Before Drake had graduated from Degrassi, a floppy-haired stud became PM, and Bieber’s Bieber was exposed to the world, the word “Canada” was synonymous with indie rock. From Arcade Fire to Hot Hot Heat, our fair neighbor to the north’s biggest export—besides poutine, of course—was exciting new bands. And the Canadian invasion began in earnest with Broken Social Scene’s brilliant 2002 album You Forgot It in People.
One of the most revered songs off that LP, especially when it comes to millennial women of a certain age, is “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.” It’s a melancholic ballad sung from the perspective of a grown woman looking back on her bright-eyed teenage self, and realizing she’s lost forever. “Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that,” the woman sings. “Now you’re all gone, got your makeup on, and you’re not coming back.”
And that unmistakably beautiful voice, fragile and circumspect, belongs to none other than Emily Haines. The following year, the Haines-fronted group Metric would release debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?—a synth-heavy kick to the nuts that cemented their status as rock stars in their own right.
A dozen years after that first album, I’m sitting with Haines in the courtyard of the Crosby Hotel in SoHo, a hop, skip, and a jump away from her current Manhattan apartment—though not for long, apparently.
“It’s a love affair that I’ve found hard to end,” Haines says of NYC living, before reminiscing about the days when it was her and Metric guitarist James Shaw, along with members of the bands Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Stars, and TV on the Radio, all sharing the same two-bathroom Williamsburg loft in the late ’90s. “Cat piss aside, it was a special time.”
After they vacated the crammed L-shaped loft, which has since been torn down to make way for a hotel, Haines found herself in L.A. for a bit before resettling in New York’s West Village.
“The ceiling collapsed in a perfect circle in the living room while me and my guy were watching The Holy Mountain,” she says, chuckling at the insanity of it all. “You know how there are all these circle images in that movie? It was so fuckin’ weird. Then we moved to this neighborhood, and now we’re getting evicted.” Yes, Haines and the other residents of her SoHo building were recently given notice that the building was sold to make way for some gaudy monstrosity, so her days of city livin’ may be numbered.
But it’s not all bad news for the indie rock vet. Metric’s sixth studio album, Pagans in Vegas, was released last month to positive reviews, and Haines says the band’s already finished recording their seventh album, which they’ll drop some time in the near future.
I first remembered hearing about you with Broken Social Scene, which I was—and still am—a huge fan of. Will there be another BSS album?
You know, there was a time when I got really offended when people asked about Broken Social, because it was more of a cameo, so it sort of did Kevin [Drew] and Brendan [Canning] a disservice to associate us with them, and did us a bit of a disservice because we were a band before that. But it was a true, beautiful collective and totally chaotic. It was like “Occupy Indie Rock.” Logistically, it’s a nightmare getting everyone together. But we all love each other and I would hope that we’d make more music. It’s funny looking back, thinking about that moment. Hopefully there will be another one.
Now Canada is all about the R&B—Drake and The Weeknd.
It’s not all Drake and The Weeknd! And New York is Taylor Swift. The feeling of landing in New York and, after having worked with Lou Reed and my personal mythology of the city, having it be Taylor Swift welcoming you to New York is just so emblematic of the era. This is whose New York it is. Nothing says it better. This is why I’m getting evicted!
You had the privilege of working with Lou Reed on “The Wanderlust.” That must have been some experience.
That was actually the most shallow expression, sadly, of the relationship. The song was good, but he did really interesting stuff in the studio that we should eventually release. But the process of working with him live was the real thing. That morning it was like, “What do I eat?’”
Lou was a throwback to weird New York.
We gotta make sure we don’t all become homogenized. People need to remember what it’s like to be a weirdo. Weirdly, I think doing the Imagine Dragons tour made us feel more like artsy freaks than ever before.
You were the artsy opener. It does feel like the music industry’s changed so much since Metric first started. Now, it seems like there’s a much bigger gulf between the amount of money the bigger acts bring in and the amount of dough the smaller ones do.
It looks like the music industry is mimicking income inequality in a really painful way, and perhaps even magnifying it. Every day I consider posting this thing—but I don’t. It’s a picture of the incomes of the top DJs right now, and this is absolutely appalling. Calvin Harris pulls down $66 million in a 12-month period! I’m working on the phrasing, but it says something like, “Ever feel like a single teardrop in a sea of urine?” What are we rewarding? What do we want from people, and what do we admire? It’s fuckin’ depressing. Their load-in is one laptop bag. For us, we have a crew of 10 people on salary with a ton of equipment. We’re part of the economy. It’s that feeling of the super rich that don’t put anything into it and are just like, “Oh, I’ll take that check.” What we’re doing feels righteous, and pretty cool.
That brings us to Pagans in Vegas. The opening track “Lie Lie Lie” struck me as being about the overwhelming amount of artifice in modern-day popular culture.
I was just chillin’ with a bottle of rum when I wrote that song, and I felt so relieved. It’s what I needed to say. I was realizing how much the world has changed since we started out, and started to have this horrible feeling that I was not sure where I stood—and also trying to be famous. I always thought we were gonna be making music that nobody was going to be listening to, then we made Fantasies, then people liked it—and they liked me. We were acceptable. And then Synthetica after that was, “Hey, keep being more acceptable!” and I dunno, man. I want to keep going but I’m not in the fuckin’ talent show.
How’s it been dealing with being a frontwoman in a rock band? It seems like the media, in particular magazine covers, love objectifying frontwomen.
Beyoncé was on the cover of Time magazine in her underwear! It was probably around the time I wrote “Lie Lie Lie”… coincidentally. I’m just going where I’m going. I’m not changing course in order to take you where you wanna go. If you wanna feel like a princess, I’m not the person you can live out your dreams through.
You used to date your bandmate, James Shaw. How have you two managed to preserve that relationship and not let it affect Metric? It’s not the easiest thing to be working with your ex.It’s the greatest accomplishment of my life, preserving that. I feel that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, was to separate the two things—finding what love is and knowing that you have a love that’s a lifelong love and managing to shape it without losing it. That was really hard when it first happened and took years to find its shape. It’s really emotional to talk about.
So after Pagans, I hear you’ve already got your next album in the bag.
Now that I’m coming out of the complete sleep deprivation that was necessary to pull this off, I’m beyond excited to freak everyone the fuck out who can’t expect what happens next. It’s the two things that always used to meet in the middle and make everything that they think we know of who we are, but we’re revealing the inside at this point. I think 15 years out is a good time for it to happen. It’s Metric, but it’s like The Soft Skeleton, for sure. And there was no editing. In the pop world, there’s a lot of editing, but not here. I got to be a little weirder.
As someone who’s been in the music business for a minute, how do you manage to fight back against all the industry pressures and stay true to yourself? How do you remain a “Pagan in Vegas?”
You make it not a fight—you make it fun. There are a lot of people on planet Earth, and a lot of them are buying into the stuff that bums me out, but this has always been the case. There’s always been loads of crap and loads of commercial stuff being made for all the wrong reasons, but I refuse to be miserable and feel like I didn’t win. If I’m happy, and I’m surrounded by people I love doing what we love, tell me how I’m losing?