Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The hay bale couches seemed to be exactly what Emily Haines and the rest of the Canadian band Metric needed on this day in March. It was by far the sunniest and most inviting afternoon of the entire South By Southwest festival week in Austin and the open-air cathedral of relaxed being, delicious Pabst beer, some lukewarm taco meat, salsa and tortillas, more sunshine than you could shake a stick at and the most comfortable seats in the city provided the ideal hanging spot for the band and its interview with a prominent British newspaper. The meeting with band and reporter, deemed of highest importance because of its promised multiple-page spread, took place at our spot and ultimately forced the band to keep the session to just two songs - both off of the group's 2009 album "Fantasies." This did not diminish what they were able to do in quality though. Even in a rushed fashion, with an inability to get the entire band in on the taping, Metric pulled off a sparse and delightful pair of songs, with just an acoustic guitar and Haines singing. The first song, "Gimme Sympathy," she dedicated to, "Everyone who ever wanted to fire their boss," and it's a massive anthem in a teeny tiny package here. It's a song about somedays and all of the untapped potential that everyone starts to feel rotting in them when they consider the exceptions that they've had to make to pay the bills or to appease someone else. It's a song that sings to the great unknown that's often too crippling to ever look in the eye and it's essentially what leads to dead ends and depression. There's a desperate urgency in Haines' voice, even as she warns that "you're gonna make mistakes, you're young," and then urging those listening and the characters that she's singing for and to to identify with themselves to figures some of the unanswerables out. She sings, "Who do you want to be/The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?/Baby, play me something like 'Here Comes The Sun.'" Haines, with her whispery vocals that sort of coo off our ears like the sighs of the winds, makes us all feel like vulnerable baby chicks. She makes us connect with the tender underbellies that we all have - our soft spots, the ones that anyone pushing the right buttons could get to and expose. The people that she brings to life are flawed and apprehensive, but altogether optimistic that there's something that's out there for them, that they're not going to be struggling forever and that the lights - maybe not on a marquee or anything like that - but some lights will turn on for them and they'll get happier. There is an anxiety attack on "Help I'm Alive," the second cut from "Fantasies" that they recorded with us in Austin, and Haines sings, "I tremble/They're gonna eat me alive, if I stumble/Can you hear my heart beatin' like a hammer/Help, I'm alive/My heart keeps beating like a hammer/Hard to be soft/Deaf to being tender/Come take my pulse/The pace is on a runaway train." For some of us, this quickened thumping and a burning concern, is our every night - it's our bedtime habit of lying down with our troubles and burdens, those little demons that never seem to tire. It's also what we force ourselves to contain and lessen because what's the use in losing to the heat if there's still some beauty to be found within it, as Metric reminds us.