Image Justin Broadbent
Canadian indie stalwarts Emily Haines (vocals), James Shaw (guitar), Joshua Winstead (bass), and Joules Scott-Key (drums), collectively known as Metric, performed in Singapore last Tuesday 31 July 2012, proving that a band can stay independent yet have international reach. The release of their 5th album Synthetica sees the band at their most conceptual – a science fiction-esque aural journey that got us wanting further elucidation. Luckily, thanks to this region’s distributor of good music, Love Da Records, JUICE was given the opportunity to speak to James before their gig there. Being the inquisitive lot that we are, we can’t help from getting him to wax philosophy with us on the very concept of their latest album; the organic vs. the synthetic.
How would you gauge Metric’s current career progress now that you guys are at your 5th album?
We try not to think about it so much. We follow our own path and trajectory. Comparisons in music can be really misleading and disheartening. We’ve been on a steady rise since we started and it feels right to us. Jimmy Cliff said it best, the harder they come, the harder they fall.
‘The Wanderlust’ was our personal highlight of Synthetica, how did you guys manage to hook up with Lou Reed? And what was it like working with him?
We met him at a Neil Young tribute show that we performed alongside him in Vancouver. He instantly took a liking to Emily and she to him. When we were working on the song we realised we needed a world weary voice to counter the idea of Emily’s narrative naïveté. He was the perfect candidate. We asked and he obliged. Working with him was a trip. Hearing the voice of why you started playing rock’n’roll in the first place come back over the speakers over your song is a rare experience.
The name Synthetica was inspired by Blade Runner and the album has a sci-fi undercurrent to it. Are you guys big science fiction fans?
Well, Philip K Dick is a classic writer. But to be honest we are not really fans of the genre per se. But we were inspired to create a sort of retro future world that we could sonically inhabit. I think it just came naturally from living in 2012 than needing to go back to other art forms for reference. Maybe in today’s world truth is better than (science) fiction!
Synthetica seems to be about a lot of things; one of which is the artifice of pop music. How does a band such as Metric, who has expressed desires to be on radio (and succeeded), make music that could potentially become a Top 20 hit and yet still stay honest and credible?
That’s a great question. But you’re implying that because a song is in the Top 20 it’s probably sh!t, which I tend to agree with but not always. There can’t be honest, innovative, and successful music or any art all the time. But as an artist we have found that it’s the thing we love striving for. There’s something about the conforms of a 3-minute pop song that we are addicted to. Trying to be the most honest with yourself within those constraints is a massive challenge – one that we enjoy testing ourselves and our abilities with. We’ve always found that testing your abilities with the thing you find the hardest makes your craft that much better.
On the same note, would you say Synthetica is a self-reflexive album?
Nope. I would say it’s reflective but not necessarily of self. Inside the album you see a mirror – it’s reflecting you not us.