When Metric singer-keyboardist Emily Haines met legendary crooner and Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed a few years back, she was star-struck. But Reed was equally impressed with the Toronto alt-rock band’s body of work.
Quoting lyrics from Metric’s “Gimme Sympathy,” he asked her who she would rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. “The Velvet Underground,” Haines replied, and a friendship was born.
As Metric was finishing up its fifth album, “Synthetica,” last year, both happened to appear at a celebration of poet-writer Shel Silverstein in New York’s Central Park. Metric, including guitarist Jimmy Shaw, bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key, was struggling to finish a new tune, “Wanderlust.”
“I couldn’t get that song to click for me. I needed sort of a contrast to that naive vocal in the chorus [of] ‘I never want to go home’ and ‘I want to see the world,’” says Haines, who appears with Metric at Live 105’s “Not So Silent Night” on Friday.
She adds, “It just sounded like ‘The Sound of Music’ or ‘Annie.’ We really needed someone who could convey the consequences of such yearning. Who better than Lou Reed?”
Metric’s collaboration with Reed became a signature moment on “Synthetica,” a notable accomplishment for the Canadian band that has been on a steady rise in the past 10 years.
Its previous album, 2009’s “Fantasies,” was released independently (outside Mexico and Canada). Two singles climbed into the top 20 on U.S. radio charts, making Metric the first band to accomplish the feat without the assistance of a traditional music label.
“Synthetica,” released on the band’s own label, debuted at No. 12 in the U.S., Metric’s highest American debut. Haines describes the album as being about finding something real in a sea of imitation. It comes packaged with an imperfect mirror that distorts the reflection.
“The way [the Reed collaboration] unfolded is very much like a lot of my life and my career — wonderful things that I never could have dreamed up have kind of come my way,” she says. “There are things that are out there that we are trying to aggressively grab.”
Metric has been headlining arenas in Canada, so Friday’s performance at “Not So Silent Night” at Oracle Arena in Oakland won’t be a stretch. But the band works to maintain its intimate relationship with fans.
“[We] have to respect the scale of what we’re doing, and we work with people who are as creative visually and electronically as we are with music,” Haines says.