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James Shaw (Metric) - conducted by Wes Kirk  

James Shaw (Metric)

April 2005

Wes Kirk sits down with James Shaw and Emily Haines, the two founding members of Torontoís Metric, at Vancouverís Commodore ballroom at sound check before their April 7th show. First, two drunk dudes chat about musicÖ

James Shaw: Iíve had a seriously, really intensely gnarly hangover all day today. Actually, the last 20 minutes is the first time I donít feel like Iím gonna puke all day long.

MVRemix: Was it a good night last night?

James Shaw: It was a good night. I got to see my friends in The Dears. I always love watching those guys. It was a great show.

MVRemix: Have you played the Commodore before?

James Shaw: Weíve played here five times, but weíve never headlined it, though.

MVRemix: And the show is sold out.

James Shaw: I guess so.

MVRemix: Well, you did.

James Shaw: Awesome, I didnít know that. Thatís a good thing to know.

MVRemix: And you have Arts County Fair at UBC tomorrow. Have you played their before?

James Shaw: We did that two years ago. But we had a show in Calgary the next night, so the only way we could do it was to put us first or second. We played at like noon, and there were literally three people there.

MVRemix: Itíll be a lot of drunk kids, and probably wet.

James Shaw: Awesome.

MVRemix: Youíve got a lot of festivals coming up, but the one I want to ask you about is Canada Wet. Are you excited about that?

James Shaw: Iím thrilled. I canít evenÖ Iíll believe it when I see it. That many people I know in a place that foreign is wild.

MVRemix: The album is being released in France and throughout EuropeÖ

James Shaw: Yeah. France, England, Spain, Belgium, somewhere else...

MVRemix: Youíll end up there. I want to ask you about your record label, which was started by your lawyer. Why did you go with him, and not with Relentless Records in Europe?

James Shaw: He had been our lawyer since we started, and he had been trying to find us a good home to be in, in terms of a record label, and just never really found it. And we were all really frustrated, it seemed like there wasnít going to be anybody that would understand what we were trying to do, and give it the support that it needed. Itís not immediately understandable music. Itís not like itís going to get sent to the radio and it gets huge over night. You have to be patient with it. And I think with us, weíre sort of the same way, I think our music is going to get really good, but it takes itís time. Weíre developing, and he wanted to find a label that was going to understand that for a long time, and it never really came to be. Basically, he just came to us one time and said Iím just going to start this label because we canít find the right home for you guys. So we just made it ourselves.

MVRemix: Has it been working well?

James Shaw: Itís been fantastic. On Old World Underground, they had the record for Canada, but for the next record they have for the whole world. Weíre just buying licensing partners in different territories.

MVRemix: How is the new album coming?

James Shaw: Itís going great so far. Weíre about halfway done making the next record. I built a recording studio in my house, and Iíve been producing it on my own. Itís been an amazing process.

MVRemix: Are you guys trying to go the independent route?

James Shaw: I think so, yeah. I always figured that unless youíve sold 50,000-100,000 records there is no point in even entertaining the idea of being on a major label because youíll just get crushed. Look at whatís happening to Fiona Apple right now, sheís sold millions of records and her company doesnít like her record so theyíre not going to release it. I just donít ever want to be in that position. Iíll forgo the opportunity to make millions, so I am never in that position.

MVRemix: Whenever I see the major music press try to sum up the bands sound in a couple of sentences, the word ďpopĒ always seems to come up, but listening to the record there seems to some contempt for modern pop culture.

James Shaw: Iíve always understood why they used it. Iíve always thought that I have a really solid pop sensibility. Things have to make sense in my ear, in a certain way that is very poppy. We can try and subvert it with different tone, or productions sounds or whatever, but the fact is a lot of the times my ear is just drawn to the really blatant pop changes and hooks. I donít like it when people use the word, because it has the connotations to a bunch of really crappy music, but the word itself is not a dirty word to me.

MVRemix: It works both ways.

James Shaw: It does. Itís a weird one thatís so vast. Itís kind of lost any real meaning.

