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Sporting the dual engines of Emily Haines’ darkly powerful vocals and the nimble, versatile indie alt-rock punch of the band, Metric began life as a new-wave-inspired act but soon set their sights higher and sought to capture arena-sized crowds with their outsized yet still bleedingly human songs. Early albums like 2005′s Live It Out featured spiky guitars, sharp synths, and jerky tempos, thrusting Haines into the disaffected Debbie Harry role, one she more than ably inhabited. With 2009′s Fantasies, the group added space to the arrangements in a successful effort to move to the main stage, while Haines truly came into her own as a performer and writer. Subsequent albums stuck to that ultra-poppy template to great effect, with 2018′s Pagans in Vegas adding rock guitars back to the mix and the early-2020s two-part Formentera set uncovering the real emotions beneath the glossy pop surfaces, something that Metric have always done exceedingly well.
The group formed in 1998, when vocalist/keyboardist Emily Haines met guitarist James Shaw in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Although born in New Delhi, Haines — the daughter of Paul Haines, a Canadian-American poet best known for his collaboration with jazz artist Carla Bley — had moved to town by the age of three. While studying at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, a high school for aspiring artists in Toronto, she met fellow students Amy Millan and Kevin Drew, future members of Stars and Broken Social Scene. After attending university in Vancouver and Montreal, she returned to Toronto in 1997 and eventually crossed paths with the British-born Shaw, who’d relocated to Toronto following three years of study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Haines and Shaw discovered they were musically simpatico and began writing songs together.
During a sojourn in Montreal, Haines and Shaw began recording demos of the material that would become Metric’s debut EP, Mainstream. After its release in 1998, the two relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and collaborated occasionally with Torquil Campbell and Chris Seligman of the group Stars. After cutting more demos using synths and a drum machine, they were scouted by representatives of a major music publisher, who flew them to London to work with producer Stephen Hague. Haines and Shaw combined the London-recorded tracks with material they cut in Brooklyn, and the results formed Metric’s first full-length album, Grow Up and Blow Away. In 2000, Metric returned to the United States to sign a deal with Restless Records, but shortly before the album was scheduled for release in 2001, Restless was bought out by Rykodisc, and under the new ownership the Metric album went on the back burner. Around this time, Haines and Shaw met drummer Joules Scott-Key, a Michigan native who’d relocated to Brooklyn after attending a music school in Texas. Scott-Key was soon invited to join Metric, as was bassist Joshua Winstead, who had attended the same Texas school.
Metric’s members moved to Los Angeles while trying to sort out their deal with Restless, with Haines and Shaw returning to Toronto for a spell to work with their old friends Amy Millan and Kevin Drew in the group Broken Social Scene. Once they reconvened in L.A. and began working with their new rhythm section, Metric decided that the pop-oriented, electronic sound of Grow Up and Blow Away was no longer representative of their music. Metric subsequently parted ways with Restless and took the masters for Grow Up with them. In the fall of 2003, the Canadian independent label Everloving Records released Metric’s second “debut” album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? The album, which was also picked up by Last Gang Records, became a major critical and commercial success, especially in the band’s native Canada. It was followed in 2005 by Live It Out, another successful release, and the group embarked on a lengthy international tour before taking a hiatus.
During the break, Haines went on an extended vacation in Argentina and made guest appearances on albums by the Stills and Jason Collett, in addition to releasing two records with her solo project Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton. Scott-Key and Winstead moved to Oakland, California, and formed the band Bang Lime. Shaw headed back to Toronto and opened a recording facility, Giant Studio. A revised edition of Grow Up and Blow Away received a belated release in 2007, and Metric regrouped one year later, after Haines decided she’d had enough of the downbeat music she’d composed with the Soft Skeleton. Now based in Toronto once again, the group began working on a new album, Fantasies, which was self-released internationally in April 2009 following a drawn-out negotiation with Last Gang Records, who agreed to release the band from its roster. Fantasies became the group’s most successful album to date, selling 250,000 albums in less than a year, going platinum in Canada, and spawning a Top 20 single on the American rock charts without the benefit of a label. The record’s success led to them winning the 2010 Juno Awards for Band of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year.
Metric also made a splash in the world of cinema, scoring a prime spot on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse with the theme song “Eclipse (All Yours)” and contributing a song (the unreleased track “Black Sheep”) to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley took inspiration from Haines and Metric when creating the character Envy Adams in the books; in the film she and her band the Clash at Demonhead (with actress Brie Larson singing over the original backing track) play “Black Sheep.” In 2011, the band teamed with Academy Award-winning film composer Howard Shore on the soundtrack for David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel Cosmopolis. The movie premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, right around the time the group’s fifth album, the stadium-friendly Synthetica, was released on the Mom & Pop Music label. It became their first album to hit the Top 50 in the U.S., all the way at number 12, and climbed to number two in Canada.
During a scheduled break that followed touring, Haines began writing on acoustic guitar while on retreat in Nicaragua, while Shaw worked mostly with his synth in Toronto. They got together at the Adam Yauch-founded Oscilloscope Labs to record the LP Pagans in Vegas, a more meditative, synth-driven album released in September 2015. Haines headed off to record another solo album, 2017′s Choir of the Mind, then Metric reconvened in their own Giant Studio in Toronto with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Beck) to work on their seventh record. They settled on a gritty, more guitar-driven sound and took a step back from the pop mainstream on 2018′s Art in Doubt, which was released on MMI/Crystal Math Music.
The band returned to the road for much of 2019, then started working on more music in Shaw’s newly built recording studios located north of Toronto. The Canadian contingent began the process, then were joined by the rest of the group when border restrictions were lifted. With producers Liam O'Neil — who had previously worked with the band on Synthetica — and Gus Van Go on board to give Shaw a hand, Metric lyrically delved into the anxious state of the world while producing songs that touched on gloomy techno-rock, gentle ballads, and many examples of their finely tuned, arena-ready indie rock. The finished product, 2022′s Formentera, was named after an Italian island the band dreamed of escaping to once they were able to travel. Instead, they booked a long North American tour that had them performing until year’s end. They also headed to Europe and while in France they went to the legendary Motorbass studio in Paris to add finishing touches to a batch for songs that they had been working on at the same time as Formentera. Fittingly titled Formentera II, the album’s lead single — the melancholy disco-inspired ”:Just the Once” — was issued as the band was on the road opening for Garbage and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. ~ Mark Deming & Tim Sendra