Metric’s Jimmy Shaw calls his own shots

Metric, James Shaw, Jimmy Shaw

Metric performs at The Masonic in San Francisco on March 13, 2019. Joaquin Cabello/STAFF.

I’ve spoken to Metric’s Emily Haines two or three times in there past seven years. But for their newest album, “Pagans in Vegas,” I interviewed guitarist Jimmy Shaw for the first time. The Toronto band is playing the Masonic in San Francisco as part of the annual Noise Pop festival.

Describe the state of the band following the tour for “Synthetica.”

Jimmy Shaw: At the beginning of an album cycle, we have really lofty ideas (and) large-scale ambitions that are not entirely based in the reality of the world. We’re very much dreamers in a lot of ways and don’t aspire to be anything different. At the beginning of “Synthetica,” we didn’t really know what album we were making. … But you gotta keep rolling ahead anyway. I think we wanted a lot to happen, and a lot of what we wanted to happen didn’t happen, and a lot of what we didn’t even think was going to happen totally happened.

That’s a recurring thing we’ve noticed while, being in a band. To give you an example, on this last European tour, we walk into a very small club in Germany, in Munich. It was Friday night; it was pouring rain outside. There were probably 550 people at the show, which is a very small show for us, and I think I had the most fun I’d had in months. We walked on-stage, and Jules looked at me and said, ‘Well, once again, we now know that we don’t know anything.” …

Nothing is how you think it is. As long as you remain open and not stuck in your ways and set in your goals, it can be quite an amazing career, and I think more than any other album, “Synthetica is the one that taught us that.

Your goal with “Pagans in Vegas” was to not repeat yourselves. How did you go about trying to accomplish that?

Jimmy Shaw: When I was doing some writing, I generally didn’t think I was writing for Metric. I was just writing because the studio is 40 feet from the back of my house. January and February in Toronto are pretty dire. You’re not really going to do anything else. I would just go in there every day and do stuff. I bought a whole bunch of modular synths, drum machines, and I was writing songs using electronics to an extent that I hadn’t done before. Usually when I would write with synthesizers and drum machines, they would be the skeleton of the song, (and we would) pick up the guitar and fill in. … “This song doesn’t want guitar, and it doesn’t want drums. It sounds like it’s supposed to sound.”

What about the other guys in the band? What do they think about the final versions that didn’t include drums and bass in some instances?

Jimmy Shaw: They’re very faithful dudes. They believe in us. They believe in the artistic process.

You’ve had a lot of success calling your own shots, but what do you miss most about being on a major label?

Jimmy Shaw: I’ve never been on one, so I can only speak from speculation. Forty years ago, the media was run by 50 to 60 to 70 different corporations. There was literally a democracy, somewhat, within the media, and within what got to you and what became popular. Now, it’s owned by six, and there’s no fuckin‘ way you’re getting in unless somebody in those six has a financially vested interest in you.

In 2007, when we decided to start our own record label, it genuinely looked like the Internet was going to democratize the music industry, but no, the music industry got bought by the tech industry for what they would normally spend on lunch. Now you’re not getting in anywhere unless you’re a priority artist for a major label. For us, it’s a bummer because we’ll never get in. The fact that we have a tiny little stake in the actual music industry, that we exist to the level that we do, frankly is a fucking miracle. But it’s getting smaller, that stake.

On the upside, I think if we were on one of those labels, and someone wanted to turn us into one of those artists, I don’t think it would work because … Emily and I don’t do well with having someone tell us what to do. We don’t even do well when each other tell us what to do. We like to do what we want to do, and that’s it.

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