Synth-Pop Band Metric on Their Latest Album, ‘Art of Doubt’

Don’t call them ”political” // Photo courtesy of Metric

Metric is labeled by most as political band. The nearly 20-year-old, new wave, Toronto-based group has been writing lyrics that speak volumes against warfare, capitalism, and gender discrimination, thereby producing a manifesto of sorts for their cult-like fanbase. But Metric eschews any kind of outright stance. We sat down with one of the band’s co-founders, James Shaw, to learn more the band’s writing process, and why the categorization of “political” is completely beside the point.

Hour Detroit: Tell me how Art of Doubt came about?

James Shaw: “Dressed to Suppress” was one of the first songs that we wrote. My idea for it was to be a polarizing song where there are two really distinct and highly different emotions one is fully angelic and the other hardcore.

These emotions that you translate into your music, are they experienced by the entire band?

Lyrically, it stems from Emily [Haines, lead singer and keyboardist]. She’s the one that makes something out of nothing. That’s not to say that we always understand where she’s coming from. You know when you write something, you know what you felt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody else does. Clarity is something that has been a part of my working relationship with Emily for a very, very long time. While our songs are open to interpretation, we want our fans to be able to interpret it within the confines of what the song actually says.

Has Metric grown since its formation in 1998?

The ethos of the band is still very much the same. In the ‘90s, there was a lot of popular music that lacked any artistic credibility whatsoever. We always wanted to be the thing on the radio that had substance, something that straddled the line. What has changed is that we’ve made seven records, a lot of them we put out on our own. We’ve been in and out of record deals. We’ve toured the world many times.  We know what we’re capable of and who we are, so we can forget about all the other shit that’s going on in the world.

Since nearly the beginning of your career, you’ve been labeled as a political band. And with Art of Doubt, it seems some of the album’s songs, like “Dressed to Suppress,” suggests commentary on the current political state.

If you hung out with the four of us [Haines, bassist Joshua Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key] for a day, you’d see that we don’t really consider politics like some sort of sequestered part of thought or life. Sexual politics, political politics, personal politics, family politics it’s all the same thing. We write about what we are influenced, affected, upset, and inspired by. I don’t think you can really remove politics from that equation. People have asked me for years, “Are you a political band?” I don’t really consider us a political band, but I think it would be weird if you didn’t acknowledge politics in the rest of life. It’s a part of everything.

Would you say you were more apparent about your political stance, as a band, in the beginning of your career?

We acknowledged it in our music more then, than now. Emily felt compelled to write about the war in Iraq for our album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? What we started realizing was that, with the advent of the internet and the fact that anyone can say whatever they want on there, us being that direct wasn’t actually furthering any sort of message, but driving away fans.

I don’t want a room full of one side of politics at my shows; that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Especially what’s happening now in politics. Everything is so divided that if you only ever have a conversation with someone who shares the exact same views as you, how are you supposed to evolve as a human being? You’re not going to. We have become more inclusive and aware without passing judgment. The whole we’re right, you’re wrong approach that doesn’t really work.

Was there ever a time that appearing politically neutral proved to be difficult?

One time after a show, I met a fan who was a soldier in Afghanistan. He talked of a military procedure that involved digging a giant hole, which they would put ammunition into that they couldn’t transport to their next camp. They’d blow the whole thing up, so as to not leave it for the enemy. He told me that he’d listen to our song, “Gold Guns Girls” every time his battalion did this. If he had told me this when I was 25, I would’ve considered to stop making music. But these people are not running the war. They’re trying to deal with the reality of their lives and the fact that we could provide them with something that helped in that moment of their day, makes me happy.

Metric is to perform at the Filmore on Mar. 25.

Which band would you like to learn more about? Tell us in the comments below.

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