On tour: Metric here with knobs on

By Chris Schulz

Canadian synthesiser band Metric are bringing their enthusiasm for vintage tech to Auckland. Chris Schulz examines the group's circuitry.

Metric's Emily Haines says they always travel with at least five synths.
Metric's Emily Haines says they always travel with at least five synths.

If you want to talk to Emily Haines, prepare to get geeky.

A discussion with the frontwoman for Canadian synth-pop act Metric inevitably turns to her love of synthesisers - particularly the "badass" Sequential Circuits Pro One, of which she owns six.

Haines, who is also a member of Canadian collective Broken Social Scene, talks about the band's recent purchase of a rare Yamaha CS-80, and a Prophet 5 signed by creator Dave Smith, like they're her favourite children.

You may not understand exactly what they are, but rest assured Haines' love for the instrument, especially vintage models, runs deep.

"I'm so glad you asked - synthesiser is my favourite word," she says to TimeOut. "They're such sensitive and special instruments that have real character.

"A lot of the newer gear never breaks. But it's kind of like a plant that can't die. If it can't die, it isn't alive."

Expect to hear a lot more about synths at Metric's upcoming Auckland show. The Toronto four-piece never leave home with fewer than five synthesisers, and Haines says it's like "travelling with a carton of eggs".

Those "eggs" are responsible for creating the upbeat funk and electro stomp of many of Metric's superbly catchy songs, giving singles such as Youth Without Youth its fuzzed-out throb and Gimme Sympathy its dancefloor-filling shimmer.

If you think there's an air of familiarity to Metric's songs, you'd be right. Desperately uncool throughout most of the 2000s, synths have been embraced by everyone from hipster-friendly acts Passion Pit and MGMT to chart-topping pop stars Britney Spears and Robyn.

But Metric embraced synths from the start and stuck by them - even appropriating the instrument's name for the title of last year's album, Synthetica.

Haines believes the band played their part in making synthesisers cool again.

"When we were starting out in New York it was the heyday of garage rock and The White Stripes. We love that music but we had that same attitude, a punk rock aesthetic and a no bulls*** performance element to the band.

"You'd show up in these punk clubs with a synthesiser [and people would say] 'What the hell is that?' In rock music it wasn't really welcomed but it's really changed and now they're everywhere."

Those ever-present synth riffs mean Metric's songs can stick in your head for days. But Haines says her lyrical themes are darker than what you might think.

"If you listen to the lyrics, you'd know that it's energetic music with a lot more happening in the lyrics than meets the eye. It's not really a secret that that's what we do.

"Of course it has evolved. We continue to change sonically. It still amazes me when I listen back to early stuff, you can hear the seed of what we've developed into."

One song fans won't hear Metric perform in Auckland is The Wanderlust, a track Haines wrote alongside the late Lou Reed and performed live with him just last year.

Haines calls Reed's death - in October from liver disease - a "sensitive topic" for the band, and says they're giving that song "a rest" at live shows out of respect.

"We're so sad he's gone. There were a bunch of things we were meant to do together that we had to cancel near the end. But what a gift, what an incredible artist. The collaborations were an amazing thing that we shared."

With five albums of alt-pop synth-rock nirvana behind them, Metric can cherry-pick songs for their high-energy live shows. Theirs is a sound that could have been embraced by Kiwi fans much sooner - and Haines is apologetic when asked why they Metric hasn't made it here yet.

"It's our first time in China, too - don't be offended. The world's a big place and it's taken a minute. We're a small operation, we've managed to do pretty well considering we run this show ourselves. It's just a real skeleton crew of people. We get there eventually.

"I hope until the day I die I'll still be discovering new places and going to new places to play."

With a synthesiser or three in tow, no doubt.

Who: Canadian synth-pop act Metric
When and where: The Powerstation, Saturday, December 14
Essential listening: Live It Out (2005) and Synthetica (2012)

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- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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