Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

Metric shares Deep Thoughts in advance of Friday Rams Head show

June 6, 2013

71-atxlAfter the commercial success of their danceable, stadium-throbbing fourth album, Fantasies, Metric returned in 2012 with Synthetica, a reflection on what is artificial vs. genuine in today’s culture, an attempt to combat the ironic, and to challenge our tendencies toward hollow self-promotion, a.k.a. Deep Shit.

We’re all the time confined to fit the mold / But I won’t ever let them make a loser of my soul,” songwriter and lead vocals Emily Haines on the title track. Continuing their 2013 tour, Metric will make a pit stop at Rams Head on June 7th. The band’s lead guitar and the mind behind their trademark synth-pop sound, Jimmy Shaw, chatted with the City Paper over the phone this week to answer some questions.

City Paper: Synthetica has been out for almost a year now. Have you been on the road this whole time? How has the tour been?

Jimmy Shaw: We toured for most of last year. We toured in Canada, Europe, and all over the United States. We went hard till Christmas. Literally two days before Christmas. But it’s been much lighter this year. Last year, we went from 500-seat venues to 1500-seat venues. This year, we wanted to do all the things we didn’t get to do the first time around. We decided that if we had already done something, we don’t need to go back and do it all again.

CP: Having released five studio albums, how has the collaborative process evolved between you, Emily, and the guys?

JS: It’s definitely evolved in a very natural way. In the beginning, we were really feeling each other out. We considered every idea from every person. We chased after every possible lead. You grow together as a band through this process. You get to know each other really well and what you want to accomplish with your music. Now, even when we get experimental with our sound, we work it out and get right to the point.

CP: You’ve been customizing your studio in the quest to fully realize your sound, especially during the recording of Synthetica. Do you feel like you’ve reached that point?

JS: No, I don’t think I’ll ever reach that point. I don’t think I’ll ever have the time or the financial backing to get there. We’ve actually done more work to the studio after Synthetica than we did while we were recording the album. It does feel like we’re getting closer each time. Because we did so much work for Fantasies, and now Synthetica, it’ll be easier for us to make new music in the future, no matter how experimental it might get.

CP: Synthetica discusses the dichotomy between the organic vs. the synthetic, as well as the genuine vs. the contrived. Because there’s not always a direct association. For example, you, as an aficionado of electronic sound, can see and evoke the genuine through the synthetic. How can we stay “real” in this age of i-technology?

JS: I don’t know. I ask myself that question everyday. I think it comes down to a matter of people knowing what feels right to them. Some artists stick to physical instruments while others do everything on their laptop. Then there are those who know the ins and outs of their software, and those who simply know it as an icon on their computer screen. There is an organic process for everyone. Whatever that means to them. You know when you’re being real. It’s up to every person to figure out how to manifest that.

CP: The album defines what makes and breaks the millennial generation. As we live under this social media dome, what do you see as detrimentally synthetic and what do you still consider genuine?

JS: People become lost when they start relying on a million synthetic interactions in a row. We’re at a time where some people think that emoticons can substitute for real emotion. Once we’ve completely crossed that line, we won’t know how to get back. It takes a conscious effort to not cross that line. To care about your family, your friends, and your art. To know what’s going on in the world with economics and politics. We need to be mentally present somehow despite all the distractions.

CP: The album also raises the dichotomy of being able to accept your flaws, seeing endless possibility, and just going for it, versus the harsh, human realities and limitations that debilitate us. Can you speak briefly about how you’ve struggled with these opposing forces as an artist?

JS: This might be a bit cliché, but I think it’s all about growing older. It’s all about realizing what your faults are. What you were going for when you were starting out. You need to look into the mirror and figure out who you are and why you do things the way you do, and why things are the way they are. When you are honest and genuine with yourself, it manifests through your creativity, through your art.

Let’s take an artist like Celine Dion, for example. Her style of music is probably the furthest from mine, and she has a hundred million people devoted to her. But that doesn’t mean that her music is any more “real” than mine, or vice versa. For an audience, art is a reflection of themselves, whether it’s a painting, a novel, or an absolutely incredible song. When an artist is aware of his genuine self, and courageously and unabashedly weaves it into his work, the audience will know it and feel this connection to it. That is the process of being an artist.

When you’re in your twenties, you are in this free-for-all of creativity, style, and inspiration. It is up to you to grab what feels right and pull it towards your inner self. The problem with most people is that they reach out and grab onto someone else’s shooting star.

CP: Where is the band headed once you finish the Synthetica tour? Have you been writing songs on the road?

JS: To be honest, writing on the road is difficult for us because we’re constantly moving and we’re exhausted all the time. Emily can get some songwriting done on tour, but I need instruments to write my music. I don’t work well with computers. I actually hate them. I like to work with something physical, tactile like my guitar. When Emily and I were in Toronto last year, we did do some writing. We’ve been working in the studio a little bit. When we finished Synthetica last year, we definitely felt that it was the older brother of Fantasies. We’re excited to see where our music takes us next.