Metric’s Emily Haines on reclaiming rock, Vegas connections and touring with the Pumpkins

Haines, third from left, leads Metric into the Chelsea.
Photo: Justin Broadbent / Courtesy

Since 2003, Canadian-based rock band Metric has made indie and synth-fueled music primed for the dancefloor. Last year was a big one for the band—it opened for The Smashing Pumpkins on an area tour and released seventh studio album Art of Doubt. We caught up with singer Emily Haines ahead of Metric’s March 10 co-headlining show with Zoé at the Chelsea, to talk about the record’s political themes and her childhood connection to Las Vegas.

How’s your day going? I have my puppy on the road with me, so it’s the best. My daily ritual is finding a dog park and finding a walk, so we already did the whole stroll. Romeo makes friends with dogs in every city; it’s pretty great. The weirdest thing about touring is when you first arrive and you just woke up and you’re just on some street in some place, so the pup is a fuzzy little buffer between me and the world.

How is the tour going? It’s so great. We’re so excited about the lineup. We have Zoé, a legendary rock band from Mexico, and we have July Talk, an upcoming band from Canada. The feeling and spirit around it of having a consolidation of love between the three countries is excellent, and the shows have [had] great audiences, really interesting mix of people and great venues, so spirits are really high.

Your recent album, Art of Doubt, takes on more of a political tone. Was touring as three bands from three different countries a reflection of that message? Yeah. As we were evaluating all the options, it was something that weighed in. I feel very engaged in politics and the big questions and big conversations, but to me it’s all one thing. Politics are no separate from the human experience. It’s part of your responsibility to educate yourself and inform yourself and form opinions. At the same time, what Metric offers to people is, yeah, we’re thinking, but we’re all trying to get free here. The concert is a super-fun experience, and my entire career and life I’ve always really paid attention to that balance. I’m not here to put any ideas in somebody else’s head or insist that somebody thinks like me. It’s just more creating the atmosphere that there’s consciousness there. We’re not just talking about nothing, you know?

How did you approach Art of Doubt differently from 2015’s Pagans in Vegas? We’re always experimenting and trying things. I feel like we were getting consistently more and more electronic as we moved into [2012’s] Synthetica, and then with Pagans we really went all the way. We all love electronic music … but right now, rock is buried under a rock. The sort of zeitgeist is not around that kind of music. We were like, let’s reclaim and find that place that we were at when we started, without really defining what it was going to sound like. It was more like, let’s just be a band. So we reached out to Justin Meldal-Johnsen [Beck, Nine Inch Nails] and … we were just put in this room like kids to play under the supervision of someone else, and it really shaped the record.

What inspired the song “Dressed to Suppress?” It’s a bit of an observation, I guess, of watching myself and my friends and all of us try to navigate putting yourself out into the world and where that puts you. I think that theme is revisited throughout the record, trying to adapt and trying to stay true to what’s inside. [With] “Dressed to Suppress,” I’m saying it as a woman, but for all I know there are men, transgender people, everyone, who feel this way—that feeling where the more put together you are, the more f*cking miserable you are. The more perfect your makeup, the tighter your belt, the higher your heels, it’s such a conflicted state. It is actually more that you’re suppressing everything about yourself in order to create that appearance of togetherness, but it’s deeply untrue.

Last year you went on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins. What did you glean from playing with a band like that? The amazing thing about last year was that I did that, but I also was just coming off the heels of the last proper tour that I had done with my solo album, Choir of the Mind, which couldn’t be more opposite. Art galleries, synagogues—the venues were totally curated; it was really cool, really theatrical, quiet, intense and personal. And then the next thing was like, let’s strap on the in-ears and get up in front of this insane crowd. I think it’s part of why the four of us are so happy together and somehow are navigating managing independently as we do, to stay relevant and be part of what’s happening in the world. You just have to put your ego aside and really say thank you for the opportunity, which is exactly the way that we treated it. We just got up there and represented four people who, when and if we are fortunate to reach that level, our way of expressing it would be different. I’m not going to have a shrine to myself and stuff like that. But it was very cool to see this manifestation of these people’s life work, and we were fortunate enough to share the stage.

In 2016 you recorded at 11th Street Records in Las Vegas. What was it like getting to explore Downtown? It was great, and I actually make a point of that increasingly when I come there. This is true of so many places—they’re seen as one thing, but you have to kind of dig around and recognize that there’s a lot going on. I found that as well shooting the video for “The Governess,” one of the songs from Pagans in Vegas. We shot there, and I got to explore in this ridiculous Caddy and we went and explored the land. It’s the novelty of the people and the desert and the sort of spiritual component that you can’t quite name, and the contrast of seeing that and the sin and the whole Strip. It’s such an interesting place. We’ve met people who are born and raised and are doing other things in the city that have nothing to do with casinos.

Your last album was named Pagans in Vegas. Were you familiar with the city before that album? Actually my connection is quite deep from my father. One of the first trips that [my family and I] took, I was 13 and we came to Vegas—me and my mom and dad. He’s passed away now, but he was making one of his experimental films, which had us sitting poolside [molding] ears out of clay. My dad was truly a poet. He had us make ears out of clay, place them on the suitcases that we had and then wheel them in and have us say at the checkout, “will that be listening or non-listening?” like smoking or non-smoking. It’s kind of like dad humor taken to Frank Zappa weirdo world. So that was my first trip to Vegas, and then one of the first songs I wrote that ended up being recorded with Jimmy [Shaw was] “Rock Me Now.” There’s a whole sort of narrative vignette in Vegas that plays out. I have my own whole inner relationship with the city.

METRIC with Zoé, July Talk. March 10, 7 p.m., $36-$99. The Chelsea, 702-698-7475.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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