The Work Is the Life: Bands Like Metric Are Why Headliners (Almost) Don't Matter at The Meadows

They've been around for more than a decade, dropping hit songs, bending the constraints of genre, making moves, and opening doors for bands like them along the way. 

The band is Metric, and for them, the work is the life; the creation is not simply fulfilling, but life-affirming. 

Leading up to their return to New York City for the inaugural Meadows Music & Arts Festival, I caught up with certifiable badass and front woman Emily Haines on their recent performance at Montreal's first Global Citizen Festival performance, their 2015 album Pagans in Vegas, and a weirdly placed career retrospective for a band that's neither dead nor out of work. 

Pro tip: Phone interviews are hard sometimes, so it's best that you be up front with how bad it might actually go. 

Emily Haines: ... Okay... let's go!

Pro tip: Scratch that. That's a terrible idea. 

JH: If a music festival not for charity can mean anything in particular, what does playing in the Meadows Festival mean for you and the band?

EH: Well, it’s getting the chance to share the stage with a bunch of great artists which is what I love about playing festivals. We did our whole summer, every weekend we would go to a different festival. 

We played WayHome right before LCD Soundsystem, got to stand on stage with those guys and listen and dance our asses off. I’m really excited to get here a day early and see Savages play. 

But festivals are a chance to actually see friends I haven’t seen in forever in different bands, and also pay my respects to other artists. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of opportunity. So it’s gonna be a good one.


JH: I’m always curious about artists’ reaction to festival lineups. You can wander about and piece together a really beautiful playlist if you do it right. You’re sharing stages with Kanye and Chance the Rapper, artists in genres seemingly at odds with what you guys are doing. What do you think of this lineup?

EH: Yeah, I mean it’s weird. On the one hand, sure, everybody’s got categories for music. I think we’re seeing now more than ever that people like all kinds of stuff. At least for me, my record collection is really eclectic because I’m more drawn to what is the motivation of the person making the music; and what’s the message, and what’s the vibe. 

I feel like we’re in good company. I don’t need to be surrounded by people like me, or who look like me, or people who sound like me. I love the challenge of being out of our element. I kind of feel like for our entire career we’ve been kind of out of our element. In the indie rock world, we’re too pop, and in the pop world, we’re like art rock. I quite enjoy that. I think you just play the music going, man. That’s what’s been keeping me and the band going.

I knew Metric primarily by their hit "Help Me I'm Alive" off their 2009 album Fantasies. While bartending at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Greensboro, NC that song dominated some small moment of every single shift. Every. Single. Shift.


But before the call, it took me a while to figure out where else I had found Metric in my own life for as long as they've been around. And then I made it back to 2002.

Emily Haines was/is an integral part of the Canadian musical collective, Broken Social Scene, and in 2002 they released a huge record, You Forgot It in People

Pro tip: When you get 15 minutes with someone you only know by reputation, a three-hour deep dive into more than a decade's worth of music, other online interviews, and woefully misguided reviews of their work, it's best that you not waste it on a sputtering deluge of compliments and general rambling and bumbling about. 

Rambling question from JH: Forgive me, I’m a little foggy on timelines of everything (first search of Metric shows you’ve been a band since 1998 with a detailed list of crazy contract situations/struggles in the early years)―and I do want to hit on Broken Social scene. But you’re spread out over nearly two decades of music. Has anyone ever told you that you were a formative part of their musical education?

Note: That's not bullshit, either. I had an eclectic collection of strictly live Dave Matthews Band albums from 2000-2001. My older brothers dragged me out that black hole with The Fugees, The Unicorns, Velvet Underground, Broken Social Scene, The Beastie Boys, Blackalicious, Common, The Roots, and a bunch of others. That was the crash course on good music. 

Pro tip (courtesy of Tom Robbins): "It's never too late to have a good childhood."

I don’t need to be surrounded by people like me, or who look like me, or people who sound like me. I love the challenge of being out of our element. I kind of feel like for our entire career we’ve been kind of out of our element. In the indie rock world, we’re too pop, and in the pop world, we’re like art rock.

EH: Uh, yeah. Lots of people. (Interior: PHEW! THAT COULD HAVE BEEN SO BAD.)

That’s actually kind of the highlight at this point is seeing that with those next generation of fans and musicians and humans of all varieties. And finding that all of this work we’ve been doing has been worth something because that would definitely be the point is to somehow help create a sense of cohesion in peoples’ lives. That’s what music does for me. And that’s what art does for me. 

For us, kind of the narrative of metric, Our relationship with New York City is so strong because, Jimmy and I moved there in ‘98 from Toronto, Greyhound Bus style, and Josh and Jules (our rhythm section) moved from Texas around the same time. We all had sweet nothing. 

Found a loft in Williamsburg―actually a loft is generous. It was above a trucking company, like a carbon monoxide emporium. 

JH: Yeeeeeeaaaaaahhhh!

EH: (LOL) We had so many amazing musicians around us, and at the time we didn’t realize that we all just wanted to get out of there, but TV on the Radio, Liars, Yeah Yeahs, Stars―who are our longtime friends―all came through this one toxic building. 

It was on Metropolitan. I think now it’s some hotel or apple store or some shit. That’s where the band formed and that’s really the heart of us. 

But if you can push yourself and scare the shit out of yourself and do things that feel kind of crazy and different and evolved, if people can’t deal with it, that’s cool because you’ve kept growing. 

We’ve always been coming back there and then it came back full circle with our connection with Lou Reed, and he and I started working together, and he wrote a song for our record, and joined us at Radio City. 

For me, whenever we come back and play New York there’s this extra dimension to it because it always amps up the appreciation we feel and the life we get to live. 

