Neko Case is a firebrand. Over the course of her quarter-century-long career, the 48-year-old has made a career of holding nothing back. Through her six solo albums, she has breathed life into tigers and tornados, celebrated curses and complexities, and spoken passionately about female representation and autonomy in the rock ‘n’ roll world. Yet her collaborative spirit is also legendary; in addition to her 20 years in The New Pornographers, the last two years alone have seen Case make a record with alt-folk icons KD Lang and Laura Veirs, co-produce an album with Björn Yttling (of Swedish pop supergroup Peter Bjorn and John), and duet with indie-rock icons Eric Bachmann and Mark Lanegan.
Yet it’s Case’s steely individual spirit, forged in the fire of a grueling childhood, that sets her apart from today’s modern musical field. Album titles like The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You will go down in literary indie rock history, and last year’s Hell-On delivered another dose of flinty, undeniably catchy tunes. In true Neko Case fashion, the release of that record was bookended by a devastating fire at her Vermont home. Folio Weekly caught up with her to talk about all of the above (and then some).
Folio Weekly: Let’s talk about Florida, Neko.
Neko Case: Florida first! I’ve never had a bad show in Florida. The fans I hear from the most are Florida fans, and I’m trying to take that very seriously on this trip, so we’re playing five shows in Florida. It’s our Florida tour [laughs]!
Your songs contain such intense personal perspectives. Is it hard to remain connected to, say, “Hold On, Hold On,” an autobiographical song written nearly 15 years ago?
Definitely. I wear a lot of hats; I’m the writer, the performer, the producer. I‘ve spent so much time with the songs. But playing them live is completely different than putting them together in the studio. At the same time, you have to translate the record experience to the live experience, making sure all the little tiny parts that you don’t want to sacrifice are still there. Those little tiny parts are often what people become really invested in; they want to see them live. At least I know I do, as a music geek. I don’t expect bands that I go see to do things exactly like the record. I just want the feeling to be there. The intent is everything, which means preparedness is the greatest weapon.
What a metaphor. You work with language in such a unique way, especially when it comes to humanizing animals and acts of nature. Your 2009 song “This Tornado Loves You” is one of my favorites of all time.
I think it’s very sad that humans distance themselves from nature so much. Whether it’s because we live in this new era of technology or it’s this holdover from Victorian colonialist values, we definitely don’t have a good relationship with our natural selves or with nature in general. Humans are very dispensable when it comes to the world and its survival. Obviously that’s a pretty vast generalization, but our culture seems to pretty much ignore nature altogether. I wish we had more of a connection. And I wish that we liked ourselves more. We’re always trying to figure out how we’re better than everything else, but it’s pretty nice to live with nature. Nature gives a lot back.
That sounds like the moral of an ancient piece of folklore.
I’ve been interested in stories like that since I was a very little girl. I like cautionary tales. The ones that don’t necessarily have a heavy-handed moral but are more common sense things said in a really funny way. “Don’t go out in the woods smeared with jam. Wolves will eat you.” Those little details stick with you and help you recall that knowledge when you’re in the situation where you might actually use it.
What knowledge gleaned from your recent collaborations have you put to use?
From KD Lang and Laura Veirs—and Tucker Martine, since he was just as big a part of making that record—I realized I don’t have to be such a control freak all the time. I would get more ideas the less I tried to be a control freak. When it came to making Hell-On, I branched out and decided I wanted to work with Björn [Yttling] because I wanted to find some new sounds. I could be imagining this, but in my younger days it felt like there was this pressure to be a virtuoso, to do everything yourself. But I got into a band because I wanted to be a gang of people. Like a positive gang, you know what I mean? I can write songs by myself, but man, I don’t enjoy it. I like sharing the experience with another person. If I recorded something by myself again, it would be a lot more frustrating than inspiring. I worked with so many inspiring people on this record. I learned a ton, and it was really joyful.