My Favorite Album: Emily Haines of Metric on Silver Jews’ “American Water” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, May 30th, 2024  

My Favorite Album: Emily Haines of Metric on Silver Jews’ “American Water”

“Listening to American Water is like having an intelligent conversation with a friend.”

Jun 29, 2020 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney Bookmark and Share

Thinking of the songs and lyrical lines from Silver Jews’ 1998 album American Water on a regular basis, Emily Haines is extremely emotional about frontman David Berman’s unexpected death on August 7, 2019 at age 52. From her home in the Canadian woods, Metric’s lead singer is recounting a story from 2000 when she was living in England, and corresponding with Berman about the possibility of putting one of his poems into her zine.

The zine was titled Nous, which means “we” or “us” in French; Haines says that “home” was the theme of the issue. American Water was already out, and I loved his book of poems, Actual Air, especially the poem ‘War in Apartment 1812.’ Berman agreed to put his poem in my zine, and I was very happy about that.”

Around 2003, Haines says that she met Berman while playing a show with Broken Social Scene (she’s a longtime contributor to the Canadian institution); she handed him a copy of the Nous zine. “It was a funny exchange because he’s such an eccentric person,” Haines remembers. “It’s very sad that he passed away.”

Haines says she considers Berman a lyrical hero. “He’s incredibly unique, the way he commits to his own voice while willing to include you in the references,” she says. “[American Water is] strange, kind of out there…American Water epitomizes the value of bands, the beauty of rock music.”

Silver Jews—who released six albums between 1994 and 2008—is Haines’ jam; she’s been listening to the band’s music all summer long. Scanning the American Water tracklist, Haines runs through Berman’s lyrics, song by song, picking out inside jokes that will last forever.

“I love when he says ‘the alleys are the footnotes of the avenues’ in ‘Smith & Jones Forever,’” says Haines, mentioning the emotional chord progressions of the song. “And when I am late, which is a lot, I always think of ‘instead of time, there will be lateness, and let forever be delayed.’” After reciting “when you’re 15, you wanna look poor, but I don’t wanna look poor anymore” from “Federal Dust,” Haines bursts out in laughter. “This is bold stuff. American Water packed it in.”

An important lyric from “Blue Arrangements”—“the world isn’t watching me back”—stops Haines’ propulsion for a moment. “It’s a tender sense of expression, an elegant way of talking about invisibility,” she says. “The Berman style comes off as casual and kind. And the guitar lines are so sing-able, too. Listening to American Water is like having an intelligent conversation with a friend.”

Berman was the master of Silver Jews, but another genius, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, was part of the American Water process, too. Released when Metric—now seven albums deep with 2018’s Art of Doubt—was just starting out, the indie spirit of American Water rode high for Haines and her founding bandmate, James Shaw.

“Metric is obsessed with the belief of bands and friendship,” says Haines. “Jimmy would quote the same lines from the album. It feels really endearing, relatable, and visual. Depth, at this moment, only strengthens my resolve, and I believe in the messy friendship of Silver Jews. I hope more people discover Silver Jews, a timeless consolation.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.]

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.