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Musically speaking, the Metric system works

Opening for the Stones, guitarist and producer Jim Shaw witnessed Keith Richards’ SUV full of girls. “Every once in a while the world gives you hope,” he said.
/ Source: contributor

Canadian indie rock band Metric is on a roll right now, with a much-sought-after slot at next month’s Coachella festival in Indio, Calif., and its first DVD, “Live at the Metropolis,” in stores now. The band, which has opened for the Rolling Stones, consists of guitarist and producer James Shaw, vocalist and synthesizer player Emily Haines, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key, is working on a follow-up album to 2005’s successful “Live It Out.” Six Questions shot the breeze with Shaw over the phone recently to catch up on the latest happenings in the Metric system.

Doug Miller: Here’s the first question anybody who’s going to Coachella for the first time wants to know the answer to: Is it great or is it just a hot, smelly nightmare?

James Shaw:  It’s super, super fun. If it was a hot, smelly nightmare, I probably wouldn’t go. But seriously, it’s amazing. I’ve been four or five times and I always have a blast. First of all, I love that part of the world. I love that dry heat, I love the desert, and I love the way the place is set up. I love the VIP area with the water misters and the huge bar. Over the last four years I’ve had about 460 margaritas there. It’s getting bigger and crazier there and I definitely had a little more fun the first couple years I went, but we always have fun playing there.

Miller: You’ve got the DVD out. Please tell me about something good that didn’t quite make it onto the final cut.

Shaw: I don’t know if I would call it an embarrassing moment, but Josh’s pants fell down. That one didn’t quite make it. You know, there were moments, like with every reel of film or every roll of tape, where you feel like you don’t want to represent and are not good enough. So in the process of editing, we got rid of the stuff we weren’t thrilled about. It’s not as juicy as being embarrassing moments, I’m afraid. There were no blooper reels. We were all on edge the first time filming, so I guess we weren’t going crazy enough to jump off stage or do something ridiculous like that. Probably next time.

Miller: What was the most rock ’n’ roll thing you saw while opening for the Stones?

Shaw: When we were leaving the back of Madison Square Garden, there was a lineup of about 30 cars literally 20 feet behind the stage, and all these black Escalades. It was like the president of Kenya was being escorted out of there or something. So it’s the last encore and we’re trying to leave, knowing full well that in about 15 minutes, it’ll be total chaos. My entourage of 12 was equivalent to about 1 percent of their entourage. So we’re wheeling our luggage through the cars as we hear the Stones hit the final notes. Just perfect. All of a sudden all of the cars start moving on either side of us. At one point, two windows come down, and on one side is an older woman and on the other side is a younger woman. The younger woman says to older woman, “This is all of Keith’s girls.” So there was an Escalade limousine full of girls for Keith. Every once in a while the world gives you hope.

Miller: You have said that Juilliard did nothing for you. Would you recommend that talented young musicians avoid it at all costs?

Shaw: Probably to clarify, it was one of those wonderful instances where it does everything for you by showing you what you don’t want to be doing. I realized I didn’t want to be around those people and didn’t want to play music that was 250 years old for the next 45 years of my life. If I had a crappy day, I wanted to express it that way I wanted to express it. And it’s not just about Juilliard. It’s more about that genre, classical music. There are very few people with a 110-piece orchestra who get to express themselves. It’s what you’ve been told to express by a composer 200 years ago and how the conductor chooses to express it. It might be awesome if you were into some weird experimental John Cage-type stuff, but not for me.

Miller: Tell us about the Freddie Mercury tribute song that’s coming out on the next album.

Shaw: Well, it’s kind of a tribute. It’s evolving, though. It’s definitely not finished. That’s the thing with a lot of our songs. They start out with a certain intention or influence or homage and by the time they’re done, they’re not like that anymore. So what I’m saying is that I can’t guarantee it will end up about Freddie Mercury, but that’s the way it started.

Miller: Is Canada taking over music?

Shaw: I don’t know about taking over, but it’s definitely no longer the little runt that couldn’t. Ten years ago, you’d get laughed out of American customs in Buffalo by saying you were a musician. Now we’re being taken as seriously as bands from Sweden or England or anywhere else. One of the reasons is that everybody is extremely supportive of each other. It’s the first music scene I’ve witnessed or been involved in where bands pick each other up and lend each other hands and talk about each other in interviews. They’re the least competitive spirits I’ve witnessed. That has to be one of the reasons it’s all come up together. (Canadian supergroup) Broken Social Scene was never going to arrive without taking some of the bands with them. It was all very well understood. I think that’s part of the reason. And I think everyone’s really talented and they make really good music. That helps, too.