On ‘Synthetica,’ Metric take stock of changing world
In 2005, the year Metric released its second studio album, the Canadian indie-rock band established a blueprint. The first song on “Live It Out” came to symbolize Metric in miniature. After a languorous overture, “Empty” suddenly crashed into a storm of jagged electric guitar, pummeling drums, and frontwoman Emily Haines’s tough but tender vocals.
That keen attention to how an album starts continues with “Synthetica,” Metric’s latest album, which brings the quartet to the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday.
A thoughtful conversationalist, Haines recently talked to the Globe about the new album, her growth as a songwriter, and why Metric even formed in the first place.
Q. What were your initial ideas for this new album?
A. What has often been the case with me is the feeling that I need to leave and go as far away as possible in order to uncover something worth saying. In this case, I made the decision to stick really close to home, which is our recording studio in Toronto. All of things that came to light in that time came from a lack of stimulation as opposed to an excess, which is what I sought in the past. I felt like I could evaluate with some sort of objectivity the changes I’ve seen happen in myself, my friends, my hometown, and the world around me in the last 10 years. There was a sense of pressing pause, which is becoming an increasingly frightening idea to people, especially in the way we communicate now. It feels bold to say, “I’m going to step away and make a record.” People think you’ve disappeared, and all you did was take stock for a moment.
Q. With a title like “Synthetica,” there must be expectations that you’ll address the notion of what’s real and fake.
A. It’s not about authenticity so much as about being honest about the fact that I’m part of a generation that has experienced the shift from landlines to cellphones. We’re all quick to adapt and it’s fine, but at the same time, I occasionally get the feeling – and I guess it did keep cropping up on this new record – that it’s our obligation to be honest about what we do remember.
Q. How do you reconcile that feeling with the reality that, as a musician, you have also benefited from technology? You’re not just a band in Toronto – you exist worldwide.
A. That is exactly what we have felt with the role of technology in our lives, personally and professionally. It’s as though all of it were invented for us. It’s perfect for us. I hope I’m getting that across in the songwriting, but it sounds like maybe I’m not, judging from your reaction. The album is not an indictment of anything.
Q. Did you know when you entered the studio how you wanted this album to sound?
A. That’s something that, out of respect, I leave to Jimmy [Shaw, Metric’s guitarist]. Since we founded this thing together, production has been the realm he’s really interested in. Over the years it’s evolved into this: I have very strong feelings about mood, and he has an incredible ability to translate that. When I first showed up for these recording sessions, he had built this district called “Synth World” in the corner of the control room. It was a place that none of us ever wanted to leave. A lot of the new album’s sound came from our fascination with those instruments. We really went in to see what kind of landscapes we could create. The sounds that Jimmy brought to the table as the palette really did end up inspiring the writing as well.
Q. How do you gauge your evolution as a songwriter? Are you hard on yourself?
A. Yeah. My current obsession, and I’ve been heading in this direction for a while, is the most economical use of words to express the biggest idea. I say it with some trepidation that I feel myself going toward the work of my father [the writer and poet Paul Haines]. Some of his best work was eight lines or tropes like “You’ve got to give up what you don’t want to get what you do.” There’s a rhythm and musicality to his writing that I notice myself going toward. The most challenging thing is to say something honest very plainly and have it sound like poetry and be musical.
Q. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?”, the album that put Metric on the map. Do you remember why you started this band?
A. I do remember why. It was out of a sense of obligation and a sense of adventure put together. We didn’t want to be relegated to the sidelines just because we were incredibly stubborn about the way we wanted to do things. We had a very clear vision of the music we wanted to make. I feel like I started this band to be able to have conversations like this and offer people a genuine alternative to what usually gets shoved down their throats.