Neko Case Q+A: Punk rock past has made her fearless
Singer-songwriter Neko Case got her start playing in punk bands in British Columbia. She eventually would embrace an alt-country sound with 1997’s The Virginian. She hasn’t looked back. Her latest album, last year’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is another terrific collection of twangy tunes that shows off Case’s beautiful, Patsy Cline-like voice. Guests on the recording include M. Ward, Steve Turner, Howe Gelb, and members of The New Pornographers, My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Los Lobos and Visqueen. Case recently phoned from her Vermont home to talk about the album.
I wanted to ask you a few questions about your latest album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Do you use an abbreviated title?
I never expect anyone to use a title that long. It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all. I really just refer to it as The Worse Things Get.
What inspired the title?
I was trying to explain to a friend of mine that I was having a hard time titling the record. I said, “What I’m trying to say is that the worse things get, the harder I fight and the harder I fight the more I love you.” At that point, I realized that I should just call it that. That encapsulates what I’m trying to say. It’s one of those “duh” kinds of thing.
Did you attend the Grammy Awards?
I did not. I had a show in Houston.
Did you consider going?
I’ve been before and it’s a really awesome thing to do. It’s a really long day with a large group of people and you’re only there with one other person. Kind of like how watching the Super Bowl at bar with friends is fun, it’s more fun if you play a show instead. All the people are rooting for you but you forget about the fact that you’re going to win or lose or whatever because it’s nice to be nominated. I was just happy to be nominated.
Talk a little about the recording process. You did some of it in Tucson?
I did a lot of it in Tucson. I did some things in Portland and some in upstate New York and some in Brooklyn. I was all over the place. I like to mix it up. I couldn’t have done it all in one spot. It would have been too much.
Is there a common theme on the album?
There’s the idea of transmutation, becoming another person. I kind of made a record to explain it. It’s not really explainable. Can one element become another element when influenced by something else? That’s as best as I can describe it.
You’ve been making music for 20 years now. What keeps you going?
Well, ideas — we’re slave to them and wait on them hand and foot — and they breed like rabbits. After awhile you see that some of your ideas have a positive effect. Maybe you don’t’ feel so alone and both parties feel good. I have an audience and they want to be pleased and they want a non-judgmental voice in the dark coming out of their speakers.
How does your punk rock past continue to influence your approach to making music?
I don’t have any fear of making executive decisions. I don’t have any fear of trying something different.
You embraced country music on The Virginian. How were you first introduced to country music?
It’s way more punk rock than punk rock. That was always a really nice back pocket influence to have. In the late ‘80s and early 90s, there weren’t many women playing punk or hardcore. It was pretty lonely to be a fan. People were weird about. They were assholes about women being in bands. They would talk horrible shit. Women did it too. I did it sometimes out of sheer jealousy. It just meant I was supposed to be a band too. There were women in the spotlight writing songs and playing guitar and making money. There wasn’t that in punk rock. At one point, there was Blondie and X but there was a very long dry period after that. Besides the fact that those bands were still around and playing, there weren’t young Blondies and Xs popping out of the woodwork. It was dry.
The music was so aggressive and territorial.
Women are aggressive and territorial. We wanted an outlet like that. I Iike the immediacy of it. But a lot of times it was rehashed political dogma. It wasn’t about being poor and lonely. The poor and lonely was more legitimate and honest. Not that a lot of the political dogma wasn’t spot on. But it was blanket statements that couldn’t be wrong. Like the government sucks. Yeah, we know the government sucks. How you going to fix it?
Any more plans to play with The New Pornographers?
They’re coming over on Sunday for a photo shoot. The record is done. It’ll be out in the fall. I don’t think we have an actual date yet.