From Old World Underground to Hollywood (and Back)

Metric's New Wave Adventure

by Jer Fairall

14 September 2010


In Metric’s early days, however, New Wave had yet to be re-absorbed into pop culture’s all consuming sponge...

In Metric’s early days, however, New Wave had yet to be re-absorbed into pop culture’s all consuming sponge, leaving Haines’ love of synth-pop without much of a popular outlet, especially with bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes forging a movement on the back-to-basics, and decidedly non-synthetic, garage rock movement. Still, Haines remembers the movement as being responsible for a particularly encouraging time for independent musicians like themselves, regardless of the Haines and company’s own stylistic leanings.

“There was not a lot of respect for the synth kicking around New York at that time, but we definitely benefited from the attitude and the energy of those bands, particularly the Strokes, who people love to diss—I don’t know why, but for us it was like ‘oh great, these rich kids just made hanging out with your friends look cool’. Believe me, after hanging out with A&R guys doing demos for [them] in London for a year there’s nowhere you’d rather be than in this shitty basement in the lower East side. Even though we were playing synths and doing, like, electro, which wouldn’t become okay until several years later, the energy was huge and being able to take that back to Canada where we grew up and connect with the community of friends that was Broken Social Scene and Stars and Death From Above and all these other bands—it’s the beauty and magic of life outside your control”.

“[New Wave] was just where we were at. That’s what we heard, that’s what we wanted: my synth dreams that will one day come true of truly expressing my inner synth geek one day will happen. It’s not like you make a strategic move, it’s like you do what you wanna do and what feels right to you. I love the garage rock stuff but I wasn’t gonna suddenly just drop what Jimmy and I have been developing, which is this total love of electro and dance music and trying to bring those New Wave sounds and the songwriting and the energy of rock and roll all together. Dance rock is not a new idea now, but it’s hard to try and express that in front of 20 people, it feels kinda stupid, but that’s part of the test. You just keep doing it. I’m glad we didn’t give up. It was hard to make a synth look rock and roll for a minute, but it worked out.”

That Metric were lucky enough to be engaged early on with both a sound and a geographical scene that would each go on to gain popular acceptance makes for an encouraging success story, though hardly a new one. Throughout the history of pop music, many talents who might have otherwise remained mired in obscurity have had the good fortune to ride a fashionable movement to some degree of fame. Think of the early 90s “alternative” explosion for only the most obvious example of underground acts getting their shot at mainstream-level exposure. Never, though, has exposure appeared so easy to attain than it is now, when bands can measure popularity in the number of hits they get on their MySpace profiles and careers can be launched by homemade YouTube clips. Often cited as a “democratization” of the music industry, the internet does not actually remove the corporate middle man from band-to-fan interaction (bands still rely on corporate entities to promote and release their music, even if they happen to be newer, hipper corporate entities), but it does find the dreaded “industry” aspect of making and distributing music at least appearing somewhat minimized.

“[Our] first three years as a band were pre-MySpace, pre-iTunes,” Haines recalls, “so its definitely been, for the ethics of this band—the principles and the way that we like to live and make music—the internet has been an amazing development and made everything possible. It’s almost impossible to do justice in words the feeling of awe and gratitude we have having started out completely on the ground and watching the crowds go from 20 people to 20,000. We’re so grateful to the people who found us themselves and its just such a simple and pure interaction when you take all of the bullshit of the music industry out. We’re four people who met and want to play music together—we like to travel and play music—and there’s all these people who want to listen to music and go to concerts and I think without the internet we would have spent more time than we already did bogged down with labels.” 

The current model might not quite represent the utopia for independent musicians that it is tempting to paint it as, however, and even Haines admits a “concern […] that bands [might be] lost in the mass of multiplication of MySpace pages, that it’s harder to stand out.”  If anything, Metric’s success should serve as an example to younger bands that developing a savvy head about the music business remains a crucial part of surviving even in an era that offers such a diversity of pathways to success. “I hope,” she explains, “what we achieved on Fantasies will mean we really get to graduate to what we always wanted, which is just to make it be about the music.” 

Perhaps as a result of her own recent personal triumphs Haines is, despite her concerns and her often harsh words for the corporate end of making and selling music, refreshingly optimistic about the current state of the industry. “I feel like music was particularly burdened by people who—their motivation for being involved in it and their usage for it and their approach to it made it really lame for people who genuinely love it. I hope that one of the side effects of the Online Revolution, or whatever, is that it kind of weeds out people who were doing it just for money. Obviously people gotta make a living, but when it stops being that lucrative, where you can just walk in and just prop something up and walk out, I think its gonna mean that the industry can thrive and be more healthy because people who are still sticking around with music on the business side as well as the creative side are gonna have to be the ones who really love it.”

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