I talked with Metric mastermind Jimmy Shaw
by John Noyd
January 2016

Metric's Jimmy Shaw

Metric's Jimmy Shaw

Jimmy Shaw is a hands-on guy. As producer, songwriter and guitarist for the Canadian band Metric, Shaw has a say in every phase of the operation, right down to picking venues and opening acts for their tours. “I hate lists and links,” he admits, preferring input from a trusted network of friends. “I’ve known our Booking Agent since we were eleven,” Shaw says, “he suggested Joywave as an opener for this current tour.” It also happens that Metric’s current Tour Manager is from Joywave’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y. and seconded the idea. When it was pointed out that in taking control of all these details, Shaw had no one to blame but himself, he was happy to assume that responsibility, preferring by whatever means necessary to maintain the band’s DIY cred that has successfully fostered a creative outlet for himself and co-founder Emily Haines going on twenty years. Asked whether wearing so many hats in the band gives him more power over the other members, Shaw turns diplomatic and replies, “Let’s say I can be very persuasive, if you happen to disagree with me.”

Largely a product of Shaw’s work in his Toronto recording studio, Metric’s latest release, “Pagans in Vegas,” is an electric circus of blitzkrieg beats, neon-lit riffs and sterling hooks. When asked if there was a specific toy that that was behind this album’s genesis Shaw quickly credited the large modular synthesizer Studio 66 from; specifically a duophonic patch that allowed him to compose bass lines with his left hand and the melody with his right. The results, he gushed, “were more skeletal than sketches,” and instead of taking his ideas and having to reproduce them over again in the studio, his work with Studio 66 gave him a foundation that just needed to be fleshed out, streamlining the process to completing a song. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Emily was also writing songs, but with the barest of technology, created on acoustic instruments. When Jimmy, Emily, bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key looked at the pair’s accumulated songs, decided to let each stand alone rather than integrate them. 

Soon thereafter the band embarked on a tour opening for Imagine Dragons, where they visited different studios to work on Emily’s songs. Gathering the tapes four months afterwards to review, the tightly-knit quartet discovered something they hadn’t anticipated. Despite their hopping from studio to studio, the songs had a sameness to them that fell short of their individual potential. When asked how this could have happened, Jimmy explains, “You can have a Fender, a Telecaster, whatever, but it comes down to the fingers on the instrument.” “I can get Billy Gibbons’ guitars and amps and use the same studio he uses, but I’m never going to sound like Billy Gibbons,” he reasons. “You can’t duplicate that magic, if you could you’d have dozens of ZZ Tops, hundreds of Beatles!”

While Shaw admitted to having no memory of Metric’s last time playing Madison nine years ago beyond an after-gig drinking game with whiskey, he is ecstatic to be returning to Madison with a tour whose sound and lighting have been recently road-tested with flying colors. “We’ve been playing longer, having lots of fun,” he says and it’s amazing to hear someone who has logged in so many miles playing all around the world, sounding so primed for another tour. Does Shaw do anything except live, sleep and breath music? He laughs, but says when he needs to get away from it all he will pour himself into a frenzy of cooking, racing around town gathering groceries and creating exotic meals without a recipe. It appears as if no matter what Shaw does, he does with gusto. “There are lots of forces in the world to get you down,” he admits, “it’s easy to bum out and hard to keep that naively positive attitude, but you can’t succumb to it, otherwise life is a waste.” 

Fasten your seat belts, Metric along with hyper-kinetic techno-rockers Joywave will fill Madison’s Orpheum Theater February 13th with gleaming streams of fierce lyrics and vampish anthems coyly uncoiled inside an explosive dose of rock and roll charisma you will not want to miss.

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CD: Pagans in Vegas Record Label: Metric Music International
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