Neko Case kicks off her Australian tour this Thursday, February 27, at the Fly By Night. DAVID JAMES YOUNG reports.
For some, Neko Case is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. On one hand, she presents listeners with harrowing, brazen folk rock that stirs the emotive spectrum into a whirlwind.
At the same time, however, you can catch her goofing off on Twitter or as a part of comedy podcasts like Nerdist or Comedy Bang Bang. How important is it to balance the seriously strange and the strangely serious? More than you’d think – at least according to the lady herself.
“Earlier in my career, I was kind of worried that people were going to think that I was so dark,” Case says. “I guess the outlet of making music that’s often so dark makes it easier for me to balance that out the rest of the time – ’cause, y’know, I’m actually pretty silly most of the time. Most of the funniest people I have ever known don’t even let that side of them show in public.” She goes on to point to the aforementioned podcast interviews as some of the most enjoyable ones that she has ever done.
“I’m going to sound like a total dick,” she prefaces. “But talking about yourself can really suck. It’s just kind of awkward. I mean, I don’t hate it – it’s part of my job, and that’s fine. But it’s when the conversation swerves to something that a) you’re interested in; and b) isn’t about you; it can become the most fun thing ever. You more or less get to say whatever you want. The thing about musicians and comedians is that we’re both very independent. We travel the same. We tour the same. The crossover is really nice. I dunno… most comedians want to be musicians, most musicians want to be comedians. We’re all very in love with each other.”
Lately, Case has been doing a lot of talking about herself in relation to her sixth solo album. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You may be a mouthful, but its contents are easily digestible – her defiant, implicit lyricism and its lush surrounds make for what is potentially her finest album to date. It’s worth noting that many of these songs did not begin their lives with Neko behind a guitar or behind a piano – rather, they found her behind a steering wheel.
“I think of a lot of melodies while I’m driving,” she says. “I just sing it into my recorder. A lot of songs started that way. It comes when I’m doing the dishes or whatever, too. Sometimes I’ll just be fucking around on the guitar or something. There’s no one way for me when I’m writing songs.”
One of the tracks that springs to mind instantly is Nearly Midnight, Honolulu, the album’s centrepiece and a thoroughly devastating song involving a mother verbally abusing her child at an airport bus stop. It revolves almost entirely around Case’s vocal delivery, and it makes for a bittersweet, heart-wrenching listen.
“It’s a verbatim conversation that I witnessed,” she says. “I’m the narrator in the story, and I am the witness in the story. I still think about it – I think about that kid all the time. I wrote the song in the car, and I sang it into the recorder. The melody came to me very quickly. I tried putting music to it, but I eventually came to realise that the version with just the voice was the most honest version I could put out there.”
Case will return to Australia in February for the first time in just over four years to perform at WOMADelaide and a series of headlining shows. Before getting back on the road, however, Neko has business to attend to. She confirms that The New Pornographers are working on their first batch of new material since 2010’s Together. “We’ve been recording on and off for the past few months,” she says. “I’ll be going back again soon. I love playing with those guys.”
Asking Case whether she looks forward to her Australian return is probably one of the more obvious questions one could possibly raise. “Are you kidding me?” she responds, half-joking and half-incredulous. “I always save Australia for the last part of major tours. It feels like the dessert after dinner. It is the absolute best place to tour. I’ve got nothing to hide in saying that.”
Case’s Sydney stop next week will see her performing at the Concert Hall in the Opera House. Although it’s a prestigious honour for any act to be able to perform on such a grand, iconic stage, Case displays a degree of reticence when it comes to that particular date on the tour.
“I’m trying not to think about the Opera House show,” she confesses. “As a person who’s not from Australia, the Opera House is the first thing that you see in your mind when you think of Australia. It’s so very intimidating, but I’m very excited about it. I’m going to try my very best not to pee my pants onstage. Maybe someone else has done it before me, but I really don’t want to be the first!”