MVRemix: Iíve heard that you have more than enough material for the next album, and may be cutting a couple of tracks that youíve been performing for the past year.

James Shaw: One of them were are almost definitely gonna cut. The other one we need to try and record again because it didnít fly the first time around. Itís interesting because weíve been playing those songs live for a year, and itís very different how it happens on stage. Thereís a huge sound system behind you, you got a bunch of people in front of you, and you can pull of very different things than you can on a record. With a record, you have to be prepared for someone to be listening to it while theyíre lying in a bath, or on headphone, or while youíre driving your car, or in their living room eating dinner to it. People listen to records all over the place, and you lose the entire visual element. One of the tunes I feel may not be on the album, we realized is more of a performance piece. When you see it, you know it makes sense, but when you hear it and you donít get a visual behind it, you can feel the lack of the song itself. If a songs not great, you can throw a lot of bells and whistles behind a perforce, in a recording thereís not that much you can do. The songs got to stand on its own.

MVRemix: Do you have an onstage philosophy?

James Shaw: If there is a philosophy, itís to try and be the most ridiculous guitar player I can possibly push myself to be. Iíve played shows where Iíve written it off for whatever reason, and been like this is a waste of time, whatever. Iíd try and make the biggest ass of myself onstage as I possibly can, and it would be at those shows when people come up to me afterwards, especially the band, and say Ďthat was the best show Iíve seen you play on guitar.í Iíve come to this conclusion that I have the ability that I can do no wrong except to not take it far enough out. So I always try and take it as far out as I possibly can.

MVRemix: Tell me how the FACTOR program has helped you.

James Shaw: Itís truly incredible. I mean we got two Americans in the band, and when we first started calling them and saying that we had gotten so much money to make a video, theyíd be like, ďwhat are you talking about?Ē The grant system in Canada has got to have something to do with the fact that there is a 10 page piece in TIME magazine about Canadian bands right now. The front page of the NY Times entertainment section a month ago and a five page Spin article are both about Montreal. No wonder, man. We are supported by our Government. If you donít have any money, and you donít have any resources, youíre screwed. You could have a great song, and no one is going to help you with it unless youíre so blatantly commercial that someone is going to make a buck of you immediately. But the fact that the government gives out millions and millions of dollars every year to creative people trying to execute their vision is amazing. Itís why you have the quality of bands now that all have a unique sound, none of them are overtly commercial at all, and theyíre all having success. Itís truly an amazing thing. There are only a few places in the world that support theyíre artists like that. Scandinavia does the same thing; they really pump money into all theyíre artists. Itís rare.

MVRemix: Was it fairly easy to access?

James Shaw: The first time I applied, it was just me filling out an application, and that didnít go over so well. But we also sucked back then. Now thereís people who do it for us, itís all kind of people involved with the label. Itís the same thing with Death From Above 1979, thereís people at the parent label at Last Gang, who sort of deal with all the grant funds.

MVRemix: Youíre touring the UK with DFA this summer.

James Shaw: Metric and DFA have a lot of affection for each other musically, and personally. I like that when we did Canada with them they opened for us because at least at that time we had a little something more going on than they did. And now they got a lot more going on in the UK than we do so weíll open for them. Itís very much done without ego, and thatís just rare in bands.

MVRemix: Who are your influences?

James Shaw: I donít know. I came from such a bizarre musical background. I started playing trumpet when I was twelve, and until I was 20 I was going to be a classical trumpet player. I listened to records, but I was never really a record buyer, or had a collection. I knew U2. I knew what was going on in the mainstream realm, but I didnít really know any underground music at all. Every one in the band is completely different. Emily comes from this crazy, other background of obscure, avant-garde jazz music that her dad was involved in. Where Josh and Jules both went to this school in Texas where neither of them studied music, but it was like a heavy duty music school and they were playing all around there, and they did some other music. For us there is no real, like, these are our influences; you can see them on our shirts and in our sound.

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"He had been our lawyer since we started, and he had been trying to find us a good home to be in, in terms of a record label, and just never really found it. And we were all really frustrated"