The band consists of vocalist Emily Haines (who also plays the synthesizer and guitar), guitarist James Shaw (who also plays the theremin), bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key. Their first full-length album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, was released in 2003 and earned a Juno Award nomination for Best Alternative Album. Live It Out was released on October 4, 2005 and was nominated for the 2006 Polaris Music Prize for the Canadian Album of The Year and once again the Juno Award nomination for Best Alternative Album.
The first album the band recorded, Grow Up and Blow Away, was finally released on June 26, 2007 by Last Gang Records. The album was originally recorded for Rykodisc Records early in the band's career; however, it was not released at the time, due to internal changes at the company.
Haines and Shaw also perform with Broken Social Scene, and Haines has been a guest on albums by Stars, KC Accidental, The Stills, and Jason Collett. Scott-Key and Winstead have their own side project, Bang Lime, and Haines has released a solo album and companion EP, Knives Don't Have Your Back and What Is Free to a Good Home?, respectively, under the name Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton.
Their songs "Monster Hospital", "Police and the Private" and "Front Row" have been used on the television show Grey's Anatomy. "Monster Hospital" has also been used in CSI: Miami and "Gold Guns Girls" has been used on Gossip Girl, Zombieland, Entourage and Grey's Anatomy. Gossip Girl also featured "Gimme Sympathy" in the same episode.
Their fourth studio album Fantasies (previously scheduled for an April 14 release) was released in Canada and the United States on April 7, 2009. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize for Canadian album of the year.
Born in New Delhi, India, and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Emily Haines grew up as a dual citizen of Canada and India. The daughter of poet Paul Haines (best known for his lyrical collaboration with Carla Bley in the 1971 jazz opera Escalator over the Hill), Haines left New Delhi at the age of 3. Paul would often make cassettes of rare and eclectic music for his daughter to listen to and her early influences included Carla Bley and Robert Wyatt. By her teens she followed her parents' footsteps by attending the Etobicoke school of the arts. There she met Amy Millan and Kevin Drew, with whom she would later collaborate in hHead. Haines and Millan briefly formed their first band around 1990 while at ESA, and with songs later written and recorded while at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1992–1993, at Toronto in 1995, and at Concordia University in Montreal in 1995–1996, Haines distributed in 1996 an early effort called Cut in Half and Also Double with a limited number of copies.
Shortly before this, UK born James Shaw was a student at a Boston music school and was friends with Torquil Campbell, a vocalist who would later form Stars, and Chris Seligman, the future synthesizer player of Stars. Torq had plans to move to New York City and on his suggestion Shaw applied to Juilliard Music School and moved to New York with him. After a three-year education at the institution, Shaw had acquired considerable classical training but did not enjoy his stay and knew that his musical interests lay elsewhere. In 1998, Shaw and Torquil returned to Toronto, where Haines met Shaw through mutual friends in the local music scene. Shaw moved to Montreal where Haines was still living and the two worked on filling out each other's projects. For example, Shaw had an instrumental song built around piano chords and Emily had a completely different song with a vocal line that fit perfectly around the chords. The result was the song "Butcher", and eventually the two of them had completed several other tracks in their home studio (including "The People", "The Battlecry", "The Mandate", "The Lifestyle"). This resulted in what they called Mainstream E.P., a collection of demos with an overall downtempo and electronic feel.
In the fall of 1998, Shaw moved back to New York City, this time accompanied by Haines, Campbell, and Seligman. There they shared a loft in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. During their two-year stay at the loft, Haines and Shaw were erstwhile roommates with future members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and TV on the Radio. In an interview with Dave Owen of I Cant Breathe Media and AAA Shaw said that although this sounded like an amazing place to live often the roommates were simply struggling to eat. In 1999, Shaw and Haines decided to call their partnership "Metric", after a synthesizer beat that Shaw used on his sampler and as a reference to the duo's musical precision. That same year, Warner Bros. Records showed interest in the group and the band did a development deal with them. A producer in London saw the potential of commercial success from the demos they recorded in this period and offered to bring Metric to the UK for a possible record deal. Eager to take a break from the somewhat miserable conditions of the loft, Haines and Shaw set off to London in early 2000 and signed a publishing deal with Chrysalis Records. With the help of producer Stephen Hague, an influential figure in the synthpop/New Wave genre(s) who had produced such '80s acts as Erasure, New Order, and the Pet Shop Boys, Metric worked on a new batch of New Wave/electropop drum-machine paced songs that would form the nucleus of their debut album. This nucleus formed the basis for an eclectic style that would be prescient for bands in the years ahead with their musical mix. Although Metric already had a semi-mainstream appeal, they felt restricted by the confines of recording demos and were eager to return to NYC and put a live band together. In November they moved back to their Brooklyn loft.
