PHOTO BY MICHAEL NIKA
“If my life is mine, what shouldn’t I do?” Emily Haines, lead singer of the Canadian band Metric, sings on "Help, I'm Alive," the hit single from last year's Fantasies. It's not so much a rhetorical question as it is a brave reclamation of self-purpose: it's Haines flipping the bird at the imagined glass ceilings and self-doubt she condemned on previous records. Any why shouldn't she? Even in a fractured musical climate that doesn't invite or invent figureheads like it once did, Emily Haines has recently been elevated to the role of indie pop's cool big sister. At a recent sold-out show at New York City's Terminal 5, she prowled the stage with the devastating cool of a feline predator.
With the success of Fantasies, Haines is now ready to wow her biggest audience–perhaps the biggest audience—as the composer of the theme song to Twilight: Eclipse. I spoke to her about her whirlwind year.
COLLEEN NIKA: Fantasies was unique in that it seemed to be Metric's most independently distributed release, but was your most commercially successful.
EMILY HAINES: Yeah, a lot has happened with this record, and it's been a pretty intense year. We've always worked with independent labels, and never been unhappy with the results. But this time we took a gamble. We asked, "What's the next step"? We didn't want to sign a five-record deal with anyone–even if they offer you a million dollars, does it really add up to that after everything they take out? So, we took a risk: we hand-picked people and set up our own label—a company where we could embrace the changes in the industry. We got really lucky.
NIKA: You scored your first two charting radio hits ("Help, I'm Alive" and "Gold Guns Girls") with this album. Was it a surprise?
HAINES: Yes, we were surprised that mainstream radio isn't totally corrupt! We don't have the kind of budget major label artists get to push their songs to radio. But even though our promo CD listed Metric International as its label, programmers actually really listened to this record and gave us a chance. It shocked us: we realized that maybe we were too cynical in the past. It is actually possible to break in.
NIKA: You recently announced that Metric wrote the theme song, "Eclipse (All Yours)," for Twilight: Eclipse. How did you get involved with the biggest pop cultural franchise of our time?
HAINES: It was one of the most out of the blue things that could ever happen. I got a call from Howard Shore–who scored Lord of the Rings and David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch–and he invited me to write a song with him for the movie, which is totally different than simply contributing a song to the soundtrack. I immediately said yes. It was an amazing experience. I watched the scenes; I'm not an actress, but I was speaking for Bella, in a way. I didn't know much about the series going in, but I didn't need to be a fan. I was writing for a moment, really connected with the character–she's a real girl. And Kristen Stewart is a quality young actress who gives me hope for all female artists.
NIKA: I always appreciated the unconventional way you handled gender politics in songs like "Poster of a Girl" and "Patriarch on a Vespa." You find fault with both sides–it's not just girl power.
HAINES: Totally. On those songs I was exploring my own discomfort and trying to state a way to overcome it. "Patriarch" is about my fears of domesticity and normalcy—I mean, who wants a floral couch? But I never really "took a stand" on the side of women, because I never really experienced my life that way. I don't define myself by my gender. That's not really our battle anymore. It's no longer men vs. women. The topics have changed. Now, the allegiances are more tribal.
NIKA: What are your thoughts on the current generation of female performers?
HAINES: I think there are great female performers out there. And I definitely feel that there need to be more, so we stop being seen as a "genre," so that I never again have to be compared to someone I don't sound like just because I'm a girl. I make no secret of the fact that I think M.I.A. completely kicks ass. When I saw her new video I was like, "Wow, you can do that?" It's about inspiration, not imitation. I call it the Kim Gordon Effect–when you see Kim Gordon, you don't want to be her, you just want to be yourself as much as she's herself.
NIKA: What about the Lady Gaga effect?
HAINES: I can honestly say it makes me laugh and I really don't care. It has nothing to with music. I mean, it's fascinating. Show up wearing Kermit the Frog, why not? It's fun and she has a good time. It has nothing to do with the world that I live in.