POSTED ON MAY 1, 2013:
Anything but Business as Usual
Band takes control of its destiny
At first listen, it might be easy to write off Metric as merely a synth pop band with a retro vibe. Dig a little deeper, however, and the band's songs open up. Lyrically, they are more thoughtful and introspective than most '80s synth pop fare and musically, the songs prove to be more layered and complex than a first listen would reveal. If anything, the wash of old-school analog keyboards gives the songs an air of comfort and familiarity.
After 15 years as a band, Metric has proven to be far more than a mere flavor of the month that fades away, never to be heard from again. With a solid and loyal fan base, Metric has proven to be one of the anchors of the modern synth pop scene, content to grow its audience slowly and build a solid catalog of songs.
As Metric rolls through Tulsa in support of its latest album, Synthetica, which was released in June of last year, the band finds itself in a different position than it has in the past. Normally, the band would be in the middle of supporting a new release, but instead finds itself winding down the tour and preparing for its next move.
"One of the things I've found with this album cycle is that the world's attention span is so much ridiculously shorter than it used to be," guitarist and keyboardist James Shaw said. "People are interested in what's cool this month, and then they move to the next thing.
"This cycle has been weirdly shorter than ever before," he continued. "The audience really doesn't care if you're playing the same album two years ago, because people have moved on."
As opposed to touring behind an album for two years as it has in the past, Shaw said that by the time the band reached the end of 2102, it already felt there was only a little more time left behind the album.
"The whole album, tour, album cycle is kind of coming to an end," James concluded. "We are able to go back to being an artist now."
Of course, the length of album and touring cycles isn't all that has changed for Metric. In 2008, the band formed its own label, Metric Music International (MMI) and has released its last two albums, Fantasies and Synthetica, independently. When asked how that has changed the band's approach, James said the change has been profound.
"We can do literally anything," he continued. "I have my own studio, so we can go in and record music in the afternoon and release it that night via the internet and iTunes if we want to. That kind of freedom opens up a world of possibilities."
When discussing the move to do things independently, James shared that it was a move the band made when recording Fantasies in 2008. When looking at the big picture, he said the thought was: "We've got a couple hundred thousand fans worldwide. If we just keep them happy and don't pick up any new fans, we'll still be doing pretty good," he said. "It was a little bit scary, but at the same time, it put us in control. In a way, it drastically changed the way we look at the industry."
As an example, James said, "if you're on an acoustic tour playing three radio stations a day, and you're eight days in and getting tired of it, it takes all of the bitching out. You can't whine and moan about it, because you're responsible for it. In hindsight, I think the healthiest thing we've done was us taking control like that."
Of course, the band's independence hasn't slowed it down. Fantasies went on the sell 500,000 worldwide and win Juno awards for Alternative Album of the Year and Group of the Year in 2010, followed by Alternative Album of the Year and Producer of the Year awards for Synthetica at the 2013 Juno awards.
Fifteen years into its career, the group continues to evolve. Following the Fantasies album, Shaw and lead singer Emily Haines played a number of acoustic shows in support of the album, a departure for a band known for its heavily electronic and keyboard-oriented sound.
When asked how that came about, Shaw said it "stems back to working with the producer [Gavin Brown] on the Fantasies record. When we came upon the first hurdle with a song, his answer was to turn of the monitors and all the equipment and play the song on an acoustic guitar or piano. If you can't play it from beginning to end, then it's not a good song. That really helped us in the writing process, but born out of that, we found we could play the songs on acoustic guitar.
"That's really important to me, because I believe that it's the song craft that makes a song timeless," he explained. "At the end of recording Fantasies, we found we could play the entire album acoustic."
"It gives the songs a new meaning - the whole thing takes on a different connotation when played that way," he said.
Looking forward, James said that writing has already begun for a new record, but things are still taking shape.
"I'm a big believer in you write a song and you live it for a year. You have to make sure the sentiment is something you want to live out and live with," he explained. "You have to make sure that it's pure and it's something that will last."
When asked about the live show, Shaw stated, "this has been a really great tour. We just got to play Coachella and Hawaii. The band is in a really good place right now: We're not dying on the road -- we're happy and inspired to be playing for people.
"The thing that blows me away," he concluded, "is that we've been touring for 12 years and we still love each other. We hang out together every day while we're on tour, we go out to dinner together every night, and we stay up to all hours discussing everything under the sun. For us, it's anything but business as usual."
Metric rolls into Tulsa to play Cain's Ballroom this Thursday night, May 2, with The Colourist opening the show. Tickets are still available for $24 in advance or $28 at the door for the 8pm show.
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