Over the past 15 years, Canadian new wave rockers Metric have been mainstays of the indie alt-rock scene. They've released five albums, the latest of which – 2012's "Synthetica" – reaching number one on Billboard's alternative album chart and number 12 overall.
When they're not releasing their own albums, they're working on movie soundtracks, including last year's "Cosmopolis" and the high-profile soundtrack for "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," and multiple side projects like Broken Social Scene and Bang Lime.
OnMilwaukee caught up with Jimmy Shaw, the band's lead guitarist and co-founder, to talk about their collaboration with the late Lou Reed, their hometown's now controversial mayor and what's next for Metric and the music industry in general.
OnMilwaukee.com: How’d you guys come together, which was over a decade ago now?
Jimmy Shaw: Emily (Haines, the band’s lead singer) and I met in Toronto and ended up moving to New York. I think we were kind of on the hunt for whatever the future was going to hold. We wanted to be musicians, and we wanted to do what we’re doing now. We didn’t really know what that was going to entail. I think Josh (Winstead, Metric’s bass player) and Joules (Scott-Key, Metric’s drummer) did the same thing. They came from Texas and moved up to New York about the same time, and we ended up crossing paths through a whole series of seemingly random people and events. Next thing you know, we’ve been in a band together for over ten years.
OMC: I have to ask: As Toronto natives, your mayor has been in the news a lot lately. What are your thoughts on the whole Rob Ford situation?
JS: I don’t know. The whole thing seems like a giant cartoon to be honest with you.
OMC: What were the inspirations behind your most recent album "Synthetica?"
JS: You know, during the process of making the record, we had made a lot of music, and we were sort of searching through different emotions and different feelings and different things we were relating to. It wasn’t really until we started exploring the topics of what exactly does reality exist of at this point in 2012 and going forward. Is everything we’re experiencing now actually based in reality? What is the difference between things that appear real but are they entirely online, and what is synthetic and what is organic? What is actually there and what is lasting, and what isn’t?
As those topics were sort of becoming things that we were getting deeper and deeper into, I think we started realizing how prevalent they are and how important they are for us to delve into and start examining because things are changing so fast. It became something that we got really interested in.
OMC: When did you guys decide to make this companion piece that you just released, "Synthetica Reflections?"
JS: Well, we made it sort of early on actually, like right after the record was made, to accompany some video stuff that we’d taken during the making of the record. It wasn’t really intended to be an entire album when we went into the studio, but sort of by midnight one night, we had done a few of them, and we just decided to keep going. We were having a really good time doing it.
It seemed like it was going to be a really interesting companion piece for us that sort of satiated some, like, artistic need that we always wanted, something we had always been interested in and seemed really appealing to us. So we just kind of kept going, and by 7 o’clock in the morning, we had done the whole record.
OMC: Was this more of the same looking into reality, and what’s real and what’s not? Or did you kind of take off a little bit further from that this time?
JS: It just kind of seems like an extension of the same things. It seemed like something that piqued our curiosity. It seemed like the idea of it being an album called "reflections," something that was a mirror image, if you will, or some version of a reflection just kind of tied in with everything we were talking about. The idea that it could be seen in reverse, which ties into a lot of the artwork, or inverted in some way, it felt like we were taking the concept further.
OMC: What was kind of your big revelation while making these two albums about reality? What was your take from it?
JS: To be honest with you, I don’t think there was a lot of revelation. I think the revelation was more in questions than answers. I think it was more about the idea that we were discovering that the world is moving at a pace that is becoming increasingly more difficult to follow and understand. It was becoming more important to be able to live within the questions as opposed to need the answers for them.
OMC: Lou Reed seems to have been a large inspiration for Emily and the band as a whole. You guys got a chance to collaborate with him on the song "The Wanderlust." What was it like working with him on that song, and what was his inspiration on you guys?
JS: I guess for us it was more like one of those happenstances. It was one of those things that just happened to us, and we were just sort of shocked that, all of a sudden, there he was, and we’d crossed paths with one of these living legends. All of sudden, we’re in the presence of this guy, and collaborating and being in the room with him was kind of inspiration enough. It made us feel like we had entered the arena of our heroes in some way. You’re constantly looking back at people that you would put in a different category than yourself, and then all of a sudden, there we are all together, recording the same song.
OMC: What was it like performing with him?
JS: I can’t really speak for anybody else, but it forced me to man up in a certain way. To be the producer, go on talkback and tell Lou that he needs to do another take and what he needs to do better. It was an awesome experience.
OMC: What is the state of the music industry nowadays?
JS: That’s a large, large question. I don’t know. I mean, in some ways, everything that was stupid about it is broken and leaves way for something to be rebuilt in a much better way. In other ways, everything that was great about it is also broken and leaves ways for things to be rebuilt in a much worse way. So I think the only thing that we really know is that it’s completely in flux, and that whatever it has been, it isn’t, and whatever it will be, it’s not yet.
OMC: What would be your dream evolution for the industry?
JS: My dream evolution of it would be that one, great artists are supported to be become great artists. They’re not exploited and don’t feel that they need to cheapen whatever sense of creativity they have in order to make a living, which I feel is definitely happening now. And two, that fans also don’t feel exploited and like they’re having to go to things that they don’t necessarily like because they can’t get access to the things that they do.
OMC: What is your favorite song to perform live?
JS: I don’t know; it really changes. It has a lot to do with how much we’ve played it and when we’ve played it. On this tour, we’ve started playing some stuff that we haven’t played since 2005-06. It’s really enjoyable to do that stuff. It’s maybe less enjoyable for the crowd, maybe more. It’s hard for me to say, but it’s fun to feel like a musician, and it’s fun to feel like you’re capable of anything at any moment. If you want to play this song, then you can just play it. Freedom is something I think that we’ve always relished.
Metric performs at Turner Hall Ballroom Friday, Nov. 22. Doors open at 7 p.m.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.