It’s easy to get lost in the Canadian indie-music scene, with its multitude of bands that look alike, sound alike and even share members. There is, however, one band which perhaps stands out from the crowd, and that is Metric. With energy-infused tunes and legendary live performances, Metric has been a singularly recognizable musical force since the late ‘90s.
With the release of their latest album, the Polaris-nominated Fantasies, Metric has once again kept things fresh while still staying true to its roots. Jimmy Shaw, who along with Emily Haines, founded Metric, believes that the success of Fantasies is related to a saying the band holds dear: “you can’t snorkel for inspiration.” It means that, in order to write great music, you need to suffer a little.
“We had been living in shit hotels, vans and band-rooms while touring for Live It Out (the band’s third album),” Shaw remembers. “But before we went off to do our own things we went to the forest to plant the seeds for Fantasies.”
The forest Shaw refers to is the one surrounding Bear Creek Studio, in rural Washington.
“It’s the oldest family owned studio in America, and a really special place,” Shaw recounted. “There was a lot of late-night reggae, tequila binging and speed taco-making [which was] totally inspiring to us in light of what we had been through [during the tour].”
But while Shaw reminisces warmly about his time at Bear Creek, he actually doesn’t see much of a point in using other people’s studios, or record labels for that matter, to record and release albums. “I’m going to be making records for the rest of my life, and considering that in order to get a record released you have to pay someone a thousand dollars a day for a studio and 78 per cent [of the revenues], it just doesn’t seem feasible.” he said.
To this end, following the Live It Out tour and before releasing Fantasies, while Haines traveled in South America, and the rest of the band worked on side projects, Shaw built, along with his neighbour Sebastian Grainger, Giant Studio and founded Me Myself and I (MMI) records.
“We’ve been through a lot of record deals, and the glaringly obvious thing to do was to set it all up ourselves.” Shaw explains, “(Metric) has a relatively large fan-base, who we have a direct and close relationship with, and we want to keep that relationship as close as we can, because ultimately you play music for your fans, not the people in between.”
Shaw maintains that record labels can often hinder this.
“A standard record deal will actually stop you from doing a lot of things you that you might have as an instinct as an artist,” says Shaw. “If you want to write something, record it and put it on the Internet that night for your fans you can with your own label and studio. You can’t with a record deal.”
In the digital age, Shaw questions not just Metric’s need for a record labels, but the need for labels at all. “The need for a label is so much smaller than it used to be, in the digital age you can distribute your music around the world in 10 seconds. [ . . . ] The music industry has been very reticent to let go of the purse strings, but technology has moved the whole thing forward.”
In addition to Fantasies, Metric also recently released the Live at Metropolis DVD, a project with a Winnipeg connection.
“I didn’t really like the way the DVD was shot. I thought it looked like a Harry Connick Jr. PBS special,” Shaw explains. In order to turn the footage into something usable, Metric looked to local filmmaker Deco Dawson’s legendary editing skills.
“I wanted the DVD to look like you’re 17, dropped acid for the first time and ended up at a Metric show, and there is no better person to do that than Deco Dawson,” says Shaw.
Metric is playing the Burton Cummings theatre on Oct. 28.