k.d. lang is Asking Big Questions

It seems like an odd reversal of roles, given that she’s doing press for her current tour, Ingenue Redux. Actually, it’s pretty commonplace. In the 25 years plus since lang endeared herself to her fans with Ingenue, a soaring collection of torch songs that showcased her versatility and vocal range in sharp focus, she still feels like an imposter.

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The name k.d. lang is synonymous with a genre-bending sound that perfectly accessorized her genderfluid aesthetic. Like water, her voice fits any space and reflects different tones and colors in its decidedly perfect pitch. As an artist just starting out, she flirted with country music before releasing Ingenue which went on to become one of the most significant records of the 90’s era. Today lang wonders aloud whether she’s done her fans a disservice all these years, asking “is a single point of focus more honest?”

Lang will perform Ingenue in its entirety along with previously unreleased material September 10th at the Florida Theatre. “I have the memory of writing the record and recording it, and the first two years of touring it, but I also have the 25 years of singing some of the songs and hearing people recount their relationship with the songs and my personal memories to the record, so there’s a lot of fodder there in terms of memory and long-term relationships to the record, which is something that I really took into account when I was preparing the tour,” says the Canadian songstress.

“From the most obvious place, it was my big record. It was a big turning point in my career, but I think, for me, it’s more of the social implications this record had. Of course, I came out in 1992 with this record, and the LGBTQ evolution took a big turn with it. I feel a certain sense of pride with that, and I know that this record means a lot to a lot of people. Honestly it feels completely vulnerable and scary, but, at the same time, it feels exactly like the purpose of music and art. It feels like the sacrifice you make is one of purpose and spirituality.”

In the late 80s and early 90s, AIDS was still a huge issue and very much in the forefront. Queer Nation, a New York-based activist group, was outing people, and it was a very contentious time to be gay, especially if you were a closeted gay artist in the public eye. lang came out publicly just three months after the album’s release. Label execs were fearful that the timing would have negative consequences and worried about the economic implications of the projected fallout.

“I think they were afraid it would have negative consequences on sales, obviously. They are a business, and they look after that aspect of my life. They were afraid of the backlash and losing advertising and sponsorship or momentum on my career,” she recalls. “I really felt like it was the most socially responsible thing I could do, just be honest and shed some light on the personal culture of LGBTQ people, not just for the gay community but for society in general. I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

The decision to record ‘Constant Craving’ opened doors and propelled lang into a stratosphere where a duet with Tony Bennett or performing the hallowed songs of Leonard Cohen in front of the man himself were perks of the job. 

“’Constant Craving’ sounded like a hit. It sounded like a pop song, and I was kind of reticent, because I was kind of rebellious that way,” she says. “It became a hit, and at certain points I was like, ‘oh my God, I’m going to be singing this when I’m 90.’ But then you see the reward and the momentum and the opportunities that creates.”

It also ignited a primal need to take the ride again and the bottomless fear that she’d already reached the summit. “That was such a huge disappointment to me to know that I wanted to write another hit like that. It’s funny. It’s almost like a drug where you experience the high of the success of the record, and you want that taste again,” says lang.

“I’ve always intentionally tried to write songs from the most generic perspective, in the best possible way. All of my songs basically are love songs, but they can be applied to one’s self, or one’s dog or to their spiritual nature. I tried to keep it very open, and that’s kind of allowed me to apply new emotions or new perspectives to these older songs. And that’s actually quite satisfying to know that it indeed works that way.”

Looking back 26 years, lang recognizes a distant version of herself in the music, one who still fits into the same familiar skin. Today, she doesn’t feel like herself because most of the time she doesn’t know who that is.

“I don’t know if it’s being evasive or avoiding my own self. I honestly don’t even know who I am. I don’t identify with one particular anything. I could categorize myself to death. I’m a Buddhist lesbian vegetarian, blah, blah, blah, all the things I’ve been labeled with. But at the same time, I don’t feel like any of those things. So, I think maybe that evasiveness is true to me,” she says. “But at the same time, I look at the people who I love as artists, John Coltrane or Billie Holiday or Patsy Cline or Bob Marley, and those people are all singularly identified by what they do. It’s something I grapple with all the time. I don’t know the answer.”

Maybe, a rebel creating art without the restraint of a specific label is her true point of focus. “Yes,” says lang after a long pause. “Those are the good days.”

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About Liza Mitchell