Metric continued to work on their debut album in the first few months of 2001. Now dubbed Grow Up and Blow Away, the effort revealed a more musically-layered and mature sound than the earlier Mainstream EP. The album under construction included commercial-friendly uptempo songs such as the title track "Grow Up and Blow Away", "Raw Sugar", and "Soft Rock Star" (distinguished by a vaguely Beatlesque melody, high-pitched singing in the chorus, and lyrics evoking middle school angst), downtempo songs like "White Gold", "The Twist", and "Rock Me Now" (which included singing by Shaw, spoken-word vocals by Haines in a manner reminiscent of "The Mandate", and had an overall jazzy vibe). "Parkdale", featuring trumpeting by Shaw and a fanfare intro, concerned the edgy and dynamic Toronto neighborhood. Haines and Shaw completed the album in April and by this time had found a new label for their release – Restless Records – the L.A. indie record company that promoted such acts as They Might Be Giants, Agent Orange, and The Dead Milkmen.
Metric had also gained a new bandmate in the winter of 2001 – Joules Scott-Key – a native of Flint, Michigan who was attending college in Texas and was in town with his friend Joshua Winstead (also from Texas) performing in the local music scene. Scott-Key (no relation to Francis Scott Key) and Winstead had known each other for about a decade and they met Haines and Shaw at the Brooklyn loft and at local performances. Metric at the time was for the most part a studio band and live shows approximated the Synthesizer-centered and drum-machine driven sound of the recordings. This made for somewhat restrained and less-than-dynamic performances. The recruitment of a drummer, particularly one of Scott-Key's talents, facilitated a stronger, more engaging live presence and Joules officially joined the band at a Unitard show at Black Betty's in Williamsburg. Metric performed in New York in early Spring and late Summer 2001, personally circulating handmade CD-R copies of their unreleased music to fans at shows and by mail, eventually giving the music away for free on the internet.
Metric received their first major public exposure in August 2001 with the television commercial "Be Afraid", advertising Polaroid's I-Zone Pocket Fortune film. The music used for the ad was taken from the song "Grow Up and Blow Away", with the line "Why does it feel so good to die today?" changed to the more benign "Why does it feel so good to fly away?". The commercial drew curious music listeners to the Polaroid website to learn of the source of the synth-pop music used in the commercial.
In 2003, Metric released their first official album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?. The album was received with mostly positive reviews. The group released six singles from the album, the most successful being "Combat Baby", which was featured as a free single on iTunes in 2004. As of December 12, 2005, the album has gone gold in Canada.
Metric was featured as themselves in the 2004 independent French film, Clean, directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Maggie Cheung. The film was nominated for the Palme D'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. The songs that Maggie Cheung performs in the film were written and produced by David Roback of Mazzy Star. The soundtrack also features songs by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Emily Haines, Metric and Tricky.
Two years later, Metric released their second studio album, Live It Out, on October 4, 2005. This album, like its predecessor, was well received. During this time, Metric was approached by and agreed to open for the Rolling Stones whose tour coincided with theirs in New York City. Live It Out was a success in Canada, already selling twice as many copies as Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and scoring them three top 20 singles for "Monster Hospital", "Poster of a Girl" and "Handshakes". The album has gone two times platinum in Canada, selling over 200,000 units. In the UK, all three of the singles were used in the soundtrack to the TV series Hollyoaks. The band did a UK-wide tour supporting Bloc Party as well as performing at Reading and Leeds Festival, The Great Escape in Brighton, Wireless Festival at Hyde Park in London and numerous club dates throughout the UK. The band has toured the world extensively for several years playing concerts in France, Germany, Iceland, Brazil, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Holland, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, United States, Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan to promote Live it Out.