It was a very different Williamsburg at the time. I was living there for the last 7 years until we got evicted. Our whole block got bought in the second round of gettin kicked out. It’s cool, man.


I belong in Toronto. It’s just makes me sad. I was doin' pretty fuckin' well, and If I’m gettin kicked out? Come on. But it’s gonna be good to be back.

JH: Bands, reviews, etc. whoever is trying to control the messaging, there’s always some pervasive sentiment of “fear” when it comes to releasing a new record and how their fans will respond to anything even slightly rumored as "different" when it comes to their sound. 

Like, "Don’t worry, this still sounds like them!" Can you explain this idiosyncrasy. Why are people afraid of not recognizing their band’s sound in something new? Isn’t that the point? Why do we need these reassurances? 

For me, whenever we come back and play New York there’s this extra dimension to it because it always amps up the appreciation we feel and the life we get to live.

Example: I love "The Governess" (Pagans in Vegas), and as much as a departure that song is from a lot of what you're doing, I hear echoes in its structure and tonality from “Speed the Collapse" (Synthetica). There’s something familiar in every point of your journey, so why do we need these reassurances?

EH: I know! There’s this glorified moment when a band is new, there’s one record, and it’s all everything everybody wants it to be because it isn’t anything yet except for that moment. Then if you’re going to manage to survive and thrive, as we have, you’re going to constantly have to face that question as anything that’s worked for us has been not because we thought it would. 


So when something clicks, hit songs, connections, stuff like that, so then are you supposed to spend the rest of your career doing slight variations on that thing that most people seem to like the best? I don’t know. Sounds like hell. Sounds kind of sad and pathetic. 

Because if that thing doesn’t click, if people don't like it, it just sounds like a watered down version of something everyone’s nostalgic for from the past. 

But if you can push yourself and scare the shit out of yourself and do things that feel kind of crazy and different and evolved, if people can’t deal with it, that’s cool because you’ve kept growing. We’ve opted for that on every single record, and for that, I think people have had reasons to panic on every single record because we’ve always been doing that.  


I’m fascinated by it too, because if you’re going to have a real lifespan as an artist, you’re supposed to got to break off and come back before you make anybody worry or anything. So I’m definitely in it to keep growing and changing and failing and winning and all of it. That’s where I’m at, and it’s workin for me so far.

Oh, and here's the kind of rambling career retrospective for someone whose career isn't over supplemented by my own Luis Guzmán theory. 

Oh, "What the f*ck the Luis Guzmán theory?" It's the balance of proper saturation and visibility. Look at Luis Guzmán. A) He's adorable and paunchy. B) He's been in a million things. C) He's never really been forced into stardom, so Hollywood's never really screwed up in putting him into too many bullsh*tty things. #LifeGoals. 


No, really. If there's a career arc you want to emulate, Luis is your Guz-MAN. 

"So, Emily," I said. "Even though you’re not dead, and considering the Luis Guzmán theory, let's look at what you've done:

- 2002 Broken Social Scene - "Anthem for a 17-year-old girl" (that's an Indie anthem, and I don't care who you are)
- 2004 featured in the movie Clean starring Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte (NICK NOLTE!)
- 2010 "All Yours" featured on the Twilight: Eclipse Soundtrack - Okay, so not a great movie, but she got to work with Howard Shore.
- 2010 "Black Sheep" changed shifted Scott Pilgrim vs. the World from a cute movie to a really dope movie with Brie Larson singing this song at the Clash at Demon. Sure, it was Brie Larson, but damn; that song is a killer.
- 2012 Metric plays Radio City Music Hall with Lou Reed
- 2013 This beautiful inscription to New York icon Lou Reed

That's not even touching on her actual career as a musician. So, Emily:

JH: What more do you want to do, what more you could possibly do, what are you still compelled to do?

EH: It’s funny, I'm actually showing up at the studio now, you know, another back alley of my life, still at it. I guess I believe that my best work is ahead of me. There’s a lot of social forces, that make, I don’t even want to say it’s women, it’s everyone, you’re either 20 or you’re not - I’m not. 

The work is the life. 

I feel like I’m going towards everything I want― not away from it, and I don’t know what it is because I haven’t written it yet. We were talking about it in the band. 

You have to be careful with how you construct your life. If you fall into this sort of normalcy model where you’re supposed to want your work to give you some kind of reward, your holiday in the sun, that sort of implies that you want to not work. 


And you’re making the one thing that would get in the way of music as a profession, this amazing, amazing feat, to protect yourself from turning it into, “It’s work, they can’t make you stop doing it,” so I can like drink a corona at some fuckin' resort? The work is the life. 

And you gotta be careful. Yeah, you grow up. It keeps happening it’s around you people are doing where their lives are taking them, but for me it’s the ultimate life force. I’m keepin' that attitude and hoping that I keep doing better and better work.


And, my band. Those guys are all doing the same thing which is so exciting. I’ve watched a lot of friends and bands disappear. It’s not a good time for bands, let alone those who’ve been around for a decade. Each of them individually is on the same tip in their own lives. 

Josh (Winstead) just made a beautiful soul record― beautiful, and it’s, and we're unmatched in that spirit, and that philosophy. 

As for the companion record for Pagans in Vegas?

EH: Oh, yeah. "The lost tape." We’re just trying to figure out what it is and what we’re gonna do and it’s been a totally amazing journey. Till I die! 

They're going to kill it this Sunday at The Meadows. We also talked to Coast Modern! You should read it. They're cool guys. Of course, if you wanted to get that single-day ticket for then, you're SOL. But, snag whatever's left of these nearly sold out tickets right here. 

[Feature Image Courtesy BrunchNews] 

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