An Interview with Jimmy Shaw of Metric

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photo credit: Metric
Photo credit: Metric

Canadian indie-rockers, Metric, recently passed through the DMV with Hellogoodbye while supporting Paramore’s self-titled tour. After the release of their latest record, Synthetica, over a year and a half ago, they’ve taken it around the world, including a very special collaborative performance with the late and great Lou Reed at Radio City Music Hall. Since forming in 1998, Metric has won several Juno awards and has been featured on major motion picture soundtracks. Metric co-founder and guitarist, Jimmy Shaw, spoke with me about taking the concepts of Synthetica further, old memories of great shows, and his affinity for analog synths.

Maddy Wolpow-Gindi: Rolling Stone just published an article following the release of Metric’s new video for Synthetica that had a lot of really exciting new announcements for you, including the November 12th release of the Synthetica Reflections album. Why did you choose to make an instrumental album for Synthetica and not the other albums? What made this one special?

Jimmy Shaw: Well the thing about Reflections is that there’s so much about the record itself in terms of its concepts and its lyrical contents and how we were talking about things being upside down and there being reflections involved, so we just decided to take it a step further and do the same thing musically—to sort of do an upside down version of the whole record. And when we did it, it was more like we were at the studio one day and we talked about it as an idea and we just sort of started doing it probably around 9 or 10 at night and kept rolling until 7 in the morning having done every song on the record. It wasn’t even really a plan to do that, it just sort of happened one night and we were really into the vibe and really liked what was happening so we ended up making this whole thing. Calling it Reflections made so much sense because it’s so tied in with the concept of the album and everything and I just had never really heard that before—I had never heard of someone doing an alternate version of the entire record in these sort of really ambient, almost of Boards of Canada, spacey atmospheres. Once it was done, we sort of looked at it and thought what can we do with this? And what would make it interesting? And we just waited and waited and it made sense around the Synthetica video as we’re sort of—you know the records been out for a year and a half—so we’re sort of wrapping up the whole thing at this point and we’re out on the road, and it just made sense to put it out now.

MWG: You chose to use an analog synthesizer for Reflections. Is that just what you have? Or is there significance to using an analog synthesizer for this album?

JS: Oh yeah, my studio is latent with analog synthesizers, you almost can’t move around because there are so many of them. All the time I think about getting more. But the problem isn’t how to get them or where to find them; the problem is where to put them because there’s such limited space in the studio. But a lot of the sound of the actual album Synthetica is based on a lot of these instruments that I ended up getting a hold of and I just thought it was that whole future retro-thing—they sounded kind of like the future in the old days. Now the future actually sounds very synthetic, but back then there was a real tonality—a realness—to those futuristic sounds which is the analog synth.

MWG: You’re also releasing the Metric Synthetica Album app soon. It struck me as sort of ironic that you would create an app based around this album, which speaks to artificial versus real and the different gadgets that we’re hooked on in our lives. Can you expand upon that a little bit and tell us the thinking behind creating this app?

JS: Well, again it was just sort of trying to take the concept a step further and in a different direction. We were approached by the guy that made this thing and he’s a real genius at what he does. We were really enamored by the work he had done and the work that he said he was going to do for us. He had this concept and we kind of heard him out and just let him kind of do his thing. When he sent it to us we were just like wow this is really cool, people should see this. It just gives people another way to listen to the same thing.  It’s all based on the music and the record but now it’s kind of like they can do their own reflection and they can make their own version of whatever the song is that they like the best.

MWG: You’re on tour now with Hellogoodbye and Paramore. That pairing surprised me, can you tell me how that came about and how it’s been touring together?

JS: So back in the spring they offered us the tour and initially we were apprehensive because we don’t really open for a lot of bands, it’s not something we do very often. But we also knew that in the course of the album Synthetica, the whole album cycle, we didn’t really feel like we were done, we felt like there was still more that we wanted to do but we didn’t know what it was. We played across Canada last fall and we weren’t about to do that again; we played Radio City and these beautiful theaters all over the US last fall and we weren’t about to go do that again. So this tour just really made sense, they were very persistent about having us on the tour and kind of wouldn’t take no for an answer and we have a lot of respect for that. I feel like as much as there might be a big difference between the two bands, I also think we have a lot of similar fans and that a lot of people who love their music would relate to our music so it just kind of made sense. Ever since being on the road it’s just a total pleasure. Their band and crew and their whole organization is just [full of] super sweet people and we’ve had a really great time.

MWG: That’s great, I’m glad to hear that. Metric in past years has contributed a lot to major motion picture soundtracks such as Eclipse and Scott Pilgrim. How does making a song specifically for a movie compare to making one for yourself?

JS: Well it’s similar in the sense that it’s still the same people making music in the same studio [with] the same instruments but the angle is completely different. I mean you’re not trying to satisfy yourself and express ideas that you have, you’re trying to express ideas that are in the script and ideas that have been caught on film and emotions that actors portray. So you’re really trying to create music that fits into a preexisting medium, an art form. So in a way there’s a lot more restrictions and also in other ways it’s much more free because you don’t have to come up with a concept, you don’t have to come up with the content or lyrical meaning of the song, you’re just sort of there to musically portray emotions that someone else wrote. It’s really enjoyable, we totally love doing it, I would totally keep doing it as much as I can.

MWG: Are there any more on the horizon?

JS: Not right now there isn’t, but I’m sure they’ll come up.

MWG: You’re also pretty well known for doing these fun ticket giveaways via Instagram where you post pictures of free tickets taped to landmarks around the city where you’re playing. Whose idea was that and who gets to decide where to hide them in each city?

JS: It’s mostly Josh who does it and I’m pretty sure it was his idea actually.

MWG: What was your first real standout memory regarding music?

JS: I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re intending but the first time that I really knew something was happening with Metric was 2004 and we were in Toronto.  We booked a show at the Mosh club, which is like a 500 seat theater, and we put up the show and it sold out. Then we put up a second show and it sold out; we put up a third show and it sold out; we put up a fourth show and it sold out. We would’ve kept going but there were other bands that had booked in the same venue. I remember showing up that fourth night and feeling like okay wow this is really going to happen and that was a really good feeling.

MWG: That’s an incredible start, I never knew that. What is the greatest thing you’ve read or watched recently?

JS: Well for years we would always have the movie 2001 on infinite repeat in the front lounge of the bus just with the sound turned off. I think we even did that when we recorded a lot of Fantasies; it was just on in the house next to the studio. There’s just something about the visual context of that film that’s just so expansive and awe inspiring and it keeps me reaching for the stars, you know?

MWG: You’ve played huge festivals, Radio City Music Hall, and other venues small and large. What is your ideal performance space whether it’s a backyard or a music festival?

JS: There are elements of all of those things that are really really great. It’s hard to choose because you know there are amazing things in every context. Playing a 3 or 4,000-seat theater like a Radio City is so special because of the history in the room and the beauty of the room and the context that you’re in among greatness. But also playing little shitty bra clubs where everyone resigns themselves to sweating all the way through their clothes is also the most fun thing in the world. There are definitely merits to all.

MWG: If you had to listen to any album on repeat for the rest of your life, what album would you choose? No compilations.

JS: Oh my god, that would be hard. I don’t know, probably right now I would choose the Boards of Canada latest record called Tomorrow’s Harvest. But I would probably end up having a really psychedelic time on that desert island.


–Maddy Wolpow-Gindi

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