By Kerry DooleIn advance of the feverishly-anticipated release of her new album, Middle Cyclone , Neko Case flew into Toronto in late January for a quick promotional blitz. A somewhat tired-looking but still animated and eloquent Case sat down with Exclaim! for the following interview.
So you're being worked hard on the promotional rounds? Neko Case: Yes, I'm in harness right now. Busy, but I'm having a really good time. Everyone has been pretty great.
Any sense of how Middle Cyclone is being received yet? Not really. So few people have it at this point. I'm hoping it will go well [laughs].
Does making records get easier as you go along? No, it gets harder every single time. Your ability to perceive problems is greater. And your capacity to have ideas explode into a million ideas on you gets greater. You don't want to leave any leads unexplored. You don't want to let things go. It becomes a rather precious exercise. Sometimes it can be really tedious, and sometimes you're just trying on every outfit. I get the sense you did explore leads here. To me, it is quite adventurous, and sometimes off the wall, other times conventional. You pleased with the results in that sense? I think so. I don't think there was anything I didn't get to look into or finish. So I feel good about it. Feel you're getting better as a problem-solver? In our last interview, you were talking about how much you were learning from Darryl Neudorf [co-producer] on the technical production side. I'm a better problem solver than I was but my ability to recognize problems is much greater, so there seems to be more of them. But it is just me being able to spot them. It's a little frustrating on one hand, but you try to be positive about that and just realize you can use it. It is a heavier chain. The album was recorded in four different locales, I see. Most of it was recorded in Tucson, as far as bed tracks go, but I have to change it up or else I get really batty. I have to go to different places, break it up with a tour, go home for a while, go to Vermont. There was some remote recording too. Kelly [Hogan] did some stuff by herself with Nora [O'Connor] in Chicago, then we did some vocals in Brooklyn, then some recording here in Toronto as well.
A lot of friends do cameos. Was that a matter of coincidence, working with whoever happened to be around? Yes, it's about catching them here and there. That is how I got Carolyn [Mark], Sarah [Harmer] and Matt