Emily Haines Talks Transforming 'Choir of the Mind' for the Stage
The Soft Skeleton and Metric frontwoman opens up about her new album and bringing its "feminine power" to life
Published Oct 04, 2017Listening to Choir of the Mind, the first Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton record in ten years, it's not at all obvious how she will perform it in concert. At its core, it's an Emily-at-the-piano record — and anyone who has seen her fronting Metric, on stage with Broken Social Scene or performing solo knows that Haines doesn't need much more to capture an audience than her own vocals and persona. But the best songs on Choir boast choruses of voices, layer upon layer of other Emilys, of other personas. Gloriously effective on record, but on stage?
"There will be all kinds of interesting stuff," explains Haines, sitting at Giant, the downtown Toronto recording studio where Choir was made. "The tour will be a combination of the band and my solo songs and some very experimental stuff that will be better seen than talked about."
A few weeks before the album's release, Emily Haines taped an episode of CBC's "First Play" in a theatre that gave some hints about what may be to come. On a sound stage surrounded by props, including a kitchen table, a makeup mirror, various items of clothing and, of course, a piano, Haines presented her material as a one-woman play, a journey through her anxieties using pre-recorded narration of her inner voices, sound effects and a variety of scenes.
A standout was the title track, built around a spoken word performance of "Savitri" by Indian poet Sri Aurobindo that holds a special place in the Haines family history and speaks to the core theme of the album — feminine power. (It also contains a stealthy nod to Rihanna's "Work.")
"A common problem for women, or women like me maybe, is where is feminine power?" she says. "Is it reactive? Or aggressive? Throughout my life, I know I've worked through variations of that. But I've always wondered just what is the feminine life force, and when do we get to see it, where it's not perverted into some sort of whorishness, or, like, where everybody breathes a sigh of relief because it's 'appropriate,' pretty music."
For Haines, a key line in the poem, and thus her album, is "She serves no aim / But labours driven by a nameless Will." It speaks to her life as a creator who knows not where the work comes from, or where it is going, but that somewhere all will be revealed.
"Everything [for this album] came together quickly, but it feels like it was forever in the making. It's sort of a running joke in the band that I always have a pre-chorus in one pocket and a verse or a bridge over here, fragments, progressions, carrying around in my head. I've kind of been writing these songs my whole life. I'm always trying to get closer to something; I don't know what. It's just there's something that I feel that I'm going to get to, within the work. And I'm just still going towards that. I'm still hungry."