Emily Haines is nothing short of chipper. Relaxing on a New York rooftop on one of her admitted precious days off, the anti-femme lead singer of synth-electro-pop group Metric is in a giggly mood.
But as happy as Emily is, it’s hard not to feel a little unloved at her band’s cold shoulder to Australia; fourteen years together and with only their second Oz Tour in distant sights, the indie darlings are popping their Splendour cherry and it’s clear from the mention of the word that expectations are high.
“I’m told it’s the most beautiful place on Earth,” says Haines, “seriously, I’m not saying that because you’re Australian. I’ve been hearing about this festival for years from friends that have played there, they say it’s amazing, we cannot wait to get there.”
No pressure then, for Secret Sounds to Wow a band that has seen their last album Fantasies, which was self released on their own Metric Music International label, go platinum in their native Canada; as well as take them on their first world tour, open for Muse and be asked to write music for the cult nerdgasm film, Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Finishing their Fantasies tour, they immediately began the writing sessions of what would become latest album Synthetica. Haines explains her inspiration to rush back to work, “we already had a vision for the sound we wanted, so we skipped the comedown and went straight back into our Toronto studio, which we own with Seb (Grainger) from Death From Above 1979.”
“Jimmy (lead guitarist James Shaw) is always collecting vintage equipment and just as we were starting to write he had bought a bunch of old synths, which – being a synth player myself – was enough motivation to keep going.”
Synthetica carries the same slick electro-pop sheen that made Fantasies and its four singles such a mainstream hit and the crystal ball says their latest effort is destined to do the same. With their second single, ‘Youth Without Youth’ currently dominating US and Canadian college and alternative rock charts.
The album, officially released in Australia on the 15th of June was triggered by Haines’ own desire for legitimacy and authenticity, “Synthetica is about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror…about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions, about what is real versus what is artificial.”
Available for full stream before its release, the band made a conscious decision to beat the leakers to the punch, creating an intricate word game on their website that led players to an exclusive soundcloud page that contained the album in full.
This playful interaction with their fans is something Emily and her boys have always enjoyed being creative with. Including having past US gigs filled exclusively through local radio call-ins and allowing the entirety of Fantasies available to be remixed by their fans, before personally choosing their favourites and releasing it as Fantasies Electrified.
“It’s what makes us unusual and I guess it’s one of the reasons we’ve survived ten years in the same band. We play small clubs specifically to have intense shows but these gigs are not a one way street, we make the night together with the audience and the same logic applies to the online world, it has to be interactive,” explains the singer.
“In the early days I was very uncomfortable with the idea of Metric remixes, I used to say no to protect myself or just out of principle but then our good friends MSTRKRFT kind of broke that idea apart.” Haines, of course, is referencing the 2006 house remix of their single ‘Monster Hospital’. (if you haven’t heard this remix, everyone here will wait whilst you go and Youtube it. Go on…)
But as the purveyors of clichés would say, there is no rest for the wicked, and as sweet as Emily is while rambling enthusiastically and excitedly about the impending release of their fifth album, there is no rest in sight for the girl. Deep in the recording sessions of Synthetica, Haines was approached by prolific composer Howard Shore, with whom she had previously collaborated with on the soundtrack for Twilight: Eclipse, to help score David Cronenberg’s upcoming film, Cosmopolis; based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name.
As chaotic as it may seem for a group to take on such a project whilst finishing their own album, Haines adamantly stresses that it was not one they could pass up considering this was the man who has scored everything from Lord Of The Rings to The Silence Of The Lambs.
“He is just amazing. He sent us manuscripts, written in pencil, and we just tried to perform the score as he wrote it. He didn’t allow us to watch the film as he said it would ruin our ability to see the music clearly so we made sonic templates rather than songs, my vocals are pretty much stream of consciousness visuals. But I just had to do it, I had read the book, loved the book, loved Cronenberg and loved Howard Shore, how could I say no?”
For many bands the chance to collaborate with Mr. Shore might have been a clear-cut winner for highlight of the year, but for Metric there is a bit of competition. Because as much as Howard Shore is a big deal in a foppish, scarf-wearing, intellectualised kind of way, Lou Reed is a big deal in a cigarette burned, whiskey stained and heroin addled kind of way. Needless to say, when you’re a rock star, collaborating with Lou Reed sticks out in your memory, so when discussing their new track, ‘The Wanderlust’, Emily’s voice goes from excited to giddy.
“It is surreal. It was actually born from an Australian connection, Lou curated VIVID festival in 2010 and invited me to perform some songs and we had been talking ever since about doing something,” she explains.
“When I wrote ‘The Wanderlust’ I needed that world-weary, travelling-man sound and he was the only man who could provide that. But being in a sound booth next to Lou Reed?” she laughs before answering her own question “yeah, you don’t ever picture that happening in your life.”
Synthetica is out now through Create/Control and Metric play Splendour In the Grass in July, as well as three sideshows in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. Full tour dates and details here.