I’m not going to lie; I was a little late to the Metric party.
It goes without saying that a person can’t keep tabs on all bands at all times, so the guilt I feel about the Metric-sized hole in my musical knowledge is minimal, at best. It simply meant I had some catching up to do.
Although I’d been aware of Metric as one of the many bands orbiting the musical sun known as Canada’s Broken Social Scene (singer Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw both do time in that collective when they’re not busy being half of Metric), that was pretty much where my knowledge—or my ignorance, if you want to view it that way—of the band began and ended.
That is, until their song “Gold Guns Girls” ended up in heavy rotation on any number of so-called “alternative” radio stations. With its distinctive opening salvo of “All the gold and the guns in the world couldn’t get you off” sung out in Haines’ serenely self-assured style and set to a backdrop of danceable synth pop, the song was perfect light radio fare—but also boasted a lyrical bent that was decidedly darker (the song was reportedly inspired by Scarface).
The song was, I would come to find out, a proper introduction to this distinctive band.
As introductions go, this was a late one, as Metric has actually been around since the late ’90s, when Haines and Shaw first met in Toronto through mutual friends in that music scene. Both had been active musicians for years, each befriending and playing separately with various members of the soon-to-be-formed powerhouse musical collective Broken Social Scene. He was born in the UK and educated at Julliard. She was born to a poet father in India and raised in Canada. Together, they found themselves to be artistically simpatico and part of a music scene that encouraged collaboration early and often. They’ve been together and making music as Metric ever since.
Shortly after they discovered each other, Haines and Shaw moved to New York City where they became more famous for sharing an apartment with the up-and-coming Yeah Yeah Yeahs than they were for their music.
But that would all change soon enough.
After making geographical changes and courting labels and engaging in other seemingly music-related activities that serve to distract fledging bands from the business of actually making music, Metric got serious about their craft. They worked on and recorded an album they dubbed Grow Up and Blow Away in 2001, but a dispute with their record label saw that album shelved for more than six years.
No matter. Haines and Shaw had more than just one album’s worth of music up their sleeves—and they were about to double in size.
Although Metric’s layered, synth-pop sound overlaid with Haines’ lovely vocals sounded great in the studio, it was tough for the duo to translate that experience into a dynamic live show. Using synth tracks and drum machines live made for a bogged-down stage show, and Metric’s onstage appearance didn’t exactly match their sound. Time to add a drummer. And a bass player because, well, why not? Which is how drummer Joules Scott-Key and bass player Josh Winstead became full-fledged Metric members.
The timing of Metric’s personnel increase couldn’t have been better, as the band was enjoying an uptick in popularity owing to their having sold a song for use in a Polaroid commercial. The song, “Grow Up and Fly Away,” probably served to draw more fans to the band than the product their music was supposed to push—an unintended victory for a band that was becoming increasingly well-known for their anti-consumerist stance and unconventionally successful DIY approach to handling their artistic output.
During the next several years, Metric would only build on this success, releasing a couple of albums—Live It Out and the previously shelved Grow Up and Blow Away—to critical acclaim and platinum-selling success in Canada. As well, the band that had once struggled to convey their sound live had now become an onstage force to be reckoned with, and the next few years would see them touring nonstop, bringing their music to nearly every corner of the globe.
Then came the album that forced Metric into my orbit. Tracks from the album, which would eventually be titled Fantasies, began to emerge live as early as spring 2008. Later that year, under the guise of a Haines solo show, Haines and Shaw played all 10 tracks from the album at an acoustic outing in Brooklyn, NY. By the time Fantasies finally dropped in April 2009, fans were more than ready to receive it.
Fantasies, which features more personal lyrical content and a further refinement of Metric’s engaging synth-pop sound, has won the band some Juno awards, and led them to an opening slot on a Muse tour. As well, songs like the aforementioned “Gold Guns Girls” and “Sick Muse” have helped Metric’s reach grow farther and wider than ever before.
Currently, the band has another album in the hopper—current working title, Synthetica—slated for a release just a few weeks after their May 24 show at WWU’s Viking Union. And this time, when the party starts, I won’t be late.
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