Last spring in Berlin, Emily Haines bought a new piano.
“There’s a sort of going myth among musicians that when you buy a new instrument, it’s kind of pre-loaded with one song,” she said, laughing, on a recent morning on the phone from Toronto. She sat down and played the chord that opens “Legend of the Wild Horse,” a slow, almost dirge-like track off her latest record as Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton, Choir of the Mind.
“It’s kind of absurdly slow,” Haines said. “It’s like, Can it be slower?”
Belying its somber tone, “Legend of the Wild Horse” is actually a tongue-in-cheek parable about escaping the “requirements of civilized life,” as Haines put it, only to find the alternative isn’t so much more liberating. In the song, this takes shape literally: “Let me tell you ’bout the legend of the wild horse,” Haines sings. “She escaped from the race track, ran away, and never came back from the dark forest.” Then, the dark forest turns out to be something quite pedestrian: “She got lost on a golf course,” the song continues. “She got locked out of a life force.”
The video for “Legend of the Wild Horse,” which premieres exclusively here on W, takes this narrative and tells it using Choir of the Mind’s own cast of characters. (Choir is Haines’s first solo release in a decade—she’s perhaps still best known as the frontwoman for the Canadian band Metric.) From the album art—where Haines is depicted wearing orange rubber kitchen gloves and wielding a baseball bat, clad in a royal blue sweater—to the videos surrounding the release, certain colors, personalities, and motifs have recurred throughout. Each video for the record has been bookmarked by chapter headings in gothic lettering; “Fatal Gift” finds the same version of Haines, wearing an orange hoodie, lurking in dark corners.
Shot in late August in a suburban home just outside Toronto (which belonged to the family of the video’s director of photography), “Legend of the Wild Horse” finds Haines playing that same character—who she’s taken to just calling “orange hoodie"—who appeared in “Fatal Gift” as well as “Planets.” The id of Choir of the Mind, she stalks a suburban housewife (also played by Haines) in “Legend of the Wild Horse” who sits on a couch, wielding a baseball bat and anticipating an unseen threat as her children sleep in their rooms nearby. They’re two halves of the same self—the housewife, securely inside her home, and the deviant alter ego hunting her. It even goes back to the album title itself, depicting a kind of internal choir of different personae vying for dominance.
“Society at large, humanity at large, is still drawn downward to our worst instincts in so many places,” she explained. “Our worst instincts are, unfortunately, situated right next to our best instincts, and the things that make us genuine and authentic are situated next to our vices of greed and violence and narrow-mindedness and bias.”
“Legend of the Wild Horse” has the slightly surreal quality of a fable, yet at the same time, it’s an authoritative statement about who wields power, and how. By the end of the video, Haines’s two selves end up reversed: The housewife is locked out of her home, the woman in the orange hoodie inside with the children.
“You get the sense it’s not resolved,” Haines said. So is it the end? “No,” she declared emphatically, laughing. “It’s the culmination so far.”
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