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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

Metric Stays In the Moment

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“It ought to be like a setlist,” Metric’s lead singer Emily Haines says of creating an album, and if you’re familiar with Metric’s catalogue, it’s easy to see how they’ve lived out that idea. Formed in 1998, the Canadian-American band has five full-length studio albums to their name, each showcasing their ability to create cohesive, engaging material that exists, it often seems, in a world of its own. Comprised of Haines (vocals, piano/synth and guitar), Jimmy Shaw (guitar, production), Joshua Winstead (bass) and Joules Scott-Key (drums), Metric has carved out a place for their brand of smart, hook-heavy pop rock on the charts, soundtracks and in the minds of their many fans. 

While Metric does not exactly make themed or concept albums, each one feels united by a common idea—an idea that is then expanded upon with smart, effective collaboration and genuine artistry. “We do our thing, specific to the people we are,” Haines explained via phone before a show in New Jersey. “We hear it in our heads and try to execute it.”

It might sound simple, but their most recent album, 2012’s Synthetica, is awash with complex themes of reality, identity and isolation, looming with big, alluring melodies that linger long after the record is over. Haines spoke candidly about how Metric songs are made. “Sometimes there’ll be something that begins with something on piano that sounds like it’s in the vein of my solo record, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, and then I’ll bring it over to the studio and play it for Jimmy and we’ll think about how we can transform it,” she explained.

Transform it, indeed. Haines’ hushed, poetic solo album was a platform for her knowing yet vulnerable style and considerable piano skills, while Metric favors slick, electronically informed pop rock. While Haines sustains a hushed mood in her solo work, Metric, for their part, explore a more varied musical atmosphere, often creating a mood with nothing but a synth line, a guitar hook or Haines’ achingly precise vocals. But it’s just as often that Haines’ lyrics steal the show—they’re relatable yet artistic, often seeming to belong to a character, yet feeling distinctly personal. “My writing has scenes that run through it,” Haines offered. “There’s a thread running through it.”

Metric is a group effort, but their collaborative spirit has led to many opportunities outside of their own crew. The group has contributed songs to the soundtracks for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Twilight: Eclipse, worked with the Canadian super collective Broken Social Scene, and, looming largest right now, collaborated with Lou Reed on Synthetica’s penultimate track, “The Wanderlust.” Haines penned a thoughtful and moving piece about Reed for Rolling Stone regarding the way the band’s collaboration with Reed occurred (no other Metric album features a guest vocalist), and Haines doesn’t rule out future collaborative opportunities. “I’m not making a list of people I want to co-star with,” she said, “but if there’s a connection, definitely.”

As Metric wrap up touring in support of Synthetica and look ahead, Haines is coy about any plans for future recordings, preferring to focus on the tour at hand, and, she says, “stay in the moment.” But she does have this to say: “Where we exist is the live performance. We definitely try out new material at live shows, sneaking things in. For so many musicians, the studio and live performance are separate—we want it to be even more seamless.”  And, if their current work is any indication, they’re well on their way.

Metric headlines Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m.

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