The truly great rock stars possess a particular type of intensity. It’s as if those who are capable of making thousands of spectators swoon at their feet are meant to act a little differently than the rest of the populace, by their own rules. Emily Haines, of the acclaimed band Metric, is one of those rock stars. And she’ll be here this weekend for the band’s first Halifax show.
Whether onstage or off, Haines carries herself in a way that says she’s unpredictable, slightly aloof and impossibly cool. When she looks at you, you’re converted into a 13-year-old on a first date, unable to say anything remotely interesting enough to impress her. It’s obvious she’s a pro at this rock star gig, quick to fire back at journalists who attempt to pose any vague, open-ended questions she doesn’t like.
“My life in Metric is not my day job, it’s my life,” she says from her Toronto apartment when asked about her solo record Knives Don’t Have Your Back. “I’m just going to kind of do what I want. It’s really not that strategic at all. It’s making music and putting out records and playing shows—like Willie Nelson.”
If you don’t know Metric by now, you should. The band’s last two records, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and Live It Out were critically acclaimed pieces of synth-driven alt-rock, the latter catapulting the Toronto-based band to “It-list” fodder for tres-chic magazines across North America and Europe. Live It Out also earned the group a Juno nod and a following that has them playing bigger venues and major festivals such as Coachella and Bumbershoot. The band has also appeared on late night television and opened for the Rolling Stones in New York City in the past year.
Rounded out by guitarist Jimmy Shaw (who plays in Broken Social Scene with Haines), bassist Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key, it’s Metric’s devotion to the road that has built their reputation as a band to see. Although the three men in Metric are more than solid performers, it’s Haines who is the draw, as one never knows what to expect. At one show she may be Iggy Pop, jumping into the crowd, arms and legs outstretched, coaxing the crowd onstage for an impromptu dance party. On another night, she’s raging like Johnny Cash, kicking at a photographer she thinks is being a tad too overzealous with his snapshots.
“It’s pretty similar,” Haines says about her personality on and offstage. “It’s just a mood. I definitely don’t feel like I have this alternate identity at all.”
Perhaps it’s the hundreds of shows over the past couple of years that have made Haines and her cohorts a little uneasy with fame. In an interview in Austin, Texas, last November, Shaw alluded to demons that arose during the recording of the introspective Live It Out, but refused to elaborate.
“When we made Old World, there was a war that was about to go on and everyone was fighting against it and we found our way to fight against it,” Shaw said. “This time around, we were fighting much more inner battles than something as isolated and obvious as the Bush-led war against Iraq.”
More exposure means the members of Metric must deal with increasingly feverish fan interest—something that poses different challenges when trying to maintain personal space and a less-than-inflated ego. Haines, being the center of attention as the attractive lyricist and lead singer, deals with this more than her bandmates. The signs of frustration show themselves rarely, but when they do, they make their point.
During the Austin show, for example, Haines snatched a cell phone from a college-aged woman taking pictures from the front row mid-song. She chucked it across the stage. After the song ended she called out for the owner of the phone and handed it back to her. “Take it easy with that, OK?” Haines said, a warning to the rest of us. Dozens of cell phones flipped shut.
“It’s no big deal, but it’s depressing when the whole front row of a concert, you can’t see any faces, you just see the inside of cell phones people are holding up,” Haines explains. “They’re taking pictures and texting their friends at the show. I didn’t come all this way to look at your phone. It’s pretty distracting, but it’s not a huge deal.”
It’s hometown Toronto that offers Metric respite, where people are more likely to turn a blind eye to local celebs. In order to stay grounded, Haines likes to stay in and make dinner with friends. If she goes out at night, she prefers to visit smaller, lesser-known bars. She maintains that she tries not to take herself too seriously, that she’s not overly self-aware. It’s apparent, however, that she has been forced to become aware of her place in the public spotlight.
“I really love my life in Toronto for that reason,” she says. “I have a nice neighbourhood existence and really it’s, ‘yeah, it’s the girl in that band.’ And it’s like, ‘Yep, that’s her.’ There’s not a lot more to that.”
A common theme stated by the Metric crew is a desire to grow as a band, to play to bigger audiences over time. There’s no denying the group loves what they do, but the question is how far can they go before it gets to be too much? Asked where she’d like to be in five years, Haines kids that she’d like be far removed from the fast life of a successful musician.
“In a cabin in the woods, writing songs,” Haines says. “Just being Emily.”
It’s a fitting place for someone riding the wave of stardom.
Metric brings the alt-rock with openers The Stance, September 15 at the Halifax Forum Multi-Purpose Room, 2901 Windsor, 8pm, $25 in advance though 494-3820, www.ilovemetric.com