Neko Case: Interview
A Medium’s Interpretation
After her 2002 release Blacklisted, Neko Case apparently found it necessary to track me down and force an interview out of me. After months of trying to avoid having to do this (using excuses such as "computer problems"), I finally gave in and asked the girl her questions:
d: On all three of your albums you've got a pretty extensive
lineup of performers. Most of these people float in and out of
your roster. Do you tend to not hang on to backups for any
Neko Case: I do have a full time band actually: Jon Rauhouse and Tom V.
Ray. I like to invite a lot of people to the recording session
though, it's more fun that way.
d: How does the songwriting process work then? Do you leave a lot
of the supporters' parts up to them?
Neko: We play the song together a few times, so they get the basic
structure, then I encourage them to put a bit of themselves into
it. It's exciting to watch something evolve like that.
d: And personally, how does your process typically work? Do you
consider the music lyrically or musically driven?
Neko: It's never the same way twice. Sometimes it's lyrics first,
sometimes melody, sometimes it's just a few chords.
d: I have a lyrical question. One of your lines that, for some
reason, I find interesting is "God bless me I'm a free man with no
place free to go." For a while now I've wondered what that
particular statement means to you. If I'm not prying too much,
care to explain the thoughts behind it?
Neko: Well, I wrote the song for my dad. He was having a hard time
and I wanted him to feel like somebody understood. I think I was
trying to write from his point of view, but I can never really
know what he was thinking, the song kind of belongs to him.
d: With each album you've released, songs written by you (and just
you) have been taking over. This is great, by the way; they're
typically my favorite tracks. It's probably way too early to be
asking about, but any thoughts about the new album? Will you be
doing all of the writing?
Neko: I think I'll still do a few covers, because there are so
many great songs out there that are not meant to be forgotten.
It's such a joy to take a break from your own stuff sometimes.
It's like riding the cyclone at Coney Island.
The majority of the songs will be my own though. I'm sorting
through a bunch as we speak.
d: Are details still too hazy, or is there anything you can tell
me about album number four then? Sound direction? Guest Stars?
Will it come in Cherry Flavor?
Neko: That info is top secret, even to me....
d: Alright, alright. Is there a foreseeable release date though,
or is that also top secret?
Neko: I'm not giving myself a deadline yet, that would curse me.
d: Well, don't get me wrong, your production is part of the catch
of your sound, but have you considered releasing an album or EP
with just you playing some solo tracks in their original form, the
way you wrote them?
Neko: Well, it would be the sounds of a person singing off key
into a hand-held 80s tape recorder, so I don't know if it would be
very palatable, but I do have a studio demo I may put on the next
Canadian Amp EP.
d: I have to make sure to word this one properly as not to offend
you, but you should know that Tiny Mix Tapes loves you, so don't
be! For a long time, if I were to ask a peer what type of music
they listened to, a not uncommon response would be, "anything but
country." It was a style widely unaccepted. Today, acts with
extremely apparent southwestern and/or country influences
(Songs:Ohia, Calexico, yourself) are earning more and more respect
and popularity across the indie (and not to mention pop)
community. What do you think has changed?
Neko: That's not an offensive question, I hear it all the time. I
think people get older, and realize that a lot of music they love
is heavily influenced by country, and so they check it out. They
find a well of incredible music and sentiment, and so they pass it
on. It only takes falling in love with one song to change a
d: I've seen some pretty interesting "labels" for your sound
though. I liked Country-Noir a lot (wink, wink). I've picked up on the
idea that you don't appreciate it when your music is genre-ized.
What exactly irritates you about it?
Neko: I guess when you work so hard on something, you don't want
someone else to tell you what it's called. Plus, I like country, I
have all my life, so I don't see why I would want to separate
myself from it by saying "alt-country" or some crap like that. It
sounds like you are trying to separate yourself from it. There is
no danger of my music being mistaken for mainstream Nashville
country, so that would be unnecessary anyway. I do like country-noir though, it sounds like the movies.
d: So is it hard to be a woman in rock? Just kidding! I know how
much you love that one. I wasn't going to bring up to fact that
you're a woman really, because I've never really been under the
opinion that a musician's gender made much of a difference;
however, on your web site you mention a great number of women whom
you admire. Most
of these are classic, pre-modern acts. What women are you
listening to who perform today?
Neko: Kelly Hogan, Carolyn Mark, Missy Elliot, Catherine Irwin,
Mary J. Blige, Les Rita Mitsouko, Le Tigre, Cat Power, Emmylou
Harris, Sally Timms, Trailer Bride, Mary Margaret O'hara... I
could go on for hours, but I keep feeling like I'm forgetting
people, so I'll stop.
d: Can you tell me a bit about your experience last summer
speaking at Idea City's Meeting of Minds?
Neko: It was very exciting! Probably one of the highlights of my
life. I've never spoken to an audience before. It was nice to talk
about music directly, and not have the media interpret it for me.
d: Uh huh. It looked like a spectacular gathering though.
What ideas did you cover?
Neko: I can't remember, I was a nervous idiot. I blacked it out. I
did feel very high afterward though. I got the audience to sing
backup on a song we recorded right there. I'm hoping to give it to
Idea City for their web site by Jan. ‘04. The audience was
wonderful. I never expect people to participate, but they did and
they made me cry.
d: Two more quick ones. The readers might not care about
this one, but The New Pornographers recently played in Minneapolis. The venue's sign read "Neko Case and The New
Pornographers." What's with that? Before the show I asked one of the snob workers
at the venue if you were playing a solo set as well, and she answered "our signs don't tend to be as
complicated as people think." Nice, right?
Neko: We tell people never to advertise like that but they don't
listen. I guess the signs are too complicated for that particular
employee. Maybe they were the person whose job it is to go " hey!
You can't stand there!!"
d: Ok one last thing. Is there a question that you've always
wanted to be asked in an interview? Something that you've
practiced in front of the mirror even, just in case? I'll even
pretend like I asked it if you want!
Neko: I guess it would go like this:
“So Neko, I hear you make the most delicious soup in the world, so
much attention to the base, and the vegetables, exquisite! What is
your secret, and will you open a cafe soon?"
Then I don't really answer, I just cry softly into the receiver
and mouth the words "thank you" over and over.