From Old World Underground to Hollywood (and Back)

Metric's New Wave Adventure

by Jer Fairall

14 September 2010


After a year of touring behind and promoting Fantasies, 2010 should have been a year that Metric spent relaxing...

After a year of touring behind and promoting Fantasies, 2010 should have been a year that Metric spent relaxing, taking in their accomplishment and then only gradually working their way towards their next move. Metric, however, has never been a band to take it easy, always filling the time between albums and tours with various extra-curricular projects, like Joshua Winstead and Joules Scott-Key’s somewhat harder rocking side venture Bang Lime or Haines’ mellower acoustic recordings under the name Emily Haines and the Soft Skelleton. For 2010, Haines made an appearance singing lead on one track (the lovely “Sentimental X’s”) off of Broken Social Scene’s recent comeback-of-sorts Forgiveness Rock Record, itself a major event in the indie-rock world, but Metric’s highest profile exposures of 2010 actually come courtesy of Hollywood. Two soundtrack appearances from two youth oriented films, albeit ones pitched at two different teenage demographics, effectively had the summer of 2010 opening and closing to the sound of Metric, at least in movie theaters patronized by young audiences.

At one end was the band’s soundtrack contribution to Eclipse, the latest entry in the sulky teen vampire romance of the Twilight series. To date, the cinematic adaptations of Stephanie Meyers’ wildly (and some would say, inexplicably) popular book saga have shown a savvy taken straight from the O.C. model when it comes to filling the soundtracks of these films with music that is generally edgy enough to be hip, but accessible enough to accompany each melodramatic gesture of the teenage characters. Metric’s song “Eclipse (All Yours)”, co-written with Howard Shore, composer of the movie’s score, fits the role of the film perfectly; a mass of sweeping strings and ethereal vocals from Haines that feel miles away from the bands characteristically jagged New Wave rock. The band even shot a video for the song, complete with scenes from the film spliced in between shots of Haines performing the song while languishing in an appropriately Edwardian (as in Cullen) setting. A far physical and aesthetic cry from the band’s Broken Social Scene roots, to be sure, yet Haines speaks about the opportunity to work with Hollywood and music industry veteran Shore with the same degree of excitement and genuine fandom with which she detailed her meetings with Lou Reed.

“[He’s] not some slick L.A. guy—he’s a musician, he’s been in rock and roll bands, his career is really interesting to me”, she says, enthusing over her collaborator. “It was very much like an assignment and I mean that in the best way where we went to the studio and watching the screening—and ,like, ‘this is how long the song needs to be and this is exactly where it needs to fit’. He’d written about 90% of the score already at that point, so he’s like ‘this is the key, this is the progression, this is the tempo, here’s the script, I want you to express lyrically and sonically the feeling of this decision that’s being made by this character at this point in the film.’ It was a fascinating thing to do.”

As for being commissioned to write a song based on a pre-existing work rather than, as Haines’ is accustomed to, her own experiences, she says, “it’s a completely different thing. When we make a Metric record its like—particularly for me lyrically, but for all of us, we’re just expressing whatever the fuck we want you know, its whatever we need to say, we’re saying it. In this case, it was—I’ve always wanted to write for film and to have it be Howard Shore calling us up, it was just like…’wow, seriously?!’”

It is admirably refreshing to see how proud Haines is of even this work, one which many bands might view as simply a payday, and speaks of the song’s place in the film without a trace of self-consciousness about the kind of hipster backlash that could easily ensue from taking part in such a credibility-free commercial endeavor. “I guess I can relate to the topic of making choices that not everyone, you know—you make choices for yourself even if you think you’re choosing between two people you’re ultimately choosing your own life. So, it’s a pretty universal theme. I just couldn’t believe it when it actually happened, cause we were happy just for the process of writing and working with such a heavyweight movie company and stuff and then I thought for sure we’d get bumped or something, but we didn’t. It sounds so cool when you watch the movie—we went to the premiere and it’s like seven times in the film that you hear the melody. He really did make it the melodic theme of the whole score.”

Where Eclipse found Metric branching out into more popular territory, though, their participation in Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult comic book series Scott Pilgrim vs. The World should have felt a bit closer to home for a number of reasons. For one thing, the film is set in an exaggerated alternate reality of Toronto’s garage rock scene and was filmed on location in the city. Furthermore, much of the soundtrack is populated by fellow Canadian indie rockers, whether it’s Broken Social Scene themselves (represented by some original compositions specially made for the film and by the classic You Forgot It In People album cut “Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl” which featured, yes, Emily Haines on lead vocals) or the long lost all-girl 90s quartet Plumtree whose song “Scott Pilgrim” served as O’Malley’s original inspiration for his titular character. Metric’s contribution “Black Sheep” was not actually written for the film, but was in fact a leftover from the Fantasies sessions that Haines lamented not having space for on the album.

“I really like the song but it didn’t fit the rules,” she explains. “It was like, what the fuck is she talking about, like—the mechanical bulls, real estate in outer space, balls of steel—what’s going on here?  It was originally called “Freddie Mercury”, it was a complex, cognitive lyric song that we all really liked but it was like, this is not gonna be on the record.” 

Indeed, the song’s synth-laden, arena-ready stomp might have easily felt like one epic gesture too many on the airtight Fantasies, but the song is too deliriously hooky to have been lost in obscurity. “It was just really uncanny how Edgar called me up,” Haines tells me. “I really like his movies as well, and [he] said what he was looking for and it was really strange how perfectly that song fit for the film, including, like, he wanted this intro thing to be part of the song to fit the scene, and it had already been there, like this ‘black sheep come home’ sort of chant.“

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World also resulted in yet another dream collaboration. “The other awesome thing was that [the soundtrack] was curated by Nigel Godrich,” speaking of the well-respected Radiohead producer. “He’s really, really interesting and a lot of the work got done at our studio in Toronto, so it’s a really amazing feeling in the context of everything, with this huge, international movie release and you picture our little community studio in Toronto being the place where the music came from. It’s a really good feeling.”

And for Emily Haines and Metric, all roads continue to lead back to Toronto.

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