“It’s springtime weather in New York! I missed the storm!” Emily Haines happily tells me over the phone, referring to recent snowstorm Jonas. The Metric singer’s sunny disposition parallels the optimism reflected in her band’s new album Pagans in Vegas. The release, a New Order, Depeche Mode-styled throwback, has been well received by both critics and fans, debuting at No. 9 on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart.
The fertile creative process for Pagans, which involved Haines traveling to Nicaragua and Spain, led the band to start working on a companion album, which was planned for release in 2016. Just as Metric’s extensive North American tour is about to begin, Haines took some time to talk to Billboard about Pagans and its companion album, her affection for cassette tapes and why “The Shade” music video features a mock Billboard magazine.
I keep reading about this upcoming companion album to Pagans in Vegas. Can you give us an update on when that album is coming out?
It’s really funny. We kind of do what we want, which leads us to interesting crossroads. So last year when we embarked on this, we said, “Yeah, we’re going to go all the way electro on Pagans, and we’re going to go deep into cinematic, atmospheric on this live-sounding follow-up on LP 7.” And then here we find ourselves, by the end of , we were just like, “It’s turning into a way bigger project than we thought.” We thought we were done, and we’re about half done. We had this whole meeting about it, and I was like, “Guys, don’t worry about it. No one will even remember that we said anything. We’re just doing our thing. No one’s going to wonder.” And we’ve been doing so much press leading up to the tour and every question is exactly yours. I don’t know. I think it’s going to be the lost tape. It’s got a mind of its own. We’re not going to push it. We’re not going to rush it.
Pagans has a more electronic, synth-heavy sound, while this upcoming LP has been described as stripped-down and acoustic. What’s the creative process like when approaching these different kinds of sounds?
[For the upcoming] LP, it was so fun to just play as a band again, four people in a room. We went to studios across the States when we were on the road [with Imagine Dragons] and that part is a totally different process. I think when people hear synth, they picture a computer. But the way we did Pagans, and the reason it sounds like a throwback sonically, is it’s all played. They’re modular synths and they’re all played, which is unusual. We tried to split the atom, and now we just have the split atom.
Musically, Pagans is a throwback to an ’80s New Wave sound, and the marketing behind the album was the same way, such as the release of The Shade EP and Pagans on cassette tapes. Why did the band decide to revisit that format?
I have the inside scoop on what’s happening in the world, because my brother has had a record store for 25 years. And it’s so fascinating to watch. It’s in a small town, and he almost had to get rid of it during the height of digital when CDs were dying and vinyl was a joke from the past. He keeps me in the loop on what’s happening, what people do, what people are looking for. And, yes, the vinyl resurgence is happening, but younger kids are looking for and discovering the cassette. Because they see vinyl as what your parents get. It seems a bit dated to them. And it’s an amazing thing for a new band when they’re starting out, to do what we did, which is to record to four-track. It doesn’t automatically end up online. You can circulate it and make great artwork. It’s a symbol of old-school DIY. After all these years designing art for a thumbnail, which isn’t the most rewarding, making the art for a cassette was like, “Yes, this is really cool!” I’m happy to hear other bands are doing it, too. It’s supposed to be fun, guys! And not to be just added to the piles of files you have. Music is supposed to be its own league. If I could, I would want to do my own little Walkman, but I have to remember what field I’m in. [Laughs]
When the band announced Pagans in a fan letter, you wrote that the music industry is “populated by two kinds of people: those who are driven by an immeasurable capacity for love that is also a source of seemingly endless energy… and everybody else.” What is it that keeps the band in the former category?
The spirit that went into Pagans, which very much drove Pagans, it comes from love. I really do feel that the people who connect with what we’re doing and recognize the narrative of what we’re doing, it really helps them out. I meet people all the time who reaffirm that for me. It’s just really settling into the fact that there will be times when people pay attention and times when they don’t, but that doesn’t change the trajectory of the story that we’ve started and the principles that it’s guided by. [The band] continues to grow and learn, so it never feels stagnant. Thank God. Because if it does, I’m out.
How has Metric’s music changed since the first album, 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
It’s really funny you say that because when I arrived in New York a couple of days ago, as I was crossing the bridge, I just felt the desire to listen to Old World, which I haven’t done in a really long time. And just seeing the same visual, because the band lived in Williamsburg, and seeing the Metropolitan exit from the bridge, hearing our songs… I felt so connected lyrically to that record now. Particularly the lyrics to “IOU.” It was like, that’s exactly how I feel right now, so if we’re doing it right, these songs are all still alive. It’s not like we’re going toward one final piece of music and that’s it. It’s more like we constantly sort of re-inhabit the songs as time goes on. And they come back. I think since Fantasies, we definitely created a sound that’s more accessible. But I think we threw off anybody who wasn’t for real with Pagans, so we’ll be fine. [Laughs.]
I was listening to 2005’s Live It Out, and it struck me how the song “Patriarch on a Vespa” still resonates today. That song was written 10 years ago, but those feminist themes are still timely and relevant. As a woman in rock, what is it like then versus now?
On the upside there are lots of women today — they’re mostly in their underwear, but that’s cool. I mean, it’s kind of hard to compare [then versus now] because the mythology and the ideas that I was trying to carry forward, and still am, are so linked to rock n’ roll, and since this isn’t a moment for rock, it’s kind of hard to really gauge. It’s sort of like a pause. It doesn’t bother me. I mean, I think it’s more in comedy right now. There’s some serious power coming out of women in comedy right now. I’ll take it wherever I can get it.
I noticed in the liner notes for Pagans that you thanked Amy Schumer.
Yes, I thanked Amy, and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson from Broad City. It’s just one of those times when somebody just makes you feel like, “Great! Thank you!” Somebody’s doing something.
I also wanted to address “The Shade” music video, which features Jimmy Shaw burning a magazine called Bored Hot 100, which looks very much like the Billboard Hot 100. And this being an interview for Billboard…
I completely forgot about that. [Laughs.] I think it’s great. I’m just glad it’s Jimmy! I think we could stand to be about 300 percent more scrappy and outspoken than that shot in that video. We’re keeping a low profile because that’s how we like to roll. Billbored. Pretty clever, right?