Here is an interview I did for Playlouder.com with the lovely Emily Haines. She is hot.
Daring to dream in the face of terrifying consequence.
(Stolen moments with Emily Haines)
You might think that you know Emily Haines as part of The Broken Social Scene, the free-wheeling collective of Canadian musicians who paved the way and, perhaps more than any other outfit, embody the essence of the current wave of pop-inflected indie from those shores that has been so virulently embraced here in the UK both in terms of their musical aesthetic and the collaborative, communicative nature of their work ethic. You might think that you know Emily Haines as the lead singer of Metric whose concisely crafted disco-pop gems have moved crowds and radio playlists over the last 12 months with honest energy and without resorting to gimmick or formula both in their original form as well as in a succession of dancefloor-shattering remixes. You might think that you know Emily Haines but you probably don’t.
Her latest project, a solo record backed by a band affectionately dubbed The Soft Skeleton, might however offer a more personal insight shrouded as it is in melodic arrangements and opaque, inquisitive lyrical themes that shrug away any preconceptions that the indie of BSS or the confrontational energy of Metric may have conjured. Sat on a sunny step one quiet May East End afternoon over a few cigarettes Emily talked openly, knowledgeably and passionately about everything from the records that gave her kicks as a kid to just how you play in three bands at once and still find time to talk to idiots like me.
So, how are you?
Pretty fucked up actually, I just got off the plane from Vancouver, I did V-fest over there and I got to my hotel today and thought I was gonna spend the afternoon with a bottle of champagne in the park but instead I’m here talking to you.
Sorry about that, I wouldn’t want to be talking to me either. So, were you doing the solo stuff over in Canada?
Nah, it was Metric stuff, we did a tour of the west coast of Canada playing new songs.
You have a bunch of projects on the go the whole time, do you ever sleep?
I do sleep, I guess I just get excited, there are really cool things happening and I just wanna do them all and I think now is the time. There is a certain mentality I find sometimes that people kind of realise that they’re going to get old one day so they kind of start going at some point. This is the point for me; I want shit to happen now! But I guess it’s not exactly a new thing, it’s just now I feel certain urgency. I have always been very driven to do things and travel and get into trouble.
What kind of trouble?
Any kind of trouble, good trouble!
Was there anything in particular that caused this groundswell of carpe-diemness?
Well, I’m not saying this to be morbid or tragic, because it’s not morbid or tragic but my Dad was a writer and he died four years ago. I was always working away at things but I was really shy, I knew that some day I would come out and put it all on the line, I just didn’t know when. My Dad was a very reclusive writer himself and I was kinda headed that way so when he died it was like a wake up call just telling me: ‘fuck yeah, I gotta do this now’.
Did the passing of your Dad have a direct influence on the solo record? It certainly seems to deal with far more introspective themes lyrically than say the Metric stuff.
In part. He worked with a lot of heavy people in the 70’s and lived all over the world. I was born in India and when he was out there he was working with this composer Carla Bley and he made a record with Jack Bruce from Cream on it called Escalator Over The Hill; it’s this really experimental rock-jazz fusion record, kind of like the Sergeant Pepper’s of the jazz world! The way my new record looks is a direct reference to that, I modelled the artwork on Escalator Over The Hill. It is this big gold triple album so I got it to look like that and also Robert Wyatt did the liner notes for me. He and my Dad were really good friends, he’s kind of my Godfather actually. When I first became serious about writing I got in touch with him ‘cos I’d grown up listening to his stuff and he and my father used to exchange all these mixtapes with all this amazing, crazy artwork and cool postcards and stuff.
Compared to this new record the Metric stuff seems almost like release, but lyrically it remains kind of oblique. What inspires you lyrically?
Well I try to never write about relationships, that has been done so many times. There is a glut of emotional lyrics out there; I prefer to keep it concrete. I am interested in descriptive writing specifically.
The song Crowd Surf Off A Cliff interested me especially.
For that one I just had this image in my head. It was inspired by the nature of being a touring musician and being on the road a lot, that feeling of going out on the road, briefly coming home and heading straight back out there again. Sometimes it feels like the tide might never come in again and that your life might just keep going never to return home. Visually it was this image I had of being carried by hands off to who knows where. That is pretty much how my life feels at this point.
Are you happy with that feeling?
I am trying to embrace it but I was pretty fucking scared around the time I wrote that song. I didn’t know what was happening in my life, my Dad died, relationships back home that had been the foundation of who I thought I was and who we all thought we were broke up, things changed, everyone lost their homes. I guess it was what everyone wanted at that time but it is nice to have a dream.
And what is your dream?
I guess I’m living it! My main thing now is that I just don’t want to become a bad person. There are all kinds of opportunities to never really be accountable for your actions and the whole entertainment industry is built on this warped sense of giving out free privilege and legitimising these loose morals, which is great until you have to deal with the consequences, which is something that this record deals with specifically. I suppose Metric is the sound of the night out and trying to be brave and living my life without restraint and without waiting for someone to give me permission and the new record is dealing with that in the morning, ha-ha!
Where does Broken Social Scene fit into those 24 hours?
Broken Social Scene is the next night when you go out drinking with all your friends! That band came out of all us just hanging out and being friends and instead of just hanging out and drinking beer we’d hang out, drink beer and play music. We didn’t really know what it would turn into. People always seem to think that bands came out of that but really it was the other way round and that is why that band kind of ebbs and flows it’s always gonna be there because the friendships are still there but as a band it’s broken, that’s the whole point!
Can I ask which project is the most enjoyable?
Metric is really fun, especially to perform and I guess Metric is the bread and butter but I am always writing and there is always going to be things that I write that won’t fit into Metric or Broken and this is my outlet for them. I am really into soundtracks and more atmospheric stuff. On the new record I got to work with the Scott Minor the drummer from Sparklehorse and the mood of early Sparklehorse was something that influenced me making this record so that was a real coup. And I also worked on the record with the Sergei the Giant Bulgarian, he is totally gonna score the best film ever one day, he helps with all my string arrangements and on-stage projections. Me, Jimmy from Metric and Sebastian from Death From Above have also just built a studio in Toronto as well so I’m excited about that.
Boring question: What records have inspired you over the years?
Bjork is really inspiring as an artist because she uses her imagination, that’s what I hate about indie-bullshit posturing, it seems so facile compared to someone like Bjork’s work which is a testament to imagination and originality. Kim Gordon too, she is really inspiring, we did a few songs with Metric for this movie and the director works with Sonic Youth so we met them through that. The fact that Kim Gordon took the time to come over, say hey and knew my stuff? That was a real moment. They are just amazing people who know their role and are aware of the value of you getting to meet them. In terms of straight albums or artists a bunch of John Lennon stuff, Robert Wyatt I can’t stress enough, later on Elliot Smith I guess and Neil Young too; there is a nod to him on my track A Maid Needs A Maid. My dad used to play me a bunch of far out jazz stuff without telling me what it was. He actually recorded some of the early Albert Ayler stuff that is totally amazing. Outside of music the movie Brazil by Terry Gilliam had a huge effect and Roman Polanski movies too, the video for Monster Hospital was based on Repulsion, and sonically Rosemary’s Baby is totally inspiring.
This is just a kind of personal observation but it seems to me that choosing a career as musician in Canada and North America is seen as a legitimate life pursuit. Hence the plurality of projects and longevity of career artists such as you enjoy. Over here if your post-Libertines jangly indie band fails: that’s it. Plumbing for you son. Do you think there is any reason why there seems to be greater creative originality and acceptance of musical creativity as career over there or am I just talking shit?
Well, most of us in Broken attended a performing arts high-school and although it wasn’t super heavy on the arts front it was a great way to get away from the jocks. If you were someone who was a bit of a freak it was a place you wouldn’t get the shit kicked out of you. I mean I was never gonna be the girl on the volleyball team and there was a room with a piano in so I would write little songs. It was kinda problematic that I would refuse to play anyone else’s stuff but eventually they let me do my own thing. Also in Canada there is an infrastructure to allow people to get a start as an artist, you can get a grant, it’s real and I think with the generation coming through now they can see the effect of it and that it wasn’t there just to make life easy for a whole bunch of people. It’s good business investing in people! That said Canadians take life kinda seriously, I like how British people don’t give a shit.