Be­yond the Met­ric sys­tem

Emily Haines calls lat­est solo project ‘a com­plete art record’


It’s gen­tly ex­tended in con­text as a com­pli­ment to a friendly ac­quain­tance of 20 years, but one still frets that Emily Haines might take the ob­ser­va­tion that her new solo al­bum, Choir of the Mind, is more than a lit­tle “self-in­dul­gent” the wrong way.

The prom­ise of un­tram­melled self-in­dul­gence is, of course, en­tirely the rea­son why mu­si­cians such as Haines take leave from time to time of their bet­ter-known day jobs — in her case, fronting the highly suc­cess­ful in­die-rock quar­tet Met­ric — to make records on their own. That is, how­ever, also en­tirely the rea­son why so many of those records wind up be­ing not very good.

Haines, how­ever, had no prob­lem meet­ing any of the el­e­vated ex­pec­ta­tions brought on by the early Met­ric cat­a­logue in 2006, when she struck out on her own un­der the rather neb­u­lous ban­ner of Emily Haines and the Soft Skele­ton to cre­ate the som­bre, stately and sub­tly riv­et­ing solo so­journ Knives Don’t Have Your Back, nor the com­pactly com­pelling ex­pan­sion upon that al­bum’s pa­tient, pi­ano-guided cham­ber-pop pal­ette that was its 2007 fol­lowup EP, What Is Free to a Good Home?

She in­dulged her­self well be­yond the pa­ram­e­ters of Met­ric’s tart in­die-pop punch then to lit­tle com­plaint, and she does it again with even less at­ten­tion to verse/cho­rus/verse con­ven­tion on the free-float­ing Choir of the Mind. Aside from an ex­hil­a­rat­ing liftoff into a mo­torik ether peo­pled by over­laid Emilys chat­ter­ing “The things they own, they own you” on lead sin­gle “Fa­tal Gift” and a coyly fem­i­nist swish into bossa nova on “Stat­uette,” the al­bum mostly un­spools over lan­guid pi­ano ar­range­ments and bub­bling-un­der heart­beat per­cus­sion both or­ganic and elec­tronic at a pace even more un­hur­ried than that of its pre­de­ces­sors.

By the time Haines — who was given the mid­dle name Sav­itri by her par­ents, mother Jo and her late fa­ther, poet Paul, upon birth in New Delhi in 1974 — starts recit­ing lines from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Sav­itri: A Leg­end and a Sym­bol dur­ing Choir of the Mind’s seven-minute ti­tle track, you’re ei­ther in or you’re out. It is un­apolo­get­i­cally self-in­dul­gent. And she doesn’t mind if you say so.

“I felt those mo­ments, too — mostly in, like, the lengths of the songs,” she says, nev­er­the­less in­sist­ing that ap­point­ing her­self Choir’s pro­ducer didn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean it was al­ways “see Emily play” in the stu­dio.

“That’s the thing: I’m a re­ally harsh ed­i­tor. But in this case I in­dulged the lengths of the songs, I think, al­most com­i­cally."

“The idea is, if the record is work­ing for some­one, that it’s a respite. It’s this idea that we wake up in the morn­ing and we have so much that we have to con­sume — and it’s a very ab­stract thing to try to de­scribe or to aim for — so I wanted this to be kind of like a vapour and a re­prieve from that.

“It’s not like I’m chal­leng­ing you, it’s like: ‘If this is the way you want to feel, the voice will just lead you in and then it’s just on and it’ll stay with you.’ I’m not try­ing to dan­gle bells and whis­tles at you. It’s just ‘If this is where you want to be, stay.’ It’s not try­ing to im­press you and stim­u­late you the whole time. It’s kind of just keep­ing you com­pany.”

So, no, Choir of the Mind is not a pop record. It is, in Haines’s own words, “a com­plete art record” — one whose mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions will each have a visual coun­ter­part dreamed up by mul­ti­me­dia artist Justin Broad­bent, the man also re­spon­si­ble for the por­trait of a badass, base­ball-bat-totin’ Emily Haines adorn­ing Choir of the Mind’s cover — and she’s not ter­ri­bly both­ered about push­ing it on any­body.

The mak­ing of the record, most of which in­volved noth­ing more than Haines sit­ting at a bor­rowed 1800s grand pi­ano with an en­gi­neer nearby at Met­ric’s west-end Gi­ant Stu­dio for a month or two be­fore her long­time Met­ric cre­ative part­ner Jimmy Shaw came in “at the last 30 per cent” to do a bit of play­ing and sound-sculpt­ing and mix­ing, was a bona fide hol­i­day from her arena-rockin’ “real” life.

And, like all good hol­i­days, hers was an in­dul­gence in the things that give her plea­sure; in this case, be­ing “freed of so many of the things that in­ter­fere with my de­sire to de­velop the craft of mu­si­cian­ship” and thus pur­su­ing the de­vel­op­ment of that craft ac­cord­ingly.

“You know this about me,” she says. “I’ve al­ways been nose-to-the-grind- stone. That’s just where I’m com­fort­able. That’s where I’m most com­fort­able, just in the work . . . My days for this were back to the way that I started, which is five hours at the pi­ano. Two hours, take a break, back at the pi­ano, get it un­der your fin­gers, prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice, writ­ing, prac­tice, de­vel­op­ing the live show.”

There will be a tour of mostly outof-the-way venues in sup­port of Choir of the Mind with a new Soft Skele­ton band com­posed of Shaw and Bro­ken So­cial Scene fix­tures Justin Peroff and Sam Gold­berg and a show at Massey Hall on Dec. 5, but Haines isn’t hell-bent on preach­ing to any­one but the con­verted.

There are al­ready “15 or 20” songs writ­ten for the fol­lowup to Met­ric’s 2015 al­bum Pa­gans in Ve­gas, and record­ing will be­gin this month. In the mean­time, she will con­tinue to qui­etly do her own thing, for who­ever is in­ter­ested.

“It’s so de­mand­ing be­ing in Met­ric that I don’t re­ally need a lot of at­ten- tion on this,” she says.

“I just want peo­ple to be aware that it’s there, and if they want to fol­low this sort of art project that Justin and I are do­ing, I think it’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing if you like that kind of thing. It’s to­tally in pace with the record — it’s slow and pa­tient — so I think, for peo­ple who care, I just want them to know it’s hap­pen­ing so they don’t miss it and they don’t miss the shows.”


Toronto mu­si­cian Emily Haines says it is “so de­mand­ing be­ing in Met­ric that I don’t re­ally need a lot of at­ten­tion on this (al­bum).”

Choir of the Mind’s mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions will each have a visual coun­ter­part dreamed up by mul­ti­me­dia artist Justin Broad­bent, the man re­spon­si­ble for the por­trait of a badass, bat-totin’ Emily Haines adorn­ing the cover.

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