Metric's sound can be best described as show-meets-studio. By that, we mean that the band's tracks all have a decidedly "live performance" feel; they're raw and gritty and reflect the energy you get at a concert much more than a squeaky-clean studio track recorded to antiseptic perfection. With "Help I'm Alive" in particular, the transcendent effect of the music is evident. Emily Haines' voice seems to come from everywhere, taking over the track with its power.
This is due in part to the fact that Metric, for many years, was a touring band; they were doing shows nonstop and put almost all of their songs through what they called "the road test." A song passes "the road test," guitarist James Shaw explains, if after dozens and dozens of performances, it "gets better and better and you get more and more excited to play it and every time you do the song gels more and the crowds are reacting better and better." He admitted that many of the songs that the band put to this test in 2007 did not pass, forcing Metric to go back to the drawing board and rework everything. As Haines puts it: "That was always kind of a goal, is to be able to play the songs enough live to really have them become themselves before you record them. In the past, it's hard, if you're not a touring band. You have some idea of how to develop the song, but a lot of it is imaginary. So in this case, we've been able to play the music a lot and we can just capture what we already know works."
, the band members attribute the album's unique and varied sound to the many places where the music was made; some songs are painfully intimate while others sound as though they've been played for hundreds of thousands of people. As Haines explains: "For me, the major influences on the record were the places we wrote it: Bear Creek, this utopian farmhouse studio, and then our own studio in Toronto, which definitely brought in the electro, dance and rock elements because the city feels so good right now and so many of our musician friends were around. And then for me, being in Buenos Aires, most of the songs I brought to this record came out of being in exile with just a piano and a guitar. And then in the final stages, mixing at Electric Lady in NYC brought everything around to where we first met Josh and Joules."
Adds Shaw: "The warehouse in Vancouver was such a colossal live room, vibrant. We went there to find an over-the-top giant drum sound, one that would make you feel like you were in - all these different references - a stadium, space church. We had this big image of pterodactyls flying through canyons and the preacher wearing silver at the helm of the space church, totally retarded imagery like that. We traveled around trying to find these crazy studios where we could get that drum sound. I think being in a lot of different places affected our overall sound in the long run.
Haines also plays a Pro One Synthesizer
to add to the band's melodic range. It's a versatile synth with lots of modulation and sequencing possibilities. Of her Pro One, she says
, "I've had mine for about eight years. There have been times when notes have stuck, and there have been little problems, but we seem to be able to do self-repairs on it. I really like that it's an unpredictable instrument, because that's what makes it a musical instrument."
Metric is also, as Haines puts it
, "for lack of a better word, upbeat." She attributes the bands unique sound to the songwriting duo of herself and Jimmy Shaw. Basically, Haines will write a melancholy piano ballad and then give it to Shaw, who infuses it with fun and vigor and synthesized beats; it is no longer the "sad-girl-with-piano" thing that Haines tries to avoid. At the same time, it's not all bubblegum for this band: Metric gets deep with their music in a way that transcends the sugary pop we hear often on the airwaves: "It's youthful, full of energy," says Haines. "It's dance music! But it's never doing that with the spirit of trying to hide what's fucked up. It's in spite of what's fucked up, it's acknowledging what's fucked up. We don't want to be from the Jackson 5 school of positive music, where it sounds like people faking happiness under most dire circumstances. That's, musically, the last thing I want to do with my time on Earth."