For guitar-toting rocker chicks and boys in tight jeans, Emily Haines, one of ELLE’s 2012 Women in Music, is somewhat of an indie rock angel. As the leading lady of the Canadian foursome Metric, Haines supplements the band’s heavy guitars and electropop beats with teasing, child-like vocals which, over the years, have addressed various political and social topics.
The group’s fifth effort, Synthetica (released this past Tuesday), features the band’s classic (and contagious) synth melodies, and, in typical Haines fashion, some less-than-subtle lyrical jabs at the government. The first single, “Youth Without Youth,” paints a haunting picture of destroyed adolescence, with images of children throwing bricks through windowpanes that call to mind the London riots and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
ELLE caught up with the songstress at the Hotel on Rivington on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—where she and Metric guitarist Jimmy Shaw did an acoustic set to celebrate the launch of Sony’s Xperia ion smartphone—to talk about the new album, her rock ‘n’ roll style, and living with Karen O.
ELLE: How is Synthetica different from Metric’s last endeavor, 2009’s Fantasies?
Emily Haines: Well, it’s funny, because it feels like we’re figuring that out along with everybody else as the record comes into fruition and comes out into the world. We’ve just been playing our first shows of the record, so it’s really interesting to see how it mixes with the old material. It feels like the natural progression of the band, but there’s a different tone to this one. Every record we make ends up capturing, at least for us, what we feel is happening in the world at the time; It’s your personal life, but it’s also the life of your friends and family, the city you live in, and world events, so Fantasies was made as Obama was getting elected, and 2012 is a very different time.
ELLE: You mentioned on your website that this album is about “what is real versus what is artificial.” What exactly did you mean by that?
EH: The name Synthetica is an idea that I had tossed around for a long time in my writing. It’s sort of almost this character, this sort of nightmarish person that we would all recognize, where you ask yourself, “Is that person actually still human? Or have they eliminated all their flaws to the point of being sort of a robot?” Just thinking about that, thinking about the pressures that people feel to be less than human by being supposedly more than human. Then those ideas kept developing as we were working on the record, just even living in the age we live in in terms of technology, the changes we’ve seen, you know, are your friends real? Is this conversation real when I text it to you, you know? Just really looking at it somewhat philosophically but also just taking a moment, taking stock of—this is our fifth record; we’ve been together for ten years—taking stock of what’s changed and for us what’s real and what’s artificial.
ELLE: You never usually have guest spots on your albums, but Lou Reed makes a nice little cameo on this one. Why the change and what was it like to work with such a rock legend?
EH: Yeah, it’s the kind of thing you never could have predicted or tried to make happen—it never would’ve—but he was playing a tribute to Neil Young that we also performed at, and I was introduced to him and I figured he’d just be like, “Oh hi, whatever, random girl,” and instead he knew “Gimme Sympathy,” the song that we played, and so he said, “Who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” and I was like, “This is the best thing ever.” And I said, “The Velvet Underground,” so I think he liked that. Then, he and his wife Laurie [Anderson] invited me to be part of a festival in Australia, and he invited me to do a thing in Central Park for Shel Silverstein. He just kind of kept getting in touch for collaborations, and so I felt it was okay to ask him when we needed a world-weary voice, that he would be the best for the world traveler for the song “Wanderlust.”
ELLE: Speaking of “Wanderlust,” that song seems kind of fitting for you; you’ve grown up all over the place: Canada, New York, born in India.
EH: Yeah, we’re all pretty nomadic, the four of us.
ELLE: Can you speak a little bit about your early days in New York? I read that you once lived with Karen O.
EH: Oh yeah! And it’s actually Nick [Zinner] that I know better than Karen, but we had a loft—I guess it was late ‘90s, early 2000—we had a loft in Williamsburg. It was at that time a really desperate place to be—we called it a “loft” very generously, it was more like industrial space over a trucking company. But believe it or not, the daughter of Paul Verhoeven, the film director, had posted an ad saying, “I’m looking for other people who want to share this place, like artist types.” Jimmy [Shaw] saw the ad, got involved, the two them got the place—which was a huge undertaking—and it had like eight or nine kind of self-contained, 1,000-square foot rooms in it, two shared bathrooms, and a kitchen, and it’s this big L-shaped hallway. It was really, really bleak, but I look back at those times and over the years, Liars lived there, members of TV on the Radio lived there, members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs—we still stay in touch with Nick and Steve Ryan from time to time. Stars, a band from Montreal, also lived there, and it’s one of those things at the time no one was romanticizing it, and we certainly don’t romanticize it now; it was definitely the ‘90s and not the ‘60s.
ELLE: What was it like to be one of ELLE’s Women in Music?
EH: It was fantastic and really an honor to be in such good company. I love the photo that they ended up using, I thought it was really cool. It was in a Grateful Dead T-shirt and with a really cool fringy vest. It wasn’t super sexed up, it was really in tune with the person that I am, even though I wore some great, great really outrageous clothing—and I would love to see those pictures someday—but it was a really great experience all around.
ELLE: How would you describe your personal style?
EH: I like rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s that line between where you find femininity and you find strength, so I’m always trying to find clothing that reflects those two sides of myself.
ELLE: Who would you say is the best dressed member of Metric and why?
EH: I feel like all of those guys have really good style, you know? Joshua Winstead, our bass player? Guy looks good. He wears good clothes. So I’ll have to shout him out on that one.