Metric finds it pays to go the extra mile
Band brings synthesizers to forefront with new CD, 'Synthetica'
Friday, November 30, 2012
If you go
What: Metric, in concert.
When: 9 p.m. Dec. 3.
Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.
Cost: Sold out.
Emily Haines is enjoying a bit of vindication — maybe even a little revenge — with "Synthetica," the new CD by her band, Metric.
The new album is easily the most synthesizer-based CD in the career of Metric, which has always featured those instruments, but on past records has mixed in a good deal of electric guitar crunch.
For "Synthetica," though, Haines' primary songwriting collaborator in Metric, guitarist Jimmy Shaw, envisioned a sound that involved a range of vintage synthesizers. He went on a shopping binge, buying up a number of the instruments, as the other band members bought into the instrumental/sonic direction he was chasing.
"I certainly wasn't opposed because it seemed like divine payback for me from all of those years of carting around my Pro-1 (synthesizer) and people saying you can't have synthesizers in a rock band," Haines said in a recent phone interview. "I know (that) is very difficult to imagine in 2012 as alternative rock radio is overflowing with synths. So for me I feel like it's divine justice, and I'm very pleased that we made a synth record."
The synth-based sound also made sense, Haines said, with the lyrics she was writing for "Synthetica."
"A lot of the thematic preoccupations during the making of the record, too, were ideas of the future, from the perspective of the past," she said.
Beyond seeing "Synthetica" get off to a solid start (the CD topped Billboard magazine's alternative albums chart), Haines has plenty of other reasons to be enjoying things these days, as well. Metric is coming off a 2010 album, "Fantasies," that took the group firmly into the mainstream of rock music.
That album gave the group its first significant hit singles — "Help I'm Alive," "Gimme Sympathy" and "Gold Guns Girls" — in a career that began in 1998 in Toronto.
Going into "Synthetica," the band members were so charged up about their music and their success that they began work on the new album the day after the last tour date in support of "Fantasies."
"It's just the kind of thing, you can't force it if you don't feel it, and we all felt it," Haines said. "It was just to get going and just keep the momentum happening."
In making "Synthetica," the band hoped to avoid the difficulties that came with making "Fantasies." With that album, the band went right to work on writing songs, and early on during the process went out on tour to road test the new tunes. The response was less than enthusiastic from crowds, so the group scrapped this first attempt at the album.
The band members then took a break, during which time Haines made a solo CD, "Knives Don't Have Your Back," and an EP, "What Is Free to a Good Home?" before deciding she needed to get away from music all together. She traveled to Argentina, where she recharged and rediscovered her creative spark, and after returning to Toronto, Metric reconvened and made "Fantasies."
Obviously, Metric didn't want to repeat that sort of scenario in making "Synthetica." And this time, there was just one setback: the realization that, after completing what the group members thought might be the album, there was room for improvement. So the band checked into Electric Lady studio in New York City and started tweaking, reworking, and in some cases, redoing songs
"That's such a classic for us," Haines said. "And it was so funny because this time we were like, 'This is not going to be like 'Fantasies.' We're not going to go through hell. We're going to get it right and we're going to get it done and we're going to be pros about this.' And it was just, it didn't happen. Once again, you think we had a finished record, and you take a look in the mirror, and you listen and listen and you realize you have to put more in there and you have another mile or 10 to go."
Haines is clearly pleased with what "Synthetica" became — and with good reason. Even though the guitars take a step back, many songs still rock. That's partly due to the crisp tempos and big beats that power songs like "Youth Without Youth," "Breathing Underwater" and "Artificial Nocturne." Such tunes also come with the huge pop hooks that helped make "Fantasies" such a kick.
Haines likes the way material both old and new is working in the group's live shows.
"With every record we obviously always integrate new material and it's always a pretty interesting process seeing how songs will connect with one another," she said. "It's always surprising. You'll very quickly find, songs from 'Live It Out' will be great next to songs from 'Synthetica.' And something from 'Fantasies' will work next to a song from 'Old World Underground.' Really, every show we play feels like a retrospective of our body of work. We try to always play songs from all of our records."