Music Interview: We’re big in Iraq

By Katherine Fletcher

Capitalism has fully infested the music industry, rotting away its core. You’ve got record companies at the helm of assembly lines manufacturing plastic pop by faux lesbian duos or boy bands with the word “town” in their name. Then you have the musicians in the business for music’s sake, struggling with the delicate nature of music downloading, fighting for artistic control and dealing with industry bureaucrats.

Getting away from those bureaucrats may be one reason Metric’s vocalist Emily Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw left Los Angeles, where they recorded their explosive debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? They returned to Toronto to record and produce their sophomore album Live It Out. Shaw transformed a series of old interconnected office rooms located above a bank into a recording studio. Bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key, who remained in California, regularly convened with their fellow bandmates in Toronto. Dealing with the incredible heat in their recording space, Metric managed to put out an equally hot record, leaning towards an edgier rock sound on Live it Out over the new-wave of Old World Underground.

“We’ve grown the way any band would after a few hundred shows and the new record reflects that,” Shaw remarks. “It’s much more intense.”

Live It Out is more reserved than their politically-charged debut. Where Haines says “all we do is talk, sit, switch screens/As the homeland plans enemies,” on Old World Underground’s “Succexy” she’s adopted another approach this time claiming “I fought the war but the war won” on the new single, “War Hospital.” In fitting fashion, Haines and Shaw departed for Canada on the day of last year’s American presidential election. According to the band’s website, Metric received 13 fan letters from US soldiers stationed in Iraq, but Shaw downplays the letters’ political significance.

“The letters for the most part are just fan mail, people responding to the music,” he says. “I’m really just surprised to see that the music has reached those people and, given the nature of the music, they still like it.”

Perhaps it isn’t surprising their music has been able to spread to Iraq. Metric is a nomadic band of sorts. They’ve made homes of Toronto, London, Brooklyn, Montreal and Los Angeles. The experiences of living in various places has been very positive for the group.

“It gives a very broad range of experiences and observations to draw on,” comments Shaw. “Metric is a very observational crew. We like to watch and learn.”

Though they may be the observational sort, the musicians also take direct cues from friends in the business. Haines and Shaw collaborate with Toronto’s collective Broken Social Scene and lived with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in New York.

“You always think of your friends when you’re making music and whether they’ll like it or not, and whether that’s good or bad,” Shaw explains. “I think [the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’] Nick Zinner and [Broken Social Scene’s] Andrew Whiteman have been the ones who drove me to play the hell out of the guitar.”

This drive, regardless of where it came from, has proven successful. Since the release of Old World Underground, Metric has made waves everywhere from commercial rock radio to elite indie circles to MTV. Their popularity has spread to Europe where they will play a few shows in late November. The band has been particularly successful in France, leading to a cameo appearance in French director Olivier Assayas’ drama Clean.

“We were simply approached by the director, Olivier,” Shaw says of the film experience. “It was a lot of fun making the film, and a lot of success in France has come out of it. Nice break that one was.”

The band’s success overseas hasn’t been unearned. Since 2002, Metric has played an impressive 450 shows in 10 countries, including four consecutive sold-out concerts at Toronto’s Mod Club Theatre last January.

“Playing everyday and never playing perfectly,” remarks Shaw on what he finds rewarding about life on the road. “Touring is amazing. The world is large and rich with experience.”

This being said, Metric should have a few titillating tour stories to share but Shaw isn’t ready to divulge.

“Ask me again after Calgary,” he quips.


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