In Advance of Upcoming Kent Stage Show, Neko Case Talks About Her New Career-Spanning Compilation

Singer-songwriter will perform with what she calls her 'irregular band'

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click to enlarge Neko Case. - Courtesy of Arrival Artists
Courtesy of Arrival Artists
Neko Case.
Toward the end of last year, singer-songwriter Neko Case hit the road with the New Pornographers, the Canadian power-pop band with whom she often tours and records. The group played a few West Coast dates prior to Christmas and somehow completed the tour, even though a few members became sick during the trek.

“It was crazy because our drummer got COVID and had to go home,” says Case via phone from her Vermont home. Neko Case performs on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Kent Stage. “My rock ’n’ roll drummer hero Roy McDonald from Redd Kross filled in. It was like fantasy camp. He learned something like 40 songs in a day-and-a-half and totally slayed even though he hadn’t touched the drums since 2018. I cannot worship at the altar of Roy McDonald hard enough. We started with [singer] Dan Bejar, who usually doesn’t come with us, and he got sick and then we lost [drummer] Joe Seiders and then lost our tour manager. We somehow finished the run; I don’t know how. I need three days solid sleep now.”

Case, who regularly splits her time between the New Pornographers and her solo career, recorded her last solo studio effort, 2018’s Hell-On, in Stockholm. During the recording process, her home in Vermont caught fire, but since she was in the middle of making the album, Case couldn’t respond to the situation directly.

“It was just all so intense,” she says of the recording process for the album. “My house burnt down, and I realized that I was completely helpless, and I had to be okay with it. That was a watershed moment. I realized I can’t control it. I’m still in transition today. It’s been almost seven years now. [My house] is still a farm; it’s just a partial house farm now.”

In an essay she wrote about the album, she was critical of the sound of her voice. “I don’t have a pretty voice or a trained voice, and I am constantly disappointed that I don’t have a ‘tough’ voice, no matter how hard I practice," she wrote, "but it’s mine, and for all its loud, heavy-handed, nasal, vibrato-less qualities, I accept it.”  Given that Case's voice is nothing short of magical, it's clear she must be her own worst critic.

“I can listen to myself, but I sometimes get blind spots because I’ve heard my voice too much and it doesn’t register,” she explains. “I have to go away from it to make good decisions. It has a very nasal but forceful sound. Piercing is not right. It’s more of an alarm sound.”

Case wasn’t always a singer. She sang in school choir and liked the fact she could “blend into the crowd of kids.” As a teenager, she mostly played drums with punk bands in Vancouver, where she attended the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

“I was good at hiding behind the drums,” she says. “I wasn’t a good drummer. I couldn’t separate my hands from my feet. It’s so hard. You got to give it to good drummers in that respect. It’s an absolute skill.”

Case didn’t start singing in bands until joining indie rockers Maow in the early ‘90s.

Over the years, Case, a self-confessed “addict of trying different things,” has befriended a wide range of musicians; she recruited a huge cast of musical guests for Hell-On.

“It made me think I might pare some stuff down for the next album,” she says. “Spotify has made it so you don’t have the money to make a record anymore. It really clips your wings.”

Earlier this year, Case released Wild Creatures, a digital-only career retrospective album featuring 22 tracks from her career. The compilation also includes the new ballad “Oh, Shadowless.” The release even includes an expanded version with new and animated artwork by Laura Plansker for each track. Songs from the compilation play in real time while listeners scroll through the site to read short essays and track-by-track commentary from guest contributors, including A.C. Newman, Bejar, M. Ward, David Byrne, Shirley Manson, Jeff Tweedy, Rosanne Cash, Waxahatchee, Julien Baker, Kevin Morby, Allison Russell and Margo Price. In addition, folklorist Adrienne Mayor, ANTI- Records president Andy Kaulkin, and longtime New Yorker staff writer and author Susan Orlean also contribute pieces.

“I didn’t actually pick them. I was too close to it,” Case says of the songs on the compilation. “I asked Anti- to do it. I don’t know what the story arc is here, if there is a story arc. I was just too inside it. I can’t see the big picture, really. I just thought it would be more beneficial for someone watching it from the outside who knows where I am in the world of the label and what my outfit looks like from that standpoint. I’m all over the place.”

“Oh, Shadowless” was supposed to be on Hell-On, but Case simply didn’t finish it in time.

“It’s chaotic and scary but also supposed to be kind of triumphant,” she says of the tune, adding that she’s written about 12 tracks for a new album. “There was an audio recording of this dirt bike, and this woman was holding the bike and revving it but holding the brake to make it go in a circle. I wanted to make a part for it in the song. I thought that was an amazing. We imitated it, and it provides a nice background for Barbara Gruska to do a huge drum solo.”

For her solo tours, Case says she works with two different bands. The one she dubs “the irregular band” will be the one she brings to the Kent Stage.

“It’ll be half New Pornographers and half myself,” she says. “It’s super fun, and there’s a lot of singing. The harmonies are great.”
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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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