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Metric veers away from electronic sound with 'Art of Doubt'

Catch the band in Brooklyn on Feb. 18.

Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric have

Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric have been rocking for more than 20 years. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Noam Galai

It takes five seconds of the first song on Metric’s 2018 album “Art of Doubt” to re-establish the rock band’s identity. After veering in a more electronic direction with 2015’s “Pagans in Vegas,” leadoff track and first single “Dark Saturday” stars with a crackle, and then Jimmy Shaw’s electric guitar, which was rarely if ever heard on “Pagans,” loud and jagged.

That’s not to say there aren’t any electronic moments on Metric’s seventh LP. But it is to say that “Art of Doubt,” which finds the band working with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who has produced albums for M83, Tegan and Sara, and The Naked and Famous, among others), taps directly into the core of the band’s alchemy.

amNewYork caught up with lead singer Emily Haines during band rehearsals in Toronto to talk about the new album and a little of what she’s learned over Metric’s two decades of collaboration.

The original plan for this record was to be a companion to “Pagans in Vegas,” right? What changed?

“Pagans” is very electronic, very different in mood and sound, and the idea was that the companion album was going to be all organic instruments, like a trip to Neil Young’s 1970s reality. We recorded a lot of really interesting, really experimental-for-Metric stuff — a horn section in New Orleans, a 60-piece orchestra on a song, old-school sounds in Nashville. It was all really cool, but just didn’t have a place in this canon of what Metric is. What we ended up coming out of that whole time realizing was, we just wanted to find the essence of what we are, what makes it special for the people who love us, who have been with us, or are just discovering us. What it is, the chemistry, the special thing? We made that the mandate for “Art of Doubt.”

What does “Dark Saturday” as a first single say to those fans?

There had been feedback from people like, “You hurt me by leaving out the guitars [from the synth-heavy “Pagans in Vegas”] — why would you do that to me?” We really thought that felt like a good, unambiguous way to reassure everyone that there will be guitars. And I love that there’s that little bit of noise off the top too — in the sterile digital world, look who’s back!

Shaw has carried the production duties for the band often in the past. Why bring in Meldal-Johnsen for this one?

Jimmy was like, “All right, I want to find an outside producer. I want to just play in the band again like we did back in LA.” We had a short list of who we wanted: It was just Justin Meldal-Johnsen. And he 100 percent delivered, I feel, and from the reaction of fans — just the feeling of going to a Metric show, the feeling of the friendship and the meaning of the four of us playing in a room, and the energy around that — we’ve never really gotten this close to getting that on tape. He just put us back in a room and let Jimmy stop thinking about tech considerations, which are vast, and it changed everything.  

You and Shaw have worked together for more than 20 years now. What would you say to a group of four 20-year-olds, playing in someone’s garage somewhere, who want to be where you are?

Get ready to work, man. If it’s really what you want, and you really love these people and want to make it lifelong, it’s not going to look like what’s winning [currently]. You’re going to have to measure it a different way.

IF YOU GO

Metric performs on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at Kings Theatre, 1027 Flatbush Ave., Flatbush, kingstheatre.com, $36-$230. 

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