The Toronto-based band Metric released its well-received Live It Out in 2005, but the past four years haven't been squandered. There's been a bout of steady touring in support of Live It Out, a solo album by lead singer Emily Haines, and a period of escape in Buenos Aires -- all of which should inject a bit of newfound music-industry savvy and life experience into Fantasies, the group's third full-length. Here, lead singer Haines discusses the forthcoming album and some of the influential experiences that have gone into it.
Back in 2006, you are quoted as saying that the next Metric album will have “a bit mellower vibe.” Is that how you would characterize Fantasies, or have you taken a much different direction than you had anticipated?
What was happening at that stage was what we refer to now as the “campfire test.” We set really strict limits for ourselves, and our songs needed to be ones where you could sit there with an acoustic guitar and just play it top to bottom and it would still work and stand on its own. We started the writing of the record at Bear Creek, which is a really amazing farmhouse and studio north of Seattle. On Fantasies, there were a couple of songs that didn’t pass the test and still made it, like “Stadium Love,” notably. It sort of was more of a starting point than an ending point.
Metric guitarist/co-writer/producer Jimmy Shaw describes the sound on Fantasies as "very big" and "very dreamy." Is Fantasies a significant musical departure from previous albums?
If you listen back to the difference between each record, it was always pretty major, something that has never really been an intentional thing for us. The nature of the band is as much about process as it is about product. The reason that we do it, and what keeps us going and keeps us inspired, is that we’re challenging ourselves to never repeat ourselves. We didn’t set out on this record to reinvent anything or make a statement, but it ended up that we went somewhere that we’d never been before.
So, definitely, if you compare it to Live It Out, it has a much dreamier, bigger sound. Live It Out was recorded in a bedroom, over a period of three weeks, and was very much a record that was conceived during a life that was based entirely on touring. And sure enough, we went on to tour that record for two years after it came out. So with this record, we were really interested in not making a record about making a record.
Can you describe the song-writing process for Fantasies?
It was multifaceted for sure. In the early days of writing, we came up with this “campfire" that I was mentioning earlier. I went to Argentina on a sort of a self- discovery exile tip. I did a lot of writing there. I found a beautiful apartment that had a Steinway piano in the front room. So I did a lot of writing on the songs on the album there.
And in the time since we put out Live It Out, we built our own studio in Toronto -- primarily Jimmy’s project. So we did a lot of writing there as well. And in fact, when we were ready to record, that was where we started in earnest, which was probably in January. So there was a lot of writing, and once we knew that we had a record, the recording process was quite short.
There are a lot of bands that seem to be questioning the typical record-label-release situation. You guys are setting up your own distribution and staff to handle the release in the U.S., U.K., continental Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Did you have any bad experiences with the release of Live It Out that you are trying to avoid or amend?
Well, a lot of what we’ve done in the time since we put out the last Metric record was a restructuring of our entire organization from a business perspective: how we go about making records, touring, what the hierarchy is. We pretty much freed ourselves of all obligations to everyone, except we are doing one more record with Last Gang in Canada. But, outside of that, we’ve put together our own worldwide network of hand-picked people, instead of being plugged into a system that I think is inherently broken and contrary to the musical life.
The creative life of an artist is in the studio and then on the road, in the studio and then on the road. You’re constantly dealing with music that you’ve imagined the process for. You’ve written this record, you’ve recorded it, and then it doesn’t come out for another six months, because they have to set it up. And then you’re touring music that you’ve only set up during that time, and there’s no time for you to write because you tour constantly, and there’s no room for you to have a life. We started to notice that this was a pattern that is based on people just plugging numbers into a calendar and not really thinking about a human being. So, now that we have control over more elements, we can direct it more.
I don’t think anyone maliciously kept us on the road for 300 days in a year. We definitely wanted to do it. We realize in retrospect that you don’t have to do it that way. Especially for a creative project like Metric, success for us is happiness and freedom. It’s not going to be much else than that. We’re all really excited to start it up again, and I think we’ll do it a bit differently.
