Of sonic avatars and plan­e­tary or­bits

Toronto mu­si­cian Emily Haines’ new solo al­bum is as beau­ti­ful as it is ad­ven­tur­ous

Richmond Hill Post - - Arts - by Ron John­son

As the front per­son for Met­ric, Emily Haines has toured the world, play­ing the band’s big rock tunes in big rock venues. But there are many facets to this multi-di­men­sional artist, and once in a while, like a so­lar eclipse, we get a chance to get a look at another side through her Soft Skele­ton project.

On Sept. 15, the Toronto artist re­leases Choir of the Mind, her sec­ond solo al­bum on Last Gang Records, the fol­low-up to 2006’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed Knives Don’t Have Your Back.

It does ap­pear that her solo projects tend to fol­low an in­tense pe­riod of work with Met­ric — in this case, at the tail end of a long al­bum cy­cle for their 2015 re­lease

Pa­gans in Ve­gas in ad­di­tion to her work on the lat­est Bro­ken So­cial Scene record Hug of Thun­der — when Haines has the op­por­tu­nity to take stock and look back at the path taken.

As she ex­plains, it’s never that sim­ple.

“I wish that it could be as con­crete and sound like I had con­trol of it,” she says, on the phone while strolling through Trin­ity Bell­woods Park in the city’s west end.

“But it re­ally did feel like all these things lined up like a plan­e­tary or­bit to have me back

in Toronto.”

Choir of the Mind has lyri­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties to her pre­vi­ous work with themes around em­pow­er­ing women and ex­plor­ing her own place in the world by re­vis­it­ing the past. But it is far from Haines just us­ing song­writ­ing as a ve­hi­cle to work out her stuff, so to speak. There is in­tent.

“The songs have to be of value to whomever might lis­ten to them, you know?” she says. “It’s not just for me to hash through stuff and slap a ‘deal with it’ sticker on it. I’m look­ing for where the threads are that will ac­tu­ally res­onate with the peo­ple that have come along with us through time.”

Son­i­cally, Haines was in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing some­thing a bit more ab­stract — the ideal ex­pres­sion of her­self as a sound.

“Be­cause this al­bum is so non­com­mer­cial, there is ab­so­lutely no pres­sure to ac­com­plish any­thing in that spec­trum, so I can just play around with be­ing that sound,” she ex­plains.

“In the stu­dio, nor­mally I’d hear things like coun­ter­melodies, ar­range­ments, things to de­velop a song, like, ‘OK, that’s the gui­tar, that’s go­ing to be the string sec­tion or the horn sec­tion.’ But I was, like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just go­ing to sing this right now.’ And that was the best risk.”

The re­sult is this ethe­real blend of vo­cal lay­ers that pro­vides tex­ture to her po­etic songs and com­bines to pro­vide a beau­ti­ful and emo­tional wal­lop.

In the stu­dio, the songs were com­posed by Haines on a grand pi­ano that dates back to 1850, gifted to the mu­si­cian by the folks at Paul Hahn Pi­anos in Rosedale.

“Our con­trol room at the stu­dio was just trans­formed by the en­gi­neer, me and this gor­geous pi­ano,” she says.

“It was like, how could this thing even be stand­ing, it should have de­te­ri­o­rated from that time, like as old as Canada, give or take a few years.”

Haines will em­bark on a tour kick­ing off at a fes­ti­val in Joshua Tree, Calif., in­clud­ing a Dec. 5 date at the ven­er­a­ble Massey Hall that will surely sell out if it hasn’t al­ready.

In the mean­time, she is al­ready set to re­turn to the stu­dio to work on the next Met­ric al­bum. And the cy­cle con­tin­ues.

Emily Haines re­leases her lat­est solo al­bum on Sept. 15

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