On June 26, 2007, Last Gang Records released Metric's 2001 album Grow up and Blow Away.
Throughout the summer of 2007, four new songs were road-tested by the band, tentatively named "Black Sheep", "The Hooks", "Stadium Love", and "Up in Flames". On October 4, 2007, Metric played a live webcasted show on MySpace.com's "Hey Play This" programme. Fans sent in requests and the band played a selected few. Along with old material, they performed several new songs, including "Freddie" (aka: "Black Sheep"), "Standing in Line", "Gimme Sympathy" (aka: "The Hooks"), "Twilight", "Joyride" and "Stadium Love".
On November 13, 2007, Last Gang Records released a trailer on YouTube for a Metric DVD showcasing a live concert at the Metropolis Theatre in Montreal, as well as all three music videos from Live It Out. The DVD was released on February 12, 2008. A three-track audio EP was released on iTunes in December. The EP features the live tracks "The Police and the Private", "Too Little Too Late" and "Patriarch on a Vespa" from the DVD, as well as the DVD trailer.
The band performed select dates in 2008 in Canada, Mexico and Brazil while continuing to record their upcoming fourth album. At Mexico they performed in Monterrey (April 24), Mexico City (April 25) and Guadalajara (April 26). They performed at the 2008 Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California on April 27, 2008, and at the 2008 Ottawa Bluesfest in Ottawa on July 11, 2008 in addition to playing at the 2008 Pemberton Festival in Pemberton, British Columbia on July 25, 2008 and All Points West Festival in New Jersey on August 9, 2008.
On September 7, under the premises of an Emily Haines solo show, Haines and Shaw played the full ten-track album acoustically at Union Pool in Brooklyn.
During December 13–23, 2008, Metric toured across Canada with Tokyo Police Club, The Dears, and Sebastien Grainger and The Mountains, to raise money for various charities under the name "Jingle Bell Rock" tour. Stops included 2 nights in Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, 2 nights in Calgary, and 3 nights to close in Vancouver. Metric played new and old tracks including "Help I'm Alive", "Twilight Galaxy", "Gimme Sympathy", "Gold Guns Girls", "Empty", "Dead Disco", "Poster Of A Girl", and "Monster Hospital". The 7" vinyl of "Help I'm Alive" was available on this tour, as well as a pre-order for the new album.
"Help, I'm Alive" was officially released as a single on iTunes on December 23, 2008 in Canada and January 1, 2009 around the rest of the world.
It was announced by Rolling Stone that the new album, due out April 7, 2009, would be titled Fantasies. The album was released on Last Gang Records in Canada, Arts & Crafts in Mexico, and independently around the rest of the world. Fantasies features ten tracks. The song "Black Sheep", which was played often by the band on tours, was not included. However, the Rolling Stone article claims that the song will be featured in the upcoming film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The music video for "Gimme Sympathy" was released on MySpace on March 16, 2009. Emily and Jimmy completed a mini tour of exclusive acoustic shows across Canada, with stops in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria in late April with cooperation from local radio stations. The only way to get tickets were from the band website or listen-to-win on the local radio stations. The band finished a Europe tour in May 2009 and toured the US, UK, and Canada at certain music festivals during the Summer. They then headed to Australia for their first ever Australian tour in early October, as well as one show in Tokyo. As of beginning of November 2009, the band just finished their Canadian tour and are taking a two week break before touring the central US to end off the year.
On August 30, 2009 Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame made his remix of the track "Gold Guns Girls" available for streaming on his website. He used the remix as the theme for his art exhibition Glorious Excess (Dies), and it will be released officially by the band at a later date.
On October 27, 2009, Metric released a 5-track EP called Plug In Plug Out containing acoustic versions of songs from Fantasies. The EP was available exclusively on Amazon for 30 days.