By Max Szentveri
VANCOUVER – Memory is a fickle friend. There are times in our lives when all we want is to forget the people we once were – our mistakes, our heartbreaks, our tragic hairstyles – times when it’s easiest to foist ownership of these things upon constructed, infinitely fallible “past-selves,” turn away, and push on forward, feeling a bit wiser. For Emily Haines, it’s this complicated relationship with memory that forms the thematic through-line of her latest record, Choir of the Mind.
“You want to imagine that your life is you progressing and evolving and that you’re becoming better every day,” she says. “You don’t necessarily want to be haunted by all the previous incarnations of yourself.”
When Haines’ last solo record, 2006’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back, and its follow-up EP What is Free to a Good Home? were released over a decade ago, she was swept up in the grief of having just lost her father, as well as orienting herself within the flowering success of her band, Metric. It probably seemed like a good time to look forward rather than back. By the end of her 2007 solo tour, she had begun to feel the grief lifting, and no longer wanted to inhabit the dark headspace of those emotionally fraught songs. The Soft Skeleton was tucked away in the closet, and Haines hasn’t looked back since.
Until now, that is. The funny thing about memory is that our relationship to it changes as we grow older, and that connection to the past starts to feel more precious than mortifying.
“There’s something so beautiful and valuable about that to me, once I got past the immature idea that my life was supposed to be this endless upward ascent,” she says. “Places that used to fill me with a sense of dread – this street corner, or this place where I used to go when I was 15, and feeling kind of haunted by these places – something shifted, and suddenly I felt that it was an incredible luxury and gift to have access to those memories and those times.”
That re-contextualization of the past is part of what made now seem like the right time for the retrospection of Choir of the Mind.
“This album’s got this anniversary-type feeling of coming back home and taking stock and having all our minds blown that it’s been 10 years since Knives came out,” she says. “I think it’s a shared feeling for listeners, too.”
Indeed, that gorgeous, melancholic record was a brooding touchstone for a generation of young indie listeners who, like Haines, are now at a point where they’re beginning to re-evaluate their own connection to that time in their lives.
“Everyone who’s not 20 is grappling with the fact that our lives are on right now,” she says. “We’re adults, and what does that mean? Who are we, compared to whatever idea we had of who we would be by this time?”
Choir of the Mind is meant as an album to curl up with and reflect upon; it’s a chance to “take a breath” and escape from consumerism and filtered, curated personality branding, and to feel a connection. Haines writes for herself, but her personal credo is to only release that music when she feels it can help someone else.
Haines is about to embark on a limited 12-date tour to support the album, playing a string of hand-picked venues, and she’s relishing that chance to create a sense of connection with listeners in an intimate space.
“I can’t even handle how excited I am for this tour,” she says, calling it an “art holiday.” “It’s the most un-viable thing. It’s a total luxury to be able to do a small tour like this. It’s, like, the least profitable thing in the world.”
2017 has already been a busy year for Haines – she recorded and released Choir of the Mind in September, toured with Broken Social Scene, produced her first record (The Beaches’ Late Show, which dropped in October), and is currently in the studio working on Metric’s next album – so setting out on a solo tour might not be everybody’s idea of a vacation. But for Haines, it’s therapeutic.
“When I’m in the work, I just feel calm,” she says. “It quiets my mind.”
Emily Haines performs at The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on December 7.Choir of the Mind, Emily Haines, metric