By Chris Illich
Just over 10 years ago Metric made their mark on popular music when their first official studio album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now was released. The standout singles “Combat Baby” and “Dead Disco” became mainstays on alternative radio and the band skyrocketed into stardom shortly after.
“I remember, right after that album came out in 2004, we put up a show at the Mod Club in Toronto and it sold out right away. So, we added a second show and that sold out too. Then we added a third and a fourth and they sold out too. I remember walking into the venue on the fourth night and just thinking ‘Oh shit, it’s finally connecting,’” said guitarist James Shaw.
“That’s when I realized that something was working and now we just have to keep doing it and continue to be good.”
Since then, Metric has released four more albums including two Juno award winners for Alternative Album of the Year for Fantasies (2009) and Synthetica (2012). Most recently they released their album Pagans in Vegas in September 2015.
“Pagans in Vegas kind of works with the idea of that idea where someone who has a great conscience is fooling around in the area of unconsciousness behavior. It felt like that for us to make that record. We wanted to hit the tables in a certain kind of way,” explained Shaw.
“We didn’t think we were actually gambling in the sense that we were toying around with pop music in the hope that we might cash in big, but more with the idea that the world right now is very taken with the notion that it could happen to anybody – anyone with an Instagram account can become a star overnight. It’s a very strange culture and we were commenting on that a little bit.”
Pagans in Vegas captures the award winning synth melodies of past albums, while channeling the sounds of ‘80s electro-pop, paying homage to Depeche Mode, Joy Division and Underworld along the way. Shaw, who acted as producer on this album, created a wealth of sounds and sonics for the album.
The leadoff track “Lie Lie Lie” replays the aggressive tendencies of 2005’s Live it Out, while tracks like “Fortunes”, “Cascades” and “Governeess” are somber, synth-heavy cuts. You can hear the shimmer in the production in standout track “The Shade” as singer Emily Haines sings “I want it all, I want it all” over the hard-cutting synthesizers.
“Working with the instruments and tailoring sounds and dealing with the minutia and the sonics is really the heart of where I get the most juice from. It’s been my obsession for the longest time.”
Shaw explained that his obsession started when he was living with Torquil Cambell of Stars in New York going to University.
“We were just smoking weed and listening to records and I started selling off my trumpets — because I was studying classical music and going to school to be in orchestra — and buying gear and buying an eight-track and a guitar and then I started writing songs and making these little records,” he recalled.
Upon moving back to Toronto, he met Haines and the rest is now part of Canadian music history. In 2010 they won Group of the Year at the Juno’s alongside Fantasies individual successes and here in 2016 they once again have been nominated for a Juno for Group of the Year.
But, does Shaw consider Metric to be an important part of the pantheon of modern Canadian popular music?
“People have told me that a little bit, maybe more so in the last year. I don’t really listen to the radio that much and I’m not completely aware of what’s going on in the country. I think I just work too hard to be totally aware. I’m always caught up in whatever we’re doing,” he said.
“If that’s some form of reality, then that’s a serious honour. It’s something we set out to do, and if we did that on any level and accomplished that, then it’s sort of beyond flattering and it’s awesome.”
Shaw further explained that the success behind Metric is due to the level of investment the group has put into their music and their friendship.
“It would have been very easy for us to drift apart, and I think the four of us made a conscious effort to not do that. It takes work. It takes a level of personal dedication to stay with someone and understand where they’re at and to take compassion for one another and treat them with care and respect,” he explained. “I’ve seen these people do that with each other and myself and here we are – 15 years later and we’re still having fun every night.”
Metric perform at the Meridian Centre with Death Cab for Cutie on March 22.