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New world underground

Metric's Emily Haines doesn't want her face on the side of a bus

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On Level 5 of London's Tate Modern is the exhibit Energy and Process, dedicated to post-minimalist artists whose works of rags, wood and rusted metal make an appropriate setting for Metric frontwoman Emily Haines' pre-tour mindset.

"So much of being a musician is that you have to fight to enjoy the places you have to play in," she says. "I like room service as much as the next guy, but not as a way of life."

As Metric finished the European tour for its fourth and latest LP, Fantasies, Haines happily dismissed her industry's conventions. Since the Canadian band released 2005's Live It Out, she dropped a solo album, Knives Don't Have Your Back, briefly shunned music during a retreat to Argentina, and returned to Metric only to tear up the band's global contracts and record on its own label, in its own studio.

"As much as it would have been nice at some point along the line for Metric to get a nice, big push from a label, in retrospect I'm grateful that we didn't," she says. "A lot of times, that's just empty money thrown at something that you have to pay back, and all it did was put your face on the side of a bus."

Fantasies and its high-powered dance-pop spent much of last month atop CMJ's Top 200 and brought more copies into the U.S. during that span than Live It Out did in four years. Its lead singles, "Help I'm Alive" and "Gimme Sympathy," are synth-and-guitar-driven club bangers, with the latter spelling out the band's stake in its success: "Got no time to take a picture / I'll remember someday / All the chances we took." In both energy and process, Haines rates this effort high.

"I would have to say that it's an A, if the categories are allowed to be the ones that we create — like personal satisfaction, happiness, solidarity within the band, and freedom from the oppressively boring perspective of people in the music industry who tell me that I can't do everything that I just did."

A little free time didn't hurt, either. Haines and bandmate James Shaw previously had split allegiances between Metric and Canadian rock supergroup Broken Social Scene, with Haines briefly writing music for BSS spinoff band Stars. With much of their remaining time dedicated to touring, Haines, Shaw and company managed to release two full-length Metric albums before following through on Grow Up and Blow Away — which they'd actually recorded as their "debut" album in 1999 — in 2007.

Haines said the band needed to leave the road, if only to refocus and remember why she enjoys performing in clubs so small that her hand hits the ceiling while she's playing tambourine.

Life on the road, says Haines, "is really hard, and the thing that makes it difficult is that no one feels bad for you. And why should they? We all understand that that's an amazing life: Being with your friends and having to go through things. And," she adds, alluding to musicians who've had an easier time of it, "watching other people skip steps two through 55, only to realize that all the good things are in steps two through 55."

scene@csindy.com

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