The Morning After

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Search for "Emily Haines" on YouTube and you come up with "Crowd Surf Off A Cliff," a video of a blonde dwarfed by a large screen, performing a mournful piano tune. Scroll down and you’ll find "Emily Haines crowdsurfing," which shows the same woman atop the hands of screaming fans enveloped by a throbbing dance beat. Haines, frontwoman of Metric and a sometime member of Broken Social Scene, says the opposing images come from the same place. "So much of my work with Metric has been taking songs that are inherently slow and soft and sad and amping them up into the complete opposite," she says. Haines wrote and recorded the songs on Knives Don’t Have Your Back between 2002 and 2006 and tapped friends from the Toronto music scene to contribute strings and horns. Songs like "Cliff" seem made for miserable nights spent with a tear-wet pillow ("rather give the world away / than wake up lonely"), but others focus on Haines’s tough version of femininity. A few years ago the singer went from a hardcore androgyne to a long-haired chanteuse, and the album implores women to figure out what they want and do it ("all I desire is to never be waiting / if that’s a crime, let’s commit it"). Nerve spoke to Haines over the phone as she lounged poolside in Phoenix. — Sarah Harrison

Would you say it’s a sad album?
Definitely not. I recognize that there are some sad moments, but it’s not a downer, I hope. I always have written on the piano but what stopped me for years from releasing the songs was that I never liked all that moping and whispering and preciousness. It was interesting with this record to try to be true to the emotions that inspired the songs without making them complacent or lacking energy or just a bummer.

In the video for "Doctor Blind" you’re running through a Wal-Mart-like store getting a prescription. Is that a comment on pill culture?
I do see parallels between the ’60s vacuuming housewife whose problems seemed so vast and dire that the only way to cope was to self-medicate, and that free-floating anxiety and malaise that seems to plague everyone I know. There’s such a rush to medicate. I’m not making any kind of statement because I’m not a doctor, and there are all kinds of instances where it’s necessary. This is not a Tom Cruise moment here.

Do you have a preference between performing solo or with Metric?
No. In fact, I really wouldn’t want to do one with out the other. I like the idea that the two things go together. Metric is the night and Knives is in the bathtub the next day. It’s been interesting hearing people’s perceptions of why you put out a solo record. It’s not a career move, it’s because I’m a writer and I wanted to develop my skills and play music that I thought people might enjoy. It’s a bit overdue for me to have started performing songs in this mode.

I read somewhere that you think sexual energy is important — is good sexual energy something you look for in people you work with?
I think I was referring more to in performance, and just generally in life. It’s more fun if people have some sexual energy instead of being closed and uncomfortable and lethargic. I’m not a big fan of lethargy, especially in people in their twenties. It kind of gives me the creeps.

Have you met a lot of people like that?
I haven’t met them, but I see them in airports. I see them everywhere. I’m watching them have no sexual energy. I’m trying to transform them one by one. No, I’m not. I’m not actually.

Are you attracting them?
Oh God, no, what a horrible. . . that’s like "Breaking the Waves" or something.

I also read that someone asked you what is your daily ritual and you wrote orgasm.
Uh oh — that was a smart move.

Is that true?
Well, ideally.

How does sexual frustration affect your writing?
I think sexual energy is derived from frustration, and it’s actually key to be able to control it. There’s nothing wrong with frustration, it’s still an active state. Basically my whole life is me trying to have a good time. So in my pursuit of a good time, I avoid passive retreating.

You used to have dark hair and dress androgynously. Can you tell me about your decision to start dressing more femininely?
I could probably do a graph of behaviors based on garments in terms of perception. We’re very lucky as girls that we can explore so many options with the way that we want to be perceived.

Do guys hit on you more now?
Guys don’t hit on me. I don’t really talk to strangers. I have a lot of really close friends, and I kind of stick to my family.

So you haven’t had any weird groupie experiences?
Nope. I think people encourage that. Performers pretend that they’re freaked out to have weird groupies but there are ways to encourage that and there are ways to discourage that. You have to constantly deflect unrealistic adoration. You have to absolutely remind people all the time that you are 100% their equal. Whatever amazing emotion that’s pouring out of them is theirs and theirs alone. Wow, we’re getting really philosophical.

We like to have conversations.
No, it’s great, it’s been a long day of interviews, and it’s really great to wrap it up with such an interesting conversation. What’s your opinion? You don’t want me to go back to androgynous?

Um, no, I don’t think so.
No? All right.

I think androgyny is really hardcore and everything, but I’m a fan of experimenting with different ways of trying to look feminine.
Yeah, I think you’re right. I think the problem is that traditional femininity is so revolting. You know, like not being able to use your hands because your nails are so long, and having like weird glossy lips. All of it is so terrifying that a lot of girls, I think reasonably, run really far in the other direction. But it would be nice if we could agree on a reasonable femininity that is true to how you actually feel, and doesn’t make you feel like you’re charting yourself up for no reason.

I think that’s the most important thing about dressing is feeling like you’re not presenting something that you’re not.
Fashion shouldn’t mean anything, but it means so much.

I know.
All right, good to know. I’ll continue my poll of whether boy me is better than girl me. 

© 2006 Sarah Harrison & Nerve.com