There are some interviews you relish and others that leave you nothing more than wasted minutes. When speaking to Emily Haines - frontwoman of Canadian synth masters Metric - every second is a moment cherished. She's what talking to an eccentric is meant to be like. No predictable answers. Her words just leave you with such enlightenment you're not quite sure what to do with yourself once the line goes dead. She tells of a night in NYC writing until 3am then wandering the streets for one of those idyllic Woody Allen moments and calls Lou Reed one of her confidantes. Dashing all over the country in just one day and all she could say was "even on the worst day, we're still in the realm of doing what we love". The kind of human who lives to create. And it just so happens Metric's latest oeuvre is surfing on the same brain waves as our latest Be Magic issue. At the time of speaking the issue hadn't hit shelves yet but Emily knew what it was all about - as she spins off her sci-fi stimulus for the band's latest record Synthetica.
Whereabouts in the world are you today?
We've had to jump right into the fire here because our first single Youth Without Youth has come out in the United States and Canada, and it's pretty full on so we've just been doing a press tour, we did three cities yesterday, in one day. So now, we've just landed in Minneapolis and I'm heading back to New York tomorrow.
You've got a big few days ahead of you don't you?
It's really a test of stamina, the whole undertaking of playing music, in fact. Sometimes it's only once you get onstage that finally no one can email you.
Does it ever get easier or do you have to get back into it all over again once a new record comes out?
It's a very strange thing, I don't know how it works but when you're doing something you love there's just something else that kicks in - in terms of energy and adrenaline and ability. So there's really not a day that goes by - no matter how exhausting - that we don't feel so grateful and fortunate to do what we do. It's like, even on the worst day, we're still in the realm of doing what we love and hopefully bringing happiness to other people. I try to keep that in mind because people really do need music and we're delivering it.
So your new record is titled Synthetica and I heard that it was inspired by Blade Runner, is that true?
It's so funny when we're making records, it's a very different mode from the one I'm now moving into with having conversations like this and travelling and being onstage. It's such a different state of mind, and it's always been that we seem to draw inspiration from visual arts more than music - for whatever reason - so as soon as you start to place certain analog synthesizers in a certain time it maybe evokes … Aliens? Or, some sort of sci-fi existence, so it wasn't like we were playing Blade Runner in the studio.
It was the visual…
Yeah exactly, kind of like how I stumbled upon the images of this radical architecture which I had never been familiar with previously, but we've used a bunch of those images on letters that I wrote to our fans on our website and elsewhere, from this group called Superstudio out of Italy in the 1960s who created these illustrations of inversions of what the future might look like, and I feel like they were so on, in the way that things feel now, and I got really into the retro-futuristic narrative there of thinking about what people in the past thought the future would look like and how their idea of the future is a bit cooler than what it ended up looking like. And that so many of those instruments that we ended up playing - which would have been considered so futuristic - like synthesizers, now sound quite charming. They sound quite human compared to what we listen to with digital sound and digital instruments. So all of those things - including Blade Runner - all made their way into the soup that is the studio.
Were there any new additions to your instrumentals that you were experimenting with to get this kind of sci-fi sound?
Certainly over the years Jimmy has always collected vintage instruments, and in this case he really committed himself to finding these analog synthesizers, which have always been part of the Metric sound, and interestingly for us, long before it was acceptable for rock bands to play synthesizers. It was quite funny for us, coming up to cities in 2001, which was the height of garage rock, and we're playing these little punk clubs and there I am with a synthesizer at the front of the stage, and everybody's like ''what's that?''.
In a way it would have actually been sounding quite sci-fi to them at the time.
Well yeah, and now I'm so happy to see that there isn't a rock station in the world that isn't playing bands that have lots of synth sounds, so we're very happy that the tide has turned in our direction after many years of being sort of the odd man out with all of our analog equipment and synthesizers. So we stepped it up on this record, and it really has to do with Jimmy the guitarist and co-founder of the band, he really created these kind of synth backdrops. You feel like you're in a place, it's almost like a soundscape that he made, and that really sets the tone for the album. The whole record gave us the feeling of looking forward and looking back simultaneously, and then the idea of reflection and mirrors came into the process later on. Almost like when you have that experience of looking into a mirror and you see so infinitely backwards and forwards. It's very visual music, you know what I mean?
Yep, definitely. It seems that everything has done this turn and gone in this very futuristic motion. In fashion too we are seeing it. What do you think has simulated this? Like it's an all-over state of mind that we're getting into this real sci-fi feel now.
