When I think of Canada, I think of Emily Haines. Well, first I think of eating maple candy and skiing with my parents when I was nine, THEN I think of the developing rock music scene established by our Northern neighbors. Emily Haines is a vital contributor to this scene. Also, she is just really effing cool. For those of you who are/are not familiar with her involvement in the bands Broken Social Scene and Metric, or with her new self-titled project, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton and their 2006 debut record Knives Don't Have Your Back, I have confidence that this feature will spark your curiosity at the very least, if not add to an already existing veneration for the 2007 Plug Independent Music Award nominee's talent and overall attitude.
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton performed at NYC's Hiro Ballroom @ The Maritime Hotel last Tuesday featuring Paul Dillon (Ex-Mercury Rev; Silver Rockets) on bass, Scott Minor (Sparklehorse) on drums, Todor Kobakov (Small Sins) on synthesizer and a local strings quartet led by Mary Wooten. Several weeks before the live show, I caught up with Haines' via phone to chat about her dark and fanciful new record, performing as a "solo artist" and all the good stuff in between.
JL: How did Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton evolve?
Haines: I've spent all my time writing (the way I did on Knives) - a lot of material in this genre, but just all the terminology that goes with it...I could never identify with it. Like "solo." I know we have to call it that, but it's so not what I'm interested in being. Definitely on Knives I depended a lot and drew a lot from all the other musicians. That's the point of the project. It's getting to work with other people and evolve musically that way. This wasn't a career move. For me, it's like I really felt there was a whole dimension to my work as a writer that was being neglected. It's definitely enhanced (my work). The work I do with Metric, that's been the case. Things don't always have to cancel each other out. There's room. Night and morning - they're both allowed to exist.
JL: How would you describe the sound of Knives?
Haines: I feel there's a difference in quiet music between the people I really admire and some of the most important music to me. You know, like, Neil Young records, Elliott Smith records, Lennon records, Robert Wyatt (NOTE: Wyatt, of the group Soft Machines, was a close friend of Haines' father and helped influence her to pursue music full-time). Shit like this that has this quality of being kind of quiet and introspective without sounding like someone never left their house and is living alone in their head. For me, I really wanted to have it be the sound - like - you know in a huge stadium that's full of people, but then two hours later there are just crumpled up, crappy beer cans on the floor. I wanted the songs to be in that context. Or, you know, like the music after you go out and stay out too late at the rock & roll show. The next day you nurse a hangover with Knives.
JL: That's the best description.
Haines: The thing for me about concerts is I still believe in the Rock & Roll Church. I really need that sense of communion. I definitely feel like I'm too idealistic in a lot of ways to really handle the "straight world," and as much as it (a live show) can be run-of-the-mill, and it's certainly not always a magical thing, for us, we really try to make it a transforming thing. For just a minute, it's not like a bunch of people who feel so separate from each other. (Laughs) It's totally, like, a hippie vision, but for some reason, making loud music - It really turns me on.
JL: Where did you come up with the name The Soft Skeleton?
Haines: That came about in the middle of the night - staying at a friend's house in New York. I bolted up in bed and said "I know what this band is called." Then I ended up doing all this research on that. Spiders grow a fake, soft skeleton. It actually helps them grow.
JL: Going beyond the music - As a "public figure," what kind of impression do you think you give to your fans?
Haines: I don't know about the impression I give, but I know how I feel...and that's a cross between Mick Jagger and Kim Gordon. Perhaps I'm failing miserably at conveying that - I have no idea. I try to be open-minded about appearances because I think it's kind of a slippery slope - the whole visual component to music. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I do sometimes wish I could have made music in another time when there wasn't so much emphasis on the visual. But realizing that it is (so important), I've definitely embraced it. It's weird when you play 260 shows a year and everyone has a camera phone. As far as trying to control or manipulate people's impressions of me, I'm pretty much not even going to really try. But those camera phones don't do anybody any favors!
I don't know about the impression I give, but I know how I feel...and that's a cross between Mick Jagger and Kim Gordon ”
At the Hiro Ballroom show last week, I took a few camera phone photos myself, but they all looked amazing considering the minimal pixelation. The venue complimented Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton with its distant ceilings, rich red lighting and an all-in-all intimate, dinner theater feel. Individual chairs were lined up in front of the stage and most of the audience sat for the show; all eyes and ears were devoted to Haines' focused intensity and connection to The Soft Skeleton. My eyes wandered back and forth between the ominous Guy Maddin film playing on a large screen behind the band and Haines' pursed face gently singing into her mic.
My favorite part of the show was listening to Haines speak between songs. From reading a random poem to chatting with the audience about drinking Sprite, the artist's humor and fun-loving personality came across to the audience. Later on in the set, she had the entire crowd give a round of applause for Toronto musician Todor Kobakov.
"Todor scored an entire song of ours last night. He was all 'scratchy scratchy' in the night. No complainy. Big talenty," said Haines as Kobakov smiled from behind his computer, stage right.
When it was time for the encore, her band left the stage while she remained sitting.
"I just don't feel like getting up," she said, slightly slouching at her piano bench.
When The Soft Skeleton reappeared, they launched into a Buffalo Springfield cover, followed by a collaboration with Brooklyn band/opening act Tall Firs on a new song called "The Woods."
After the show, I met up with the group's publicist and headed up to a small room in The Maritime Hotel for a little post-show hang out. Haines, Knives Don't Have Your Back producer John O'Mahoney, a group of friends and myself piled into the limited space, where we poured champagne elbow-to-elbow and sat on the queen size bed to talk about the show and listen to a hip-hop album that someone brought along for Haines to listen to. It was a quaint, yet rock star end to a pretty much flawless performance.
P.S. For those of you who feel like requesting it: Room 308 at The Maritime is officially (well, maybe not officially officially, but in my mind) the Emily Haines room.
"Doctor Blind" MP3
Interview/Review by: Jamie Lee