Yellowcard's third album, "Lights and Sounds," due Tuesday (Jan. 24) via Capitol, represents a number of sonic departures for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based pop-punk outfit.

Yellowcard's third album, "Lights and Sounds," due Tuesday (Jan. 24) via Capitol, represents a number of sonic departures for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based pop-punk outfit. But none is more striking than "How I Go," a duet between Ryan Key and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines that may be the early year's favorite for most unlikely pairing.

"The cat's out of the bag -- I'm a fan," lead singer/guitarist Key tells Billboard.com. "I don't celebrate the whole Dixie Chicks catalog or anything, but they have a lot of songs I think are pretty incredible. And she's one of the most talented female vocalists that I'm a fan of."

Key's parents kept him on a steady diet of country while he was growing up, especially Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. "My family's from Decatur, Ga., and my dad is a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, and that's just what we grew up listening to," he says.

In fact, Key tried to recruit Maines to contribute vocals to the track "View From Heaven" from the band's 2003 breakthrough, "Ocean Avenue." But the plan never got off the ground. "The record label was like, 'Um, you guys aren't really that big of a band, so .... no.' We're not even gonna call," he says with a laugh.

But when Yellowcard headed into the studio to begin work on "Lights," producer Neal Avron took Key aside and said, "Dude, you're not going to believe who's in the next studio." Turns out the Chicks were situated next door, working on their highly anticipated new Columbia set with producer Rick Rubin.

Once most of the tracks for "How I Go" were laid down, Key made his move. He recalls: "I finally got up the balls to go over there and say, [mumbling] 'Hey, we kinda want you to sing on this song...' We gave her a copy of that track, and when she came back, the first thing she said was, 'How many kids do you have?'"

The song is written from a father to a son but it doesn't come from personal experience. "I wrote it, like the rest of the album, in an out-of-body experience kind of way," Key says. "I told her, 'It's not about me -- I'm not even dating anyone right now!'"

Maines liked the song anyway, so much so that she wrote her own parts for it. "I can't believe it, and it's amazing," Key beams. "And my mother is just beside herself about the whole thing, of course."

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