When a band opens for the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden, it would be pretty safe to assume said band is among America’s most popular acts. But even though Metric has developed a niche among college and indie-rock stations, it’s still probably quite unknown to the masses, at least those old enough to have bought original pressings of Out of Our Heads.
So despite that most of Metric’s audiences at MSG may have been previously unaware of the angelic voice of lead singer Emily Haines or the politically charged lyrics of many of the songs being performed from 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? guitarist James Shaw believes the band made the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“The crowd was very receptive to the music surprisingly,” he said. “It wasn’t like our normal crowd, that’s for sure, but we totally got away with it. I think the band felt really a nice sense of acknowledgement.”
For a group that was virtually unknown a few years ago, it seems as if the Toronto-based Metric, which is known for its electro-pop/indie-rock style, is primed for a breakthrough year. Two of its members (Haines and Shaw) have already amassed substantial fame through their work with Broken Social Scene, whose ever-growing troupe has kind of become like Canada’s version of the Wu-Tang Clan (Feist as Method Man, the charismatic, pop-friendly personage; Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning as RZA and GZA, the Abbott and Voltron-head of the group; Emily Haines as Ghostface okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself).
So although drummer Joules Scott Key or bassist Josh Winstead may not be storming the Juno Awards screaming, “Metric is for the children!” if they lose to the New Pornographers, something their Web site has been boasting for weeks (Shaw says, “I know we have to take that down; it’s just a joke.”), Metric protests in other ways. For one thing, the band members, even those who have roots in New York, are not shy to express their feelings about their Yankee neighbors.
“I think America is a really fantastic place and it’s full of some really incredible, really bright people, and it seems that right now it’s just going through a bit of a strange time,” said Shaw. “Its leadership doesn’t really feel so representative of the people, and that’s a shame, but ideally that will change.”
Shaw may sound cocky and abrasive, evident perhaps by a recent scuffle on the last tour in a parking lot in Florida. “I consider myself humble, but I guess I come across as an asshole to a lot of people. And every once in a while I get into shit,” he said. But his band mates also are not afraid to speak their mind. When summing up the current state of the U.S. in an interview with Toronto Life last Fall, Haines memorably said “America is in ruin.”
Flag-waving citizens stateside may be quick to point their finger at qualms with Canada’s parliament, but Queen Elizabeth’s commonwealth does seem to have a leg up on its southern neighbors when it comes to the arts.
“The government is really supportive and it has been for a really long time,” Shaw said. “Even as a kid in school, you feel the community is very supportive of the arts. There’s a real awareness of how necessary [they] are, so that breeds within artists a real sense of helping each other and non-competitive spirit. I would say the biggest difference in the feeling up in that area right now has been this sense of the lack of competition.”
With that level of cohesiveness existing between many of Canada’s top acts, the appreciation for Canadian music hasn’t been higher.
“Right now it seems as if there’s a lot of pride in the Canadian music scene, so you got a lot of kids feeling a sense of ownership in some way of the bands that are coming through, you know?” said Shaw.
By touring extensively throughout North America and Europe, the members of Metric have learned that same love for their music is evident amongst the youth worldwide. “In all places people are going out for the same reason: They want to get out of their house, they want to do something fun, they want to see a band that they like and maybe, if they’re single, they wanna get laid.”
One of the main reasons for that pride and appreciation has been the success of Broken Social Scene and its collective members’ efforts solo or with other groups, Metric included. Even with Kevin Drew’s recent call for change within Broken Social Scene’s structure, Shaw tries to shy away from conflict as much as possible and simply perform.
“I never really worry with what’s going on with Social Scene, but when I have a moment I can step in and play,” he said. “My role in that band really doesn’t entail a lot of thought. I’m either there or I’m not.”
In the meantime, he seems to be enjoying the Metric experience, which is what he described as “an entirely consistent ride to success.” Even if the members of Broken Social Scene may need some time to reorganize their approach, Shaw and the members of Metric know for their smaller, tightly knit group there are still many more shows to play and songs to record. As far as a third LP, “We’ve thought about it, but the plans are very rough at this point,” he said.
Fans shouldn’t be too discouraged. There is still more than enough time to continue to ride the wave of their second release, Live It Out. No matter what happens, though, Shaw hopes the focus of the art will remain the same.
“It’s all about the relationship between us and [the fans],” he said. “And everything that comes in the middle, from this magazine itself to the radio and the television and all of those things, are superfluous. It’s all about the person making the music and [the person] listening to it on the other end.”