The opening track on Synthetica, “Artificial Nocturne” guides the listener through a cluster of bare vocals and junkets of lo-fi indie synth textures; a 60’s organ played through a homemade pedal cements these grimy throb additions. The song invades with sincerity and grips with inquisition, setting the tone for the remainder of the record.
Delving into the inner workings of the mind, the existence of techno-culture, our reactionary selves and lifelines connected to the natural versus the unnatural society are all themes explored on Metric’s fifth studio album.
Self-released through their own global label (MMI) and produced by Metric’s guitarist Jimmy Shaw, Sythnetica displays a sensual togetherness with “Clone”, “The Void” and the title track “Synthetica” roping rage with reflect; infectious singles that simply ripe with continuous listen. “Nothing But Time” shows off Emily Haines’ ability to whisper and chant minimal lyrics in a profound atmospheric way while “Lost Kitten” sees her experiment in a more sugary pop femininity approach to vocal pitch tones. The already released single “Youth Without You” is a key example of a signature Metric anthem, one full of blazing guitar interludes and budding vocal twists – it’s an expansive indie rock jam brought out through a tightly refined sonic recipe. It also plays to the Gary Glitter beat, something that Shaw had wanted to achieve on a song.
The connection between Jimmy Shaw and Emily Haines is a major motivator in the development of the band. This direction and creative advancement is fueled by a mutual understanding of the band, the intent behind the band and the music that makes sense to them.
As Shaw states, “I think the main point of this band is to try and inspire people to act, to follow whatever path and to not feel defeated, and the world is big and daunting and scary and there are so many things – so many options information and ideas, pummelled into your own reality and it becomes difficult to know who you are supposed to be, Noam Chomsky or Katy Perry and people are confused and we take pleasure in inspiring people to follow their own path.”
Haines furthers, “Legendary music that has stayed with us is with the songwriting partnership, it’s the life I’ve chosen or chose me however it’s played out, you play around the idea with a mirror, you are creating something that is internalized, but Jimmy is someone that can help navigate my stuff.”
“Lyrically I can express and Jimmy will be like ‘I know what you want to get across but no one else will’, and he has really encouraged me to be like ‘what are you really meaning, or what you are seeing’ instead of hiding behind human cleverness. Like “Artificial Nocturne” – this is close to my heart, and I was really excited to make it happen….both Jimmy and I have this similar energy.”
The two also have uniquely dedicated backgrounds in music too; Jimmy a former Juilliard student / tireless experimenter and Emily with her prog-rock and jazz beginnings seen at home with her father Paul Haines and also through her ongoing attachment to the piano.
“I can be anywhere in the world once there is a piano in the room, it’s that source and as you grow there’s a complexity and a stronghold. It’s an incredibly meditative place and I always go back to piano. I can be playing and it’s daylight and then it is dark and the worst thing that can happen is what you wrote isn’t good, but it got you closer to writing good,” explains Haines.
When asked if his education and professional training background influences his approach and confidence in music Shaw responded,
“Good question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. I understand the confidence element – by understanding more than one idea, but knowledge of the music possibilities can be crippling. Then there’s the “true musician”, the raw musician who doesn’t know how to read music but just speaks in the language naturally – that confidence may have filled me of understanding of the musical language, but I stop theorizing about it. When you have to use words to describe music that kind of means the music is not doing it right. If you have to explain it, something is not happening. If something is coming out of the speakers and I don’t like it I have to figure it out before I move on.”
“For Juilliard there were parts I just didn’t relate to. The 9 hours of mind numbing, non social behaviour, I just didn’t want to always play the same music. For me it wasn’t about being the second trumpet in the Cleveland Orchestra you know.”
It’s the balance between meticulous production craft and powerful, honest songwriting that remains the band’s armour. The blending of these core strengths develops on each album, of which house a collection of emotive music anthologies during specific periods of time.
“The writing process is about throwing away the ego and being as hard as possible on myself; that’s my place I go that is of value and push myself. Then when you take the stage you have the crew, various mechanisms in place so it’s not about doubting, and writing is the training – we as a band are very collaborative. We try to be our own critics, worst enemies, so when you are on the stage you can commit to the songs. Then it’s about ‘let’s have a good time’, people are excited and how it connects with the materials is incredible. We are all pretty amazed we have five records, and it’s a real favourite of ours curating this process,” says Haines.
Synthetica was produced at Metric’s own Giant Studios in Toronto and Electic Lady Studios in New York City. It was mixed by longtime collaborator John O’Mahony and the cover art is courtesy of Toronto-based photographer Justin Broadbent.
Metric’s sense of control in their music mixology, their brand and their connection to the craft is what continues to crown them as serious musicians with definitive dimensions.
“What Metric did isn’t necessarily the right path, but it’s the right path for Metric. I feel like for a lot for bands listening to your own way is key. I mean look at Radiohead it wasn’t like they had mentor or watched other bands do things and followed, and it’s not like they’re the first band to give their music for free, but the way the did it is true to their personality. I find when people stay true to themselves and purely do what they desire to do it becomes the most universal. All anyone is trying to do in life is feel themselves, and it’s what they should do. When others see it, it brings out a truth and becomes easier to follow,” explains Shaw.
There’s a taste of disjointed beauty on the album, much like the everyday, and each song tip toes in and out of varying headspaces. It’s the connection between the headspaces that makes for continuous doses of reflective exploration. Synthetica also includes the harmonic groove track “The Wanderlust” featuring guest vocals by Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed. No biggie.
Synthetica follows 2009’s Fantasies album, which sold upwards of 500,000 copies worldwide. Recently, in addition to ongoing humanitarian efforts Metric has lent support in film, providing song scores for films including the Grammy nominated and Academy Award shortlisted Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack and David Chronenberg’s Cosmopolis soundtrack, both composed with Howard Shore.
Metric’s fan base is also a driving force in their ongoing success.
“On the last tour there was this girl who came to two or three of the shows, she was very small and had a condition, suffered from health issues her whole life. And she told me after the New York show that she’s allergic to pain killers and she has had tons of operations and can’t have pain killers to subside the pain. So, she had to live it out through an iPod and she would have headphones on and when she was coming out of an operation they would press and play Metric while she was waking up. That’s the most insane inspiring thing about music, I’ve seen music help people in ways that I never imagined.”
Synthetica is an album that scrubs against new skin without completing rinsing off a familiar Metric scent. The ongoing partnership of Shaw and Haines, fifteen years and counting, remains a powerful ingredient for longevity and this music relishing is evident in their enthusiasm both in conversation and in creation.
“10 years ago I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know what the band should sound like, I didn’t know if we should sign to a major label – slowly you put your head down into it all and 10 years later you just go ‘wow’,” explains Shaw.