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Metric talks 'Synthetica,' sci-fi, indie labels and 'Twilight' soundtracks
Jimmy Shaw talks about independent freedoms and Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'
Metric's previous album "Fantasies" was a game-changer for the band, and for independent rock artists in general. The Canadian band proved you don't need a major label deal in order to get a song on commercial rock radio, and with optimal placement on a "Twilight Saga" soundtrack as well as on Muse's 2010 tour bill, Metric was playing substantial venues with substantial returns on selling their album. And furthermore, it's (sadly) unique for female-fronted rock bands to achieve as much.
On "Synthetica," the band continues to blend its brand of pop with rock, and with a literal vengeance. "If you imagine a nightmarishly fake version of me as a pop star, that's her," singer Emily Haines says of her "Synthetica" persona. "And this record was about me saying, I'm going to give more to the music than ever, but there's no way I'm going to turn into someone like that."
Haines' voice as strong as ever, pushing through hard synth lines and looping guitarwork, engineered by Metric guitarist and producer Jimmy Shaw. "Synthetica" was released last week and bowed at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, a band high-water mark helped by the band's own label deal meshed with Mom + Pop.
Below is my interview with Shaw, on purposeful dichotomies, sci-fi and "Twilight" soundtracks.
HitFix: Your album’s been out for a week. Do you read your own press? Do you allow for criticism to affect the way that you operate?
Jimmy Shaw: I do my best and not let that stuff get into my head at all because if I did, then basically all my musical ideas would be like a collaboration of all the people that had criticisms of what I was doing, you know? And it starts to actually not become your voice at all. It starts to become your voice of compromise, and your voice of being scared of being torn down. Ultimately, as much as I want people to like the music that I make, I’d rather have it stay true to exactly what I want to do than sort of shape it and twist it depending on what random people have said to me over the years, you know?
This album is at least partly concept-driven. There’s a lot of pop elements to it, but there’s also kind of a revolt against pop and to that kind of material. Was there a conscious effort to kind of make a record about that -- that lyrically kind of went around and kind of spoke to what it is to be in the rock and pop sphere right now?
It wasn’t a conscious effort, but there was something that happened halfway through the record. We didn’t go into the thing with a concept in place on any level at all. It was about halfway through it that we started realizing the sort of theme going on that was really about duplicity of all sorts of things, and the dichotomy between one side and the other of all different things in life, of technology and organics, and synthesis and natural surroundings, and truth and dishonesty, all sorts of things. And really looking at the examination of where do you stand in between all these different things. As we started to notice that becoming more and more of a common thread, we sort of went with it more and more.
Yeah, I was thinking of the differences between digital and analog, which is kind of a line in the sand for a lot of producers and bands, too.
Are you guy sci-fi dorks? Do you like science fiction? Is that a theme for you?
I mean, I don’t really read science fiction, but then again to be honest I don’t really read very much. I like – it’s not like I’m really into the themes of it but I like the way that certain things, parts of it, make me feel. For me, the aesthetics is slightly more in line with like retro future. I’m not totally into, like, the current Star Trek; do you know what I mean? That’s really not my bag at all, but I really f*cking love “Blade Runner,” like that shit blows my mind. The opening scene of “Blade Runner.” And the movie “Brazil” is one of my favorite things of all time, it’s that kind of weird way they used to see the future before the future actually arrived, and it really doesn’t even look that different. It’s just that we all have iPhones.
This deal with Mom + Pop; this is the first time you guys have worked with them. They don’t sign just anybody – artists have to have their own act together -- but you guys obviously don’t sign with just anybody either.
It seems like this would’ve been a really long negotiation process. Can you tell me a little bit about what it is to work with Mom + Pop, and what you get out of it, instead of doing your own thing? Because you guys kind of set a benchmark as to what you can do as an independent artist.
Yeah, well the thing that’s interesting about it is that it really is just an extension of us just doing it on our own. When we set up a sort of worldwide situation for the release of Fantasies, we were going into America and doing it completely on our own. We literally had no one on the ground in the U.S., no one working the record actually lived in the U.S. and it’s the biggest territory in the world, so that became a real challenge. It became really difficult and it became just sort of like one sort of unnecessary battle that we were fighting the entire time.
Thankfully, we fought that battle pretty well and we had more success on that record than we had previously, but there were elements of it that we were just, like, dude. We were battling the wrong battles and our energy could’ve been going into different places. Then Mom + Pop came on board halfway through “Fantasies” and we did the deal about six months in and they sort of jumped on board and kept working with that record all the way to the end. They came to us and recognized that the reason that they were talking to us in the first place is that we obviously knew how to guide our own path. We knew how to steer our ship and we know what we’re doing and we know what we want to do, and we know what we don’t want to do.
They came on board fully willing to not try and replace that, which is what the label does with musicians so often. It’s like, “Okay, great, so now you’ve written a couple of songs, I’m going to tell you how to run your career at this point,” and most of the time they just run it into the ground. For them there was like a real mutual respect in a way. It was like they respected everything we’ve done and how we were doing it, and they didn’t want to f*ck with our process.
The relationship is really clear, you know? I don’t want to sound like I was skeptical, but frankly I’m shocked at how much we’re in line with each other right now, and things are running symbiotically. Everyone seems to be having the same ideas of everything. We’re all thinking the same thing, and it’s kind of great.
I was wondering if you guys think you’re going to be in that final “Twilight Saga” soundtrack?
I highly doubt it because I don’t think they use so many bands twice, but you never really know. You never know.
Are you guys in talks or have confirmed anything with any other movie, any other movie soundtrack? Because you do have this sound that lends itself so well to film.
Yeah, I agree with that, but not right now. I mean, literally, as it stands right now, I have about 12 days off for the rest of the year, so there’s a – I actually hope something really awesome doesn’t come in because, I mean, I have to have to turn it down.
And you have worked on Emily’s solo stuff before; are there any other plans for anybody in the band to do another solo thing after this whole record cycle?
I suppose there’s always the possibility. Again, it’s kind of hard to see right now because there’s so much Metric in the near future, that you never really know what you feel like when you come out of that. I did not – I didn’t expect after touring “Fantasies” for two years that I would feel energized and inspired to go in to the studio and start making a record really the next day.
That surprises me, too.
You know? And I did. So it’s hard to know. Sometimes the turn of events will be like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get away from these f*cking people for two years.” Or it could be the exact opposite, and be like “Let’s go get a house in the country.”