Can you describe how Fantasies will be released?
We’re self-releasing all over the world, but we’re doing it in conjunction with companies. We have distribution networks. Were just substituting ourselves for where a label would be. We have distributors and staff and all kinds of people. It’s not just me and Jimmy trying to sell CDs. And we’ll have it in stores, on our website, and on iTunes. Just to clarify.
For us, for better or for worse, we kind of discovered by accident that we really understand how the nuts and bolts of the business work. As much as they try to romanticize it and make it this magical thing that no one could accomplish on their own, it’s really about having enough people to do the job. So all we’ve done is instead of having a layer of people in between us and the distributors, it’s just us. So basically we’ve made our own record label of people to handle the nuts and bolts of how to get the record into stores of all over the world. We’ll see how it goes.
And a big part of it for us is making the website a real location. When the touring becomes the only way you are doing any kind of promotion or having any interaction with your fans, you become so exhausted that you don’t have the mental energy for much else, and there’s so many other ways that music exists, as much as we love playing rock shows.
I found that part of the setup of a conventional record label is that someone is always asking you do something you don’t want to do. Now that we’ve eliminated that, I’m actually excited to do stuff on the website. I’ve started writing stuff, and we’re going to offer cool things that people can get there. They can get the album on vinyl, and free acoustic tracks…I’m just really into it. The things that felt before like burdensome marketing tools, that I had no interest in participating in, now are just simple things. It just took so much of the big spin out of it for us, and we’re probably ecstatic to be free of that feeling.
How does it feel to return to the band after your solo project?
It’s been really good. We’re really a family at this point, and there’s such a sense of support for whatever everyone in the band has got to do. In my case, I think, it was really interesting for them to see what I would sound like without them. I know that they understood my motive, that I just had to make this record. I wasn’t trying to embark on a whole solo career. So they were really supportive. And I think it really added some depth to the writing of this record, because I was more confident and more able to express what the hell I was trying to say. My compositions in the past, I wasn’t able to execute them for the band, and I got much better at being able to walk into the studio with ten songs on the piano and explain how I could hear them being produced. In the past, that had been challenging for me.
Did your experience in Argentina affect your creative process or inspire you in any way?
I don’t think you’re going to get flavors of South America in terms of rhythms or traditional music. I just went to Buenos Aires and had a whole experience and just lived. Which is what human beings do, except for the musicians who have been touring for too long. So you know, it was more about being in a place that I’ve never been. A place where people just didn’t care about the things that were front and center and in the consciousness of everyone that I know in Europe and North America.
Culturally they have a different spectrum of things that are happening and relevant, and it was really just amazing to be somewhere new. It came in (to the album) in that way. I didn’t sing in Spanish or anything, although I am thinking of doing Spanish versions of some of the songs.
Can you share any major musical inspirations for Fantasies?
Funny, I think all of us are inspired by other mediums besides music. We don’t listen to music that sounds like the genre that we’re in. For me, it’s a lot of film. Inland Empire, the David Lynch film, was a theme for me throughout the writing of the record. Now we’re actually working on a soundtrack with the director Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Nigel Godrich curated the soundtrack, and we did a song on the soundtrack. And they’re going to be filming in Toronto, so they’re going to be working in our studio, and we’re really happy about that because I get a lot of inspiration from filmmakers.
What kind of music are you listening to these days?
I’m never very good with listing my hot list. I listen to a broad spectrum of music. I went to the Grammies, and then I went on a road trip through the desert, and for some reason Our Love to Admire, the latest Interpol record, was the only thing I wanted to listen to for a couple of weeks. It doesn’t really relate to its release date or anything else. I kind of have fixes to records, and that was my most recent one.
A free download of the acoustic version of “Help I’m Alive,” the first single from Fantasies, is available on Metric’s website.
Photo Credit: Chris La Putt/Prefixmag.com