A synthesizer can be more authentic and soulful than someone who’s full of shit on acoustic guitar.
BY WILLIAM LENNON
Emily Haines has that distinctive aura some musicians possess which immediately makes one aware of how much cooler they are than you — and, by extension, of how generally uncool you really are in the eyes of the unforgiving cosmos. During our phone interview, the first words out of her mouth (“We’re in transit…We just landed here in Atlanta”) manage to drip with the casual competence of someone who’s been there and done that enough to make it all seem mundane.
Chicago INNERVIEW’s first priority is to pick Haines’ brain on a couple of Metric’s most notable collaborators: Lou Reed and Edgar Wright. “I love the way he writes,” she says earnestly when asked about Wright. “It’s those occasional bright lights that manage to make it into the mainstream and still have a really distinctive voice. Those things keep me going.”
The project for which Wright recruited Metric’s talents was the 2010 Michael Cera film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The titular Pilgrim’s ex-girlfriend is a member of The Clash at Demonhead, a band heavily based on Metric, so naturally Wright sought out Haines and company to find a song for the Demonheads to play. “They were looking for this specific attitude and energy,” Haines recalls. “And we had this song that didn’t fit on the album we’d just finished. It was just eerily perfect. Even the ‘aw yeahs’ and all the sound effects we had in the song were also weirdly in the script.”
Mention of another of Haines’ co-conspirators, the late Lou Reed, seems to leave even Metric’s perpetually cool frontwoman a bit punch-drunk. And the story of how they met is absolutely perfect. “I got to meet him at this Neil Young tribute thing in Vancouver. I didn’t think he would care about me one way or another, but when I met him he quoted lyrics from the song ‘Gimme Sympathy’. He said, ‘ah, Emily Haines! Who would you rather be? The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?’ I said, ‘The Velvet Underground!’ That kind of went down in Metric family history as a really wonderful moment.”
That’s how Reed ended up being featured on “Wanderlust,” a track on Metric’s fifth album, though Haines adds that “what shows up on the record is really just a fraction of the depth of that connection…We have all these great outtakes that I’d love to go back and retrieve once my heart isn’t so broken…I think the highlight of the whole connection might have been that he performed with us in one of his last shows at Radio City. He performed ‘Wanderlust’ with us, and then we went into ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ from that.”
I’ve gotten so caught up in Haines’ stories about Wright and Reed that I haven’t yet asked about Pagans In Vegas, Metric’s stellar new album that slipstreams their distinctive indie sound with synth rock and electro-pop. What, I ask, is causing this paradigm shift that’s allowing indie-type bands to make electronic music without losing their credibility?
“I mean, to me there’s nothing ‘indie’ about guitars,” Haines interjects. “There’s all this stuff about authenticity that gets batted around, but a synthesizer can be more authentic and soulful than someone who’s full of shit on acoustic guitar. People are doing great things with synthesizers. Like there’s great synth on the Kendrick Lamar record. It’s crazy to think when I was lugging around my Pro-One, my analogue synth, it was sort of unheard of to use a synthesizer in that context. And now no one can be bothered with an amp or guitar…I just think the soul has to survive. Somehow,” she says, perhaps exasperated with my feeble attempts to wrap my head around Pagans and its relationship with genre. “And of course, being Metric, we make this big electro record. The logical thing might’ve been to make something that sounded like a bunch of pagans around a campfire, but we like to experiment.”
And with that, we’re out of time. (“Good conversation!” she says, charitably.) On the upside, she’s given me quite a bit to think and write about. On the downside, as I reflect on her stories of touring the world and singing “Perfect Day” with Lou Reed, I continue to feel deeply, profoundly uncool.