I don't know. I hope that perhaps we could push ourselves as human beings to grasp that this is the time that people imagined we would be so developed. I mean 2012, it's something people in the 1960s and 70s felt that this is when we would overcome some of the more negative sides of humanity, and yet sadly, when we look at the inclination of the human race, it's towards greed and war. The world is, in fact, a more peaceful place than it has been in hundreds of years statistically, but I still feel as though I wish we were capable of evolving more quickly as a species and getting on with - you know - let's not debate the topics of the human impact on the environment, and let's get on with health care and making sure people aren't starving to death when all they need is basic amenities or the minimal effort on our part. It seems like we're still wanting to sit in war and greed and not evolving. I think it would be good if there was a general sense that we all want to look to the future, because - we were talking about this recently in the band - that most of us only think of something wonderful and beautiful as something from the past.
There's that nostalgia...
Rock and roll, or anything. There are very few things that we look to as being great, because they're new.
And keeping on the space topic, if you could have any super power, what would it be?
Oh, that question. I think it would be to go back in time. Maybe I'd make a couple of changes so we could eliminate all the racism and all the sexism at its origin. That would be what I would pick.
And, you also collaborated with Lou Reed?
Oh yeah, we did.
And how was that ... What was he like to work with?
We'll never know why or how those paths crossed between myself and Lou, but it really culminated with our performance at the Sydney Opera House and he invited me to be part of that installation. He is an incredible artist as well. It was just a really interesting thing, and also that there was a natural place on the record for Lou Reed. We've never had any guests on any Metric album, and you know, that song The Wanderlust - you've heard it right?
Yeah I did.
It's kind of a little detour for a moment, and it almost feels as though it's ... The vocals are so innocent and sort of yearning to explore the world and see the world. It's almost like he's speaking to the realm of consequences, and in a weary way saying "I've been on all kind of highways for so long", you know? It's a nice contrast and it was really generous of him to contribute to our album.
So who are your favourite musicians you're looking up to right now?
Well for me it's really about writers, so interestingly I had the pleasure of meeting a late night New York experience. It was about 3:30 in the morning and I'd been working all night, and just had to get out, and wandered into the West Village. And, you know, the only places that are still open were kind of dismal bars, and people were wasted and I just needed to get out and have a moment somewhere that wasn't that. And I came upon this little place that I'd actually been to before but didn't realise where I was headed until I got there, called The Other Room, and it was just candlelit, and the door was slightly open. I popped my head in and I saw the bartender, and I said, ''Can I just come in for a moment? Just for one drink. I need to get out of my head for a second'', and he said, ''Sure but we're just about to close the door and this amazing songwriter named Ben, he's here and he's about to start playing, if you don't mind.'' And I was like, ''What? That's incredible.'' So I came in and it was like the romantic ideas of what New York City would be like, you know that past that we all cling to of imagining that Jimi Hendrix is jamming in some basement. Manhattan doesn't feel like that a lot of the time, it feels more like you don't have the money or something. So this was quite a surprise, and he started playing in this little back room and there were about five people in the room, and his songs are unbelievable. This guy with a huge beard, long blond hair, his shirt is undone, he's just playing songs.
It's just like you were meant to come across this place.
That's how I felt! It was very exciting to feel as though maybe we can find in our own generation, some talent as well that we look to from the past. Because it seems as though it's a different time.
I know we're always looking at the past in rose-tinted glasses, but do you find it's a bit harder these days to find something that really excites you?
Yeah, I mean, I suppose as well though, perhaps that's the nature of being in the moment. Perhaps there's just no way - everything's been glorified from that time. Take Jimi Hendrix for example, he had so many ideas and so many things that he wanted to do, but it kinda went by and he didn't really get to see what it was. Perhaps, I would hope that we will look back on this time and feel as though there was some great talent and some great art and innovation that came out. It's a different kind of time, and you have shows like American Idol and all these kind of approaches to entertainment. It's different, but I always take solace in the fact that these models have existed forever, all these people that we now think of as great artists, they had to come out in the context of manufactured pop music.
So to you - the future is...
It's really hard because I want to say daunting, but instead - the last line of the last song on our new record says 'got nothing but time so the future is mine' so I think I'm going to say the future is mine.
We have three limited edition vinyls of Metric's latest record Synthetica up for grabs, watch this space on how to enter.