emily Haines approach the writing of each album as though it is their first. And, as deeply creative people, they often wrestle with their own anxieties during the creative process.

As the lyricist for Metric, Haines must be willing to excavate the deepest and most personal parts of herself to produce genuine and gripping material, and she admits that process can be incredibly difficult. She explains that bringing work to her bandmates is still filled with "awkwardness and embarrassment. It might be something I've spent all night working on, coming from the deepest, most pure part of myself, and then I walk into the studio."

Instead of allowing that anxiety to smother them, and potentially the record in the process, Metric instead chose to open up, making themselves even more vulnerable and working with other artists. Synthetica may be their most collaborative record to date, with Lou Reed singing backup vocals on "Wanderlust" and having worked very closely with former Stills member Liam O'Neil during the recording process.

Shaw worked on this year's self-titled Eight and a Half record (featuring O'Neil, fellow Stills alumnus Dave Hamelin and Justin Peroff of Broken Social Scene). Shaw was struggling through the early sessions of what would become Synthetica, and wanted to bring a fresh mind to the project right from the outset.

Shaw remembers a party when Haines suggested that he should continue to work with O'Neil, saying, "I said to her, 'You know, I've never really thought about it before, let me think about it for a couple of days, he's going back to Montreal tomorrow, we can just bring him back if we want to do this.' She as like, 'Okay, cool.' And then literally three minutes later Liam walks up and says, 'So, Emily says you want me to stay and work on your record?' I said yes, let's do it, cancel your ticket home, we'll get you a new one whenever, in a couple days... and he stayed for 11 months."

The partnership was so successful that for the first time, Shaw handed over the studio reins to O'Neil so that he could focus on composing with Haines. This allowed the pair to feel completely comfortable is the studio, Shaw says, even bringing forth new material they weren't sure of yet.

"[O'Neil] was one of the first people ever to be okay when Emily and I scream at each other. It gets really heated about music," Shaw says. "It gets really passionate about the chord, or the word or the rhythm... there's nothing that either of us feel more strongly about, and writing together this whole time is intense. And he [Liam] just understood that it was music."

Synthetica arrives via the band's own Metric Music International, and as previously reported, they will play an album release show on Tuesday in Toronto.