Published Sep 17, 2018"Remember during the Iraq War, like post 9/11, the airports forever had those ratings of 'Code Orange?'" Emily Haines asks. "We're just in this feeling, in my opinion, of 'Code Red' for all things at all times, and it's lost all its meaning. I don't even know what — it's hard to ascertain. It's just all red, all the time."
Haines is speaking to Exclaim! over the phone from Las Vegas, waiting to soundcheck on one of the final dates of Metric's summer-long tour opening for the Smashing Pumpkins. She considers it a "pretty unusual way" to road test songs from Metric's forthcoming seventh studio album, Art of Doubt.
Recording was helmed by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, best known for his work with Beck and Nine Inch Nails, along with recent production credits on celebrated albums by the likes of Wolf Alice and Paramore. Meldal-Johnsen saw the band play during their early days, and proved invaluable in helping them reconnect to their identity when it came time to shape their seventh album.
"It really feels like when we started out, we made Old World Underground 15 years ago in LA. That's where the band were living, and we were doing our residencies at Silverlake Lounge, and we were just trying to carve out this idea — that it's taken us this long to be able to regroup and be like, 'Okay,'" Haines laughs, "'So what was the original — what are we trying to do again?' It's a lot, to keep everyone alive and fed and healthy. Still making music, and still evolving and progressing. Justin was just a really lucky find for us. We had a whole list of people, but the truth was we only wanted him. So we decided that we would only ask him. His first reaction was like, 'I don't understand what you guys need.' And we said: 'We can't see ourselves.' And he can."
Insecurity and the harnessing of it became the album's theme, Haines explains. "The first time I ever heard anyone use that term [the art of doubt] was as a description of my dad's [poet Paul Haines] work, and I thought that was such an astute assessment. It's the idea of making something from all the things that you question, and actually kind of holding that in its highest honour, as opposed to the kind of current climate of there's a bit of arrogance, right? Like we honour people who claim maximum confidence and superiority over everyone else. The idea of exploring the opposite of that. What if everything that we ever do is derived from our doubt of ourselves?"
Art of Doubt finds Haines grappling with the intersection of challenges which we all face in the heightened reality and dystopia of today's world. It is an album of juxtapositions, heard in both Haines' vocals (from high and soaring to strangled yells) and it's subject matter — statements of overconfidence set against blunt vulnerability — and the album's sonics, from bare bones synths to explosive, four-piece rock.
One of the record's most infectious tracks, "Die Happy," which features a "disco" chorus, raises questions of what is the "right" way to live one's life in a society where opulence, overconfidence and narcissism are celebrated.
"Are you supposed to go tearing into public life," Haines laughs, "guns blazing, proclaiming your views and assigning influence to people? Or, by contrast, if that's not your style and not who you feel comfortable with and not who you are, are you then someone who's just put your head in the sand? Are we allowed to just live our own lives?"
In contrast to her second solo album, Choir of the Mind, released last year, which was an inward exploration of uncertainty, Haines took on more of an observational role with Art of Doubt, yet still centres it within her own experiences.
"I get it's important to feel like you can push yourself back out into the world and take a look at what's going on. I mean, there has been a sense of trying to navigate how exactly do we do what we should as citizens of the world, in terms of reacting to what's happening around us politically, and in terms of climate change, and socially, and all of the ways. And then at the same time, how to protect your sanity and your sense of purpose. Value your life just as you, and the progress you can make.
"I feel like this record is — for the work that I've spent my life doing — it feels like a representation of it," Haines reflects. "The feeling is at the origins of this music, and the instrumentation — it's all coming from these four people and nobody else."
She recalls witnessing Iggy and the Stooges perform at Desert Daze last year, and the way that performance invigorated her, reminding her of what Metric are capable of: "If it works, we get to exist in this other dimension. There is no such thing as age, there is no such thing as time. If we're doing it right, it shouldn't matter when you come to a show or when you find a band, we should be embodying that the entirety of that time."
Art of Doubt comes out September 21 on MMI/Universal.