“We’re just marvelling at the fact that, in tennis, as soon as the match is over you’re given a microphone and have to speak to the entire country. It’s the cruellest thing you could possibly imagine! It’s like, in rock and roll, if you play your biggest show ever at Madison Square Garden and then the minute the show’s over you have to walk back on stage and be interviewed in front of the crowd and be asked how the show was for you…”
I’m speaking to Metric’s guitarist Jimmy Shaw almost immediately after Andy Murray’s tear-stained defeat to Roger Federer in the Men’s singles final at Wimbledon. The band watched backstage before their recent show in Oxford, and Shaw is thankful if that ever happened, it wouldn’t be him speaking to the crowd. It would be singer, and face of the band, Emily Haines: “But that’s rock and roll for you!” he laughs. Metric were in the UK playing their first shows in support of fifth album Synthetica, a brilliant concept album about trying to identify the real thing or the original in a long line of copies or fakes, a look at the power of song , integrity and honesty. Despite such heavy subject matter, Metric still have a shimmering pop heart, and the album is a hook-laden treat balanced against Haines’ powerful lyrics and outlook. Over the course of our chat I discover that Jimmy Shaw is a wonderfully outgoing chap, friendly yet extremely outspoken on the music industry and modern society, and how all that fed into the making of their new album.
I ask Jimmy first of all how the UK tour has been, given that this is the first time Metric have played the songs on Synthetica live and the fans might not have had much of a chance to become familiar with the songs: “It’s been great; we’ve been having a lot of fun,” he begins. “It’s the beginning of the record for us, so it’s still time for us to be working out some musical kinks and the show is developing day to day. We’re really finding what’s working with the new stuff, and what’s not working… we’re constantly revamping and making things better and better, and tighter.” Given that the shows in July were the first in support of the album, is it harder to play in the UK rather than launch it in North America? “It’s always a little strange for us to come to the UK,” admits Shaw, “because in so many other parts of the world we’re very well established, played festivals and massive arenas and when we get to the UK it’s like… we’re this band and no-one ‘s really sure if they know us or not.” I ask if that takes some getting used to, given their status in Canada. “There’s moments of it that are a little strange, but then we don’t worry about it and we go to the show and the people that do know us love the music and know all the words to songs that have been released for a week and have a great, great time and we put on great shows…so we don’t worry about it too much.” And after the UK? “We’ve got a couple of shows in Canada, then it’s off to Australia and Singapore…and then when September hits we take the show all across North America.”
I wonder if Metric ever takes any time off. Following a lengthy tour in support of last album Fantasies the band went straight to the studio to record Synthetica, so was there any gap between finishing the record and heading out on the road again? “You know, you’re right. We really rolled into the making of Synthetica from being on tour,” says Jimmy. “And once the record was done, that’s when we kind of took some time off. We took seven months to prepare the release, which is a lot longer than standard…but because we do it ourselves it makes a lot of sense to do it like that. We don’t have huge teams of people – there’s select individuals working around the world doing the right things to set up the release.” Jimmy himself had a big role to play in producing and mastering the album: “Once I’d finished the mastering, though, I passed the baton on to the management, so I fucked off for a little while and had my time off!”
The self-releasing aspect of Metric’s recent albums is something that intrigues me; I want to know how the band balances playing huge arenas across the US and Canada, working with Lou Reed and appearing on the Twilight soundtrack with running their own label and having a separation from the major labels. I hesitate to call it a cottage industry, but pose the question to Jimmy in those terms anyway: “It’s a real trip doing it that way, you know?” he enthuses. “More than anything it does feel like it’s very grounded, and it’s very realistic. One of the things I was always really tripped out about by labels and the way they do things is you never have a genuine gauge of how successful you are.” You mean you get your ego massaged a little too much? “Yeah, labels like to hype things up, they keep you bolstered and have your head in the sky and believing things are this way and that way….you know, there are so many bizarre little markers of success. There are a hundred thousand charts: radio charts and sales charts and blah blah blah, you know? You could be number one on five of them and still not have five bucks to rub together; you could not be on any of them and making millions!” So does the band feel happier being outside of all the bullshit? Jimmy agrees: “It’s just all so in the shadows and doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and for us – because we really do own everything, and I get sent sheets every week of exactly what’s happening, and where it’s happening, and why it’s happening – it kind of keeps the whole thing realistic, and keeps us making music from a very honest and real place, you know? It’s not for any reason other than just for the love of music itself. We’re not a band of stars; we’re a band of humans…”
Before I can ask another question, Jimmy’s train of thought takes him back to the previous night’s gig in Manchester: “It’s funny, actually. Something hit me last night when we were on stage: the first part of the show – don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing show and the crowd absolutely blew my mind – or the first half of the show got me thinking ‘this is so interesting how different it is than in North America’. Then, halfway through the show I had this sort of realisation that we’re a band that stands for something and will go down in the history books as completely, 100%, done our own thing.” So, the less-than-positive initial reception was down to not playing or pandering to the crowd? “Yeah, that’s not exactly the most popular approach right now; not many people are doing that, not many people admire that or even see that as a reality or an option. But to the people that do, I think it really gives them a lot of hope, it saves their ideas that things don’t have to be the way they’re told they have to be all the time.”