Musical Superpowers Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs Unite for a Made-in-Portland Record

The process was, at times, “excruciating.”

By Fiona McCann May 19, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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“I’m the mirepoix. Laura (right) would be the main ingredients. Neko (left) would be the finishing salt,” says k.d. lang (middle).

Image: Jason Quigley

"I think we should make a record together.”

Thus read an e-mail from k.d. lang, the Canadian lesbian ’80s country legend (yes, she is all those things, and more), sent one night some three years ago. Within half an hour, its two recipients had replied: lauded local singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and indie rock folk-noir queen Neko Case. They were in.

Skip forward to 2016, when case/lang/veirs release their eponymous album (June 17), a light, tight 14-track testament to the power of three. “I’m bored of myself,” explains lang (the lowercase is intentional) of her decision to shake things up with two musicians she says she had long admired. She’s deep on a sofa in Veirs’s Northeast Portland house, and she’s shooting straight. “When you have any job, and you’ve done it for 34 years, you start repeating yourself, and then it becomes mundane and you start to get angry at the thing you love the most.”

Her experience with Case and Veirs was, by the sound of things, anything but boring. After they decided as a triumvirate to write new material rather than take the easy road to an album of covers, differences soon became apparent. Lang says the project quickly diverged from her original intent. “I kind of wanted it to be more kitsch and more throw-off,” she says. “I definitely wanted it to be kind of goofy. And both Neko and Laura wanted it to be pretty real.”

Things got real, real fast. Veirs and lang, both Portlanders since lang’s 2012 move to town, began meeting regularly, getting to know each other before finally sitting down to write together. Then Case came to town for an intense and green-shake-fueled two weeks spent working on that raw material. That’s where the egos took a battering, in a process lang recalls as “excruciating.” Veirs, leaning forward on a chair half-facing her bandmate, remembers bringing songs to the table only to have all the lyrics replaced by Case, which she admits sometimes “felt crappy.”

Yet somehow, three high-caliber musicians with established solo careers got past it. “We’ve all had issues of feeling that we don’t belong for some reason, or we’re not fitting,” admits Veirs. “But I think it’s been great, spiritually, for all of us to just shed that stuff.”“I’m sure it happened to every one of us,” says lang, “where you felt completely deflated and questioning your own taste, your own choices.”

Case/lang/veirs found their groove, coming to understand over the three-year process how they worked best as a unit. “I like to say things extremely directly, Laura’s kind of in the middle, and Neko’s very abstract,” explains lang. “If you think about it in terms of layering flavor, for example, I’m the mirepoix, the fundamental base. Laura would be the main ingredients. Neko would be the finishing salt.”

The writing pushed them. But Veirs and lang have fonder memories of the recording process with producer (and Veirs’s husband) Tucker Martine. “It unfurled in this most beautiful way, and even looking at the photographs of the three of us, I actually feel like it’s alchemy,” says lang. “There’s something neat about the combination of us.”

Something super, maybe? Once the world got word of this new collaboration, the label “supergroup” followed swiftly. How do they feel about this loaded term? (Does any band really want to be grouped with Asia and Temple of the Dog?) Veirs is circumspect: “Sure, we can be a supergroup, or we can be just three human beings up on a stage making music. It can be either one.”

But lang can’t hide her glee. She grins, and you can tell that for all the ego clashes and the hard work, she’s pretty glad she sent that e-mail. “Supergroup?” She leans back. “Fuck yeah!”

case/lang/veirs play the Oregon Zoo on Saturday, July 2.

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