Metric is a band that punches out solid, spatial lines. Lyrics, vocals, instruments, and placement are balanced and open. The songs drive and widen with tones that are well played, well fit, thought out, and not overdone. Metric is aware of where and when to leave space and how to carve instrumentation around Emily Haines’ vocals. It’s a wise and worked in raw sound.
* Metric plays Showbox SODO Sunday, March 21st. Guitarist / vocalist Jimmy Shaw spoke from the SXSW happiness of Austin, TX:
Metric has some Seattle ties with your recording at Bear Creek Studio. How did your relationship with Bear Creek come about? Jimmy: At our first show in Seattle many years ago, there were two people there. One was our drummer Joules’ brother. After the show, we were all hanging out and the other person who was there said, “Hey, my friend is a record producer and he has a studio in town, and you guys have to meet.” So he called him, and he came down to the club. It was Ryan Hadlock from Bear Creek. We really liked him. Not too long after that we hung out again at SXSW and we developed a friendship. The next time we were coming through Seattle, we went out to Bear Creek and visited and saw how magical the place is, and we fell in love with it. It’s one of the places we know, and we have friends, and it has such a good feel. The whole Hadlock family is an amazing group of people. It was hard to resist once we found it.
Would you say that was a SXSW success story? Your seeing Ryan Hadlock there? Yeah, you know, weird breaks don’t always come in the form of some industry exec being at your show and coming up to you afterward to offer this or that. Very rarely do people who you don’t have real relationships with actually end up helping your career in a positive way. The whole thing is about who you actually know and who you relate to, who you live your life with and who become your friends. These are the people who you end up making music with and making records with and having fun times with. It all kinda melds together. We feel lucky to know the Hadlock family.
What did you all record at Bear Creek? You were working on Fantasies right? There was a really specific thing we did at Bear Creek. When we made the record before Fantasies, called Live it Out, we had basically written it on the road touring. When we went in to record Live It Out, it was pretty much ready to go the minute we stepped into the studio. Then we toured that record for like three years and basically just drove ourselves into the ground with it. We were exhausted physically and mentally. During that time, we didn’t really write any new music. When all the touring had ended, we were going to take a break and do separate things for a bit, and right before that, there was this little window of time we had and we thought, let’s go to Seattle and do ten or twelve days at Bear Creek and just plant seeds for the next record. And when we come back to it a year from now or whenever, there will be something there that has positive and new energy to it. As opposed to us being like, “Well, it’s time to start up Metric again, let’s blow the dust off this road case that I have no desire to open up.” We wanted to go to Bear Creek and not worry about the next record at all. We wanted to just be totally creative, and be completely off the grid. We flew there straight from London. It was so nice to in the country side. We usually don’t work like that. It ended up being a very creative, beneficial time, and influenced the band in a very cool, different way.
Look at Metric having Seattle love. Definitely. There’s something about Seattle. I don’t know where it comes from. Like we were friends in another life or something.
Seattle is a sonic vortex of love. I think so. There’s something going on out there. Something to the city that you live in and its surroundings.
The songs on Fantasies had stages of creation or development where you all had the opportunity to play the songs out a bunch before you recorded the final version in the studio. How would you say those songs changed or evolved by playing them live so much before you recorded them for the album? There’s a moment when you’re writing a song sometimes, and I think musicians can identify with this sentiment, when you’re coming up with it, and you think to yourself, “Oh my God, I’ve done it. I’ve written a great song. This is it, it just finally happened.” Then four hours later, you’re like, “This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever heard.” There’s something about the fact that you don’t actually know. But when you have the chance to put that song up to the audience and play it a few times, and see and feel a reaction, you start to understand what’s working and what doesn’t work. It’s kind of like how you can sit in your bedroom and try on that strange purple velour shirt. You stand in front of the mirror and think, “Damn, this looks great.” But until you wear it outside, you don’t really know.
So you're dissing my purple velour? Well, sometimes you just don’t know. It definitely worked for Hendrix.
When you played those songs in progress live, were there sections you left open to improv? Or how did you work it? We usually know how we’re going to play the songs as we go into a show. But there were definitely times when we played a song during and sound check and said, “Ok, this has not been working for the past two or three nights, let’s work it out. That bridge has been sucking, what are we going to do?” A majority of the songs for Fantasies that we were working with live, weren’t left standing after that tour. And I think that was a good thing. So when we went into the studio for real, we knew we had to write new material. Those songs and arrangements we were messing around with were good, but they weren’t good enough.
You are a gear head. What pieces of gear to you find Metric magic in? Yes, I’m a massive gear head. There’s nothing I think about more on a daily basis than gear. First, there’s this harmonium I have. It’s a little wooden box. You plug it in and you can hear the pump start to kick in, and it pumps air out. It has this amazing droney sound. I love it. For a lot of Fantasies, I hung a 57 mic right on top of it, using a Hi-Z transformer, and then ran that 57 right into a tape echo. With your right hand, you play the harmonium, and with your left hand, you tweak the tape echo. You get these crazy, long drones. You can mess with the time and pitch. It adds this weird sonic curtain behind what you’re doing, this really cool 3D depth.
There’s also a guitar sound that we call the Space Church. It comes from using an Electro Harmonix Hog and a Fulltone Tape Echo. It gives this other worldly organ sound, with a light strum on a Stratacaster. It’s great and doesn’t take up too much space, and adds sort of a dome ceiling to whatever you’re doing.
There’s also a pedal I’ve been looking for for three years, that I just found yesterday on Craigslist. In the 70’s there was a pedal manufacturer called Maestro. Bob Moog went and worked for Maestro for a little while, and he designed this series of pedals. They look like something Rush or Triumph would play, these giant silver pedals and the whole thing itself is a button. There’s one called the Maestro Parametric Filter. And it is the coolest pedal I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s not a radical tone shifter or anything. It has like five different levels of how much of the filter that you want to apply to the sound and the last two are more drastic and involved with the overdrive. Then it has two wheels. One is basically a parametric EQ with how much gain you want. And if you crank it all the way up, then the other wheel is just a frequency wheel and it goes from 200 all the way up to 6K. It makes the guitar fit in these tiny spaces. It goes from being this low muffly thing into a band pass filter way up high. When you’re sitting in front of a console and you’re tracking your guitar, sometimes it’s just taking up too much room in the mix, when you want to fit into this little space. With the Parametric Filter, you can roll this wheel until the guitar is sitting in this perfect spot. It’s one of the most useful tools ever.
What’s the worst question a music writer has ever asked you? Someone asked me, “If you couldn’t make music, what would you do?” I said, “I’d be a cook.” And they said, “Ok, if you couldn’t cook what would you do?” And at that point, I was like, OK, this isn’t working.
But now you must tell us, if you couldn’t cook, what would you do? I think I’d watch TV.
You would be a professional Television Watcher. A Professional Channel Flipper Television Watcher.