Emily Haines

Emily Haines

By Joey Odorisio

In 2006, Metric singer Emily Haines released her solo album Knives Don’t Have Your Back under the moniker of Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. Over a decade later, Haines has returned to the hushed, piano-based sounds of the Soft Skeleton with Choir of the Mind. Ahead of her brief fall tour in support of the album, Haines recently took some time to talk with FMQB about her new songs, the next Metric record and one of her favorite Jim Carrey movies.

Hi Emily – where are you calling from?

We just wrapped a Metric session here in Toronto and shifted gears to all things Soft Skeleton in preparation for this tour, since it’s imminent now and I’m counting the days.

It’s just such an amazing thing to revisit these songs [from Knives Don’t Have Your Back] and connect them to this new album years later. I’m going to be playing lots of songs from Knives and stuff from the new record, obviously. I have a big problem with those shows where you go and it’s almost like the musician is punishing you with their new music. They play only new music for the whole show, come back for the encore and maybe give you one or two. I’ve been a victim of that myself as a big music fan and I can promise to everyone who’s coming to see this show and this tour that I’ll be playing lots of stuff from Knives right out of the gate. No “punishment.” [laughs]

The first time I heard the single “Fatal Gift,” thematically it took me back to Metric’s “Handshakes” from Live It Out, with its critique of consumerism.

That’s so great that you would say that actually. I’ve had a couple other people have the same observation because the line in “Handshakes” is “Buy this car to drive to work/Drive to work to pay for this car.” [Which is] kind of illuminating this conundrum of modern life and adulthood. I supposed “the things you own they own you” is a similar circular paradox which we find ourselves in. I found that mantra, it’s almost meditative, somehow shaking off some of the consumer shackles of modern life, at least for the duration of the song. Which is a decent amount of time, since it’s six minutes long…six minutes out of the machine, not bad.

How did you decide what goes on the solo record vs. what to keep for Metric?

I feel like my life is led by these songs, I just follow them around and try to do right by them. All the songs start the same [and] any number of these songs could’ve gone on to be Metric songs. It’s just the way you dress them. And what I love about going back to do a solo record now in this window of time, you can just let them stay in a more vulnerable state. In Metric, I kind of need the songs to be armor. Probably the best example of that is writing “Help I’m Alive,” which when I had the epiphany that I could just say the thing I was terrified of and make that give me the power to overcome that fear, which is how that song still functions for me. These songs I feel like I don’t need to make them quite so tough. Because of the way I know I’ll be performing them and the way people listen to them. They’re very personal and it’s a much lighter touch and more ethereal. It’s not so much the material, but the way that it’s left open.

When you were doing interviews for the last Metric album, Pagans in Vegas, you said there was a whole set of material the band was recording for the next record but it never saw release. Did those songs end up on Choir of the Mind? Are you saving them for the next Metric album? Or are they just sort of floating out there.

We’re really far down the line on the next Metric album but in the interim we did this whole intensive process where we were on the road and went into studios across the U.S. and Canada. Beautiful rooms in Nashville and Vermont and New York and L.A. The concept was to have this intensely polar opposite record to Pagans, which was so modern-sounding and synthetic and we really embraced that. We wanted to do this companion album and we basically wanted to turn into Fleetwood Mac for five minutes (and we actually recorded when Rumours was made in L.A.). While it was cool, it was not us. It was very much an exercise in musicianship and it was fun to hear those tones and sounds. We worked with a 60-piece orchestra on this one song and it sounded like a Bond theme. So we just accepted that it was just part of our process as a band and we’ll see. It could end up in a film or find the light of day somewhere else. A think a couple songs may find their way to the next Metric record. But because we have our own studio and we’re just so dedicated to the work, there’s going to be lots of material. We will edit, we respect the audience and if we put something out, we will stand behind it.

Choir of the Mind is more of an overall art project than just a record. The visuals and videos expand on the music. I found the colors you used really fascinating, the way the orange hoodie and the blue dress complement each other. How did that all come together?

I worked with a visual artist, Justin Broadbent. He’s done art for Metric before, he did the artwork for Synthetica and he did the video for “Youth Without Youth.” But on this record, I just feel that he was in tandem with me composing the visual realm as total companion pieces to the music. He had that contemporary art color scheme and the super crazy surreal gatefold in the vinyl. If you see it, it’s all connected to the imagery from the photos and the videos and the symbols that we have running through all of it. And that’s just us working together and coming up with themes and just following the lead.

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Choir of the MindHe sent me the picture, which is now the album cover, with the bat and the Parental Advisory. It was the first thing he sent me and we both laughed, and thought, “That’s dope and amazing.” And we obviously said we can’t do that [as the cover]. Then we tried more conventional things, but that was the cover through and through.

Was the orange hoodie inspired by Kate Winslet’s in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? That’s what I thought of when I first saw it.

In my case it’s the internal sunshine but no, that’s a great point. I’ll have to ask Justin. You were the first person to ask me that. We [had the idea] of this juvenile, sort of troublemaker who’s really free and dangerous as a result. He never mentioned that to me as an inspiration but that would be a very cool connection.

That’s a great movie, I think I need to watch it again. It’s sad though…sad Jim Carrey.

“Statuette” has become an extra-timely song this fall, not that it wasn’t already unfortunately, since it’s about powerful men objectifying women and the “casting couch” cliché. How have people reacted to the song?

That song is there for anyone who might take solace. IT’s a very literal example in song form to continue this discussion.

It just feels like this year in general has been really off the charts. I feel that everything that’s happened is almost instantly wiped out by the next horrible thing and you’re still recovering from your compassion for the victims of some environmental disaster or shooting and the next thing is on top of that you have to actively stay sensitized. It’s a combination of trying to say sane, so you want to normalize, but if you normalize, you must be insane. There’s no way that this is how we should be functioning as a society.