Emily Haines The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Emily Haines The Exclaim! Questionnaire
What are you up to?
Playing with the Soft Skeleton on a short tour to promote my new solo album, Knives Don't Have Your Back, and playing with my band Metric all over the place.

What are your current fixations?
Philip K. Dick. I’ve read a number of his books, and they just blow my mind. I’m currently reading The Man in the High Castle, and the premise is that Japan and Germany won the Second World War. My other fixation is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I can’t leave my house without putting that record on really loud. But my neighbours don’t complain because I’m never there.

Why do you live where you do?
Because Toronto is the utopian city. Everyone should read UTOpia (Coach House Press). I’m in the process of trying to convince Coach House to release a book of my father’s poetry. So maybe if you print that, they’ll want to do it.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Certain alcohols. I think muscale is a mind-altering work of art. The bottle that I brought back from Mexico and shared with a group of people definitely led to hallucinations, and that was much appreciated by all.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
France has it in their heads that we’re huge rock stars, and we don’t want to tell them any different, so we just play along. We got to play a festival called La Route du Rock where we played after Sonic Youth. I’m really particular about our pre-show music — I make these mix CDs — it’s crucial before you play that there’s really good music on in the club. And for a long time, the song before we went on was Sonic Youth’s "Cool Thing.” So we’re in France, it’s just beautiful, we’re eating dinner with the Cure — it was just one of those moments where you’re happy that you’ve worked so hard. And Sonic Youth played "Cool Thing” as their last song, and then we went on. That was definitely memorable.

What have been your career highs and lows?
High: Metric playing four sold-out nights at the Mod Club [in Toronto] was definitely a career high because it was such an unexpected and genuine moment of our hometown actually claiming us. I’ve always resisted being from anywhere, or having a hometown, and that outpouring really affected me and made me feel strongly about going forward in my life — I talk up Toronto even more than before, because Toronto claimed us, and it was a beautiful thing.
Low: I think playing in Tempe, Arizona. We had been touring for five months straight, our tour was supposed to be over. Our management at the time told us there was going to be 30,000 people — there were maybe 50 people. We were playing beside giant blow-up Budweiser cans, and there were Hooters restaurants on either side, and there was this ordinance that we couldn’t play louder than the music from both Hooters, which were playing Christina Aguilera. And we had to play on top of that to the 50 people. And there were probably four kids who actually knew Metric, and they were mortified. They were just like, "What are you doing here?” In their minds, they loved our record, we were a huge band, and we completely destroyed their respect for us. And Joshua lost his girlfriend out of that one, cause that show was tacked onto a tour that was supposed to end, and we were told it was really important, and it was all wrong.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I did hit somebody once. I’m not happy about that. People aren’t really that mean to me, though. When we opened for the Stones, someone shouted out [in response to "I fought the war, but the war won”], "I fought the war! I was in Vietnam. I fought the war, you didn’t fight the war.”

What should everyone shut up about?
Canadian Idol. I think there are bigger fish to fry.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I try to keep an arm’s length distance from myself, so that question’s difficult for me. I like that I know how to throw a party. I wish I wasn’t so insecure.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Take your vitamins.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Ohhhh... So many amazing stories that I absolutely am not going to tell. Gas.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

What is your vital daily ritual?

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
"You’re working for the police and the pirates.” Can I just say that? I have only piracy to thank for the fact that I can show up at a concert in Caracas and have every kid have made a handmade Metric t-shirt and know all the lyrics to all our songs. There’s been an unofficial monopoly on music that’s been long overdue to collapse. And I still have faith in people — if they really love a band, they want to own records. I know I do that — I download music, and then I love it, and I go buy the record. I feel like people who make a big stink about it, it’s like, there’s so much music out there that you’re lucky if someone could be bothered to steal your stupid fucking demo. I’m in favour, but again, the caveat is that I think it’s important to understand that bands like Metric, the only reason we can pay our rent is because of our ability to go and tour and have people hear the record. You should steal it to check it out, and if you like it, you should buy it.

What was your most memorable day job?
Can I tell you [Metric drummer] Joules’ most memorable job? When we were in L.A., we were all living in a one-bedroom sublet. We had nothing. The sign of a true musician is that they’re not capable of doing anything else. Joules got a job moving breast implants from one Beverley Hills hospital to another. Implant courier. That’s just a classic Joules thing — how do you get that job? For me around that same period of time, people were asking me if I’d done any modelling. So I thought maybe I’d be a foot model, or a hand model — maintain some integrity. But then it turned out that the guy just wanted to photograph your foot or hand on his, uh, dick.

How do you spoil yourself?
I spend as much money as I want on wine and hotels.

If I wasn't playing music I would be...
Gardening. Or I’d be an actress. There are a couple things that have come up lately, and I’m just looking for the right thing. I really enjoy making videos — the directors I’ve gotten to work with have been great.

What do you fear most?

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Oh, my god, there are so many. First of all, there was this period of time in England where everyone thought I was Winona Ryder, and I’d have arguments with people who’d get really mad when I said I wasn’t. Jared Leto came to a bunch of our shows in Los Angeles and was apparently courting me, but I didn’t notice, which is really too bad. But his band is really bad. Another amusing celebrity moment was when we got flown into Miami to play a [John Kerry] benefit thing before the [2004 U.S.] election, and we got put up in a really nice hotel. We were all really hung over, and Josh and Jimmy were swimming in the pool, and when they came up, Paris Hilton was right in front of them, and they both screamed. That’s one of my favourite memories. And I got hit on by Ethan Hawke, but so has everyone else.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Nico. And I’d give her a bellini.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
The same way my father did — making a mix tape. He had his tape player on pause. It’s a good way to go.

Just as her band is starting to make a whole lotta noise, Metric front-woman Emily Haines is turning down the volume. A raw collection of stripped-down piano tunes, her solo debut Knives Don’t Have Your Back is a quietly intense counterpart to Metric’s high-energy swagger. Written and recorded over the past four years in Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto and New York, the album features a backing band (dubbed "The Soft Skeleton”) made up of members of Haines’ social scene, including Metric partner Jimmy Shaw, Broken Social Scene’s Justin Peroff and Stars’ Evan Cranley. But Knives is clearly Haines’ singular vision, from the confessional, haunting lyrics to the melodic focus on the keys.

While the nuances of Metric’s razor-sharp lyrics are sometimes lost in the sheer rhythmic force of their music, there’s no overlooking Haines’ melancholy yet pointed poetry. Where Metric paints a bigger picture, Haines scrapes bare the layers to uncover some of starker imagery underneath. She’ll be playing some solo dates across Canada and the U.S. in support of Knives with various permutations of the Soft Skeleton, but that doesn’t mean the Metric system is about to slow down anytime soon, as the band continues to skyrocket in popularity across the globe. "This is something I had to do on my own,” she says. "It’s just a different side of me.”