One of the standout tracks on Metric's latest entry into their 15-year oeuvre, Synthetica, features vocals by a figure who helped lay the foundation of modern alternative rock, Lou Reed.
On "The Wanderlust," a song that arrives close to album's end, the breathy alto of vocalist Emily Haines gives way to the rough-edged tenor of Reed.
Speaking over the phone from a vacation in Spain, Haines excitedly recalls working with Reed on one of the album's perkier tracks, full of shimmering synthesizers and trilling guitar work.
"Old Lou, Uncle Lou!" she declares. "It was so great."
-Metric's Emily Haines on Synthetica and "Examining What's Real and What's Artificial"
Haines says the recording session allowed for a respite from all the chaos and pressure of meticulously constructing an album that would later become both a critical and commercial success in 2012.
"I'm sure you have the same thing in your work where it's like you get your nose to the grindstone, and then something pops up that makes it all worth it. That's what it was with Lou."
She recalls their introduction in 2010 when Reed floored Haines by reciting some of her own lyrics to her. She and Metric guitarist Jimmy Shaw were playing a Neil Young tribute in Vancouver in February of that year, and Reed was one of the many participants.
"A friend of mine, Kevin Hearn [keyboardist of Barenaked Ladies], he is a pretty amazing musician, he was like, 'Hey, you wanna meet Lou Reed?' and I was like, 'Do I? Yes, I do.' Best thing ever.
"I assumed that when I meet him he's gonna say, 'Hey, what's up?' But instead, he totally knew my work and when Kevin said, 'Hey, this is Emily Haines,' he said, 'Oh, Emily Haines, who would you rather be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?' which is a line from our song 'Gimme Sympathy,' so I was totally chuffed, and then, quick on my feet, I said, 'Oh, Lou, I would rather be the Velvet Underground.' That really cracked him up, and we really hit it off."
Their collaboration on "The Wanderlust" would not be their only work together. Before that, Haines and Reed would share the stage at several events.
"It's been a really creative friendship," Haines notes. "He and his wife Laurie Anderson invited me to Australia. I did a performance with them at a festival they curated at the Sydney Opera House."
Just before recording together, both Haines and Reed performed together in 2011 during Shelebration!, a concert tribute at New York's Central Park celebrating author/poet Shel Silverstein.
Then, while Metric was finishing recording Synthetica at Electric Lady Studios in New York, she popped the question: "And I just asked him, like, 'Hey, you want to do these vocals?' And he said, yes. I was so glad."
However, there remains one other Reed connection that Haines calls the highlight of her career.
"And then the best, the total best, was in the Fall tour in October. We played Radio City Music Hall, and he joined us on stage, and we did this medley of 'Wanderlust,' which is our song, into 'Pale Blue Eyes' and that was just beyond great," she notes about her band's opportunity to sing the 1969 classic Velvets tune alongside the original songwriter and vocalist.
Finally, there's the respect she has for Reed as a role model.
"That is kinda what I address in 'Dreams So Real,'" she says, referencing a song she calls a favorite off Synthetica, "It's funny, we're talking about Lou, and my aspiration would be to be someone that represents some kind of integrity that you can look to and be like, 'Yes, well played,' and you find inspiring because the person doesn't seem like a complete pushover or a total conformist."
Reed will forever be set in his legacy as a major figure in rock 'n' roll, who even inspired such seminal figures as David Bowie. Despite a health scare earlier this month that required re-admittance to the hospital following a liver transplant, he bounced back.
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"He's back, and he's all right," says Haines, "and we're glad. We need Lou. He is such a classic, an original."
Metric. As part of the Bud Light Music First Tour's 50/50/1. Thursday, August 1. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $27.50 plus fees via livenation.com. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.