Back Issue__ Indie Rock Idol Emily Haines

June 01, 2009 | By

Photos: Gillian Hurd

The idols of indie rock feel the often arbitrary backlash of their success quicker and harder than in any genre. Few people have felt this more than Emily Haines, the leading lady of New Wave/indie rock marvel band Metric and member of expansive Montreal collective Broken Social Scene. Miss Haines is probably one of the most professional women in indie music--a powerhouse, strong, determined, educated, with talent to boot. But we hate what we love. So despite the fact that Emily has enjoyed continued success since the 2003 release of Metric's Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, she's been dismissed as, 'just some synth player‚' or a Blondie knock-off. Not one to shy away from criticism (however reactionary) Emily got to work. And if she set people straight with her solo album, Knives Don't Have Your Back, she's knocking them over with the release of Metric's newest release, Fantasies.

Emily has always played music her way. Exclusively. In high school, at Toronto's Etobicoke School of the Arts, Emily's teachers adjusted the curriculum for her when she refused to play anyone's songs but her own. Not much has changed, it seems, as Emily still owns every song with her vivacious stage presence and teasing child's voice.

Emily calls us from her cell phone in Spain, while she's on vacation, her time away from doing things like interviews, press and promotion. All categories we kind of fit in to. Unwittingly proving she is serious about her career and cares about her fans, we chop it up about the f-word (feminism, silly), fashion as language, how to manage heartbreak and her open relationship with Metric. She's also a good sport about our word association game, which she refers to as somewhat of an inkblot test. (Yes, we are trying to figure you out!) We at hearty propose a last minute change to the chorus of Metric's new single Sick Muse: everybody, everybody just want to fall in love with Emily! Hearty sure has, and you will too.

You're revered for your stage presence. Is this something that came naturally to you? Or something you had to work on?

It's a process like anything else. My goal as a musician is to be honest; I feel like that's the point. I was always very shy about getting up in front of people, and Metric had very many reserved and inhibited concerts in our early days. I just treated it like I would treat the development of anything in my writing, ‘What is it that I’m afraid of and how do I overcome it?’ And that’s been the process and that’s where I’m at. I still look for those places of weakness and I try to expose them before anybody else does.

From a young age you always knew you were going to make music, but if you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

Honestly, it's like a hypothetical that I almost can't answer. I'd probably have like five kids or something. There's nothing else professionally that was ever going to be an option for me.

How would you describe this generation of women?

That's an interesting question because I’ve talked a lot about it with my mom and with my friends. I think we’re lucky and we know that we’re lucky. I’m sometimes concerned about the next generation coming up—the feeling that feminism has gone so far that now it’s a symbol of freedom that you’re pole dancing for your boyfriend. Perhaps it’s gone a bit far and the irony has become reality. But I feel as though our generation has been able to enjoy genuine equality, like social equality with our friends--at least that’s in my world. There isn’t really a gender divide in our generation, but there are ideological and social divides between people. Now all we’ve got to do is make it that it’s equal pay for women and we’re all good.

Yeah, exactly.

Equal pay for women and no one can get a job anyways.

Yeah, everyone is getting paid zero. As a role model for women, would you call yourself a feminist on any level?

I wouldn’t say that I’m not a feminist. It’s a bit of an academic term that I don’t really relate to and it’s probably not the fault of the women that this word has this association but it just seems to be associated with anger and I feel as though my views on women aren’t any different than the views of my male friends.

Who are females that you’ve looked up to throughout your life up to or respect?

It was very much how I was brought up to not differentiate all the time between things that were for women and things that were for men. It was kind of my sense that everything was open, so I have to say a lot of my role models were not necessarily women. Musically, I remember Sinead O’Connor made a huge impact on me when she put out The Lion and the Cobra--it really impressed me and amazed me that someone could be part of main stream culture and be such an incredible writer and have such a bold appearance and represent such bigger things. Even though it feels like her life in the public eye completely destroyed that spirit for whatever reason. Musically, I definitely looked up to her when I felt like other girls were looking up to Madonna. I didn't look up to Madonna. It’s not for me.

Do you read a lot? What’s something you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you?

I do. I have times when I really sink into certain books and times when I’m occupied with other things. Recently, I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. That’s a pretty heavy read. I wouldn’t recommend the Electric Shock section while you’re on an airplane—it’s kind of a claustrophobic literary experience but it’s actually an incredible book. She’s somebody I really look up to and would mention as a representative of our generation of women and feminists. I’ve never really heard her make a massive case for feminism but everything in her actions is proof of the capability of women to compete intellectually and be preeminent in their field. But it’s not as though she had to do that and she’s not allowed to wear lipstick because she’s writing a book, or be happily married because she’s a hard-hitting journalist. I definitely would say if she can go in our role model category, that would be great.

What is your advice for heartbreak?

Think about something else. Every minute that you think about something other than that, it’s a step in the right direction. Works for me.

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