Measuring up with Metric

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      With Fantasies, the confident and stylish Toronto band has assumed control of its own destiny

      It’s 6 p.m. on an April Thursday night and the lineup to get into the Media Club is already halfway down the block. Throngs of hipsters anxiously fiddle with their cellphones trying to kill time, as they enviously watch industry types slip past the velvet rope cordoning off the bar’s front entrance.

      Inside, Metric’s Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw lounge against the plush cushions strewn across the bench that snakes its way around the club’s dimly lit backroom. The space is basically an oversized storage closet, but with the stylish pair nestled inside, the dank surroundings seem more like a green room than the bar manager’s accounting den.

      The day has been a long one for Canada’s reigning dance-pop darlings, what with the radio interviews and various photo ops around Vancouver to promote their latest effort, Fantasies. But the striking singer and self-assured guitarist seem energized by the prospect of performing a special acoustic set for the invite-only crowd patiently waiting outside.

      After opening for the Rolling Stones—not to mention playing to swarms at prestigious outdoor events like the U.K.’s legendary Reading Festival—sauntering onto the Media Club’s barely-there stage, a sliver past the dinner hour, doesn’t seem like anything Metric would get excited about. But apparently the popular Toronto quartet—operating as a duo for the show, with bassist-vocalist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key missing out on the Western Canada promo dates—still gets a rush from being up close and personal with its fans.

      “As soon as you lose that bond, your audience starts to feel differently to you,” observes Shaw, his long legs stretched across the scuffed floor. “I don’t ever want to be up on a stage and completely not relating to the front row.”

      It’s tempting to chalk up Shaw’s sentimentality to regurgitated drool cooked up by some overpriced publicist, but Metric’s history of shunning impersonal weekly e-mail blasts, and other token marketing ploys, in favour of more personal ways of communicating with its fans tells us otherwise.

      “When we were living in L.A., we came up with a system where you could print out a form off the [Metric] Web site and write to us and make your own Metric CD,” offers Haines, her eyes obscured by darkly tinted, white sunglasses. “I would personally burn whatever mix people wanted on a CD-R and write them a little note and send it to them.”

      To say the acclaimed indie rockers are hands-on is an understatement. With the recent inception of Metric Productions Inc.—a record label owned and operated by the ambitious foursome—the scene veterans have assumed near-complete control of the band. It’s a massive undertaking, but as Shaw reveals, going out on their own made perfect sense when it came to releasing Fantasies and subsequently allowing Last Gang Records to license the album.

      “We have a few hundred thousand fans around the world and were sort of without a record deal,” the well-spoken guitarist explains. “We went around and talked to everyone and looked at the opportunities, and it was just blatantly obvious that we were in this unique position to do things ourselves.”

      If Fantasies is any indication of what the future holds for Metric, it’s a shame that the energetic act didn’t grab hold of the reins sooner.

      Loaded with industrial flourishes, catchy choruses, and euphoric keyboards, Fantasies bounces with Metric’s classic new-wave bravado. Whether it’s the driving guitars on “Satellite Mind”, which pulsate against Haines’s forlorn melodies, or the frenzied dance-floor shaker “Gimme Sympathy”, the post-pop numbers feel more mature—not to mention far gloomier—than 2005’s gold-certified Live It Out.

      “We’ve figured out what works for us, and we’ve eliminated doing anything that actually doesn’t,” Shaw offers confidently.

      Haines chimes in, sharing in his fervour: “It’s a bit scary, but it’s exciting being bold.”

      Without by-the-book label executives to answer to, or an out-of-touch A&R department breathing down its back, Metric revelled in the opportunity to be more daring in its musical choices this time around. Case in point: according to the duo, the brooding lead single from Fantasies, “Help I’m Alive”, would likely not have made the cut if Metric had held fast to industry protocol.

      “If we’d asked anyone who works for us if we should have released it as a single, they all would have said no,” Haines says with a laugh, adjusting her electric-white frames.

      “It’s all gambling and horseracing,” Shaw adds knowingly, clearly thankful that all of Metric’s bets have paid off so far.

      Metric plays Virgin Festival B.C. at Deer Lake Park on Sunday (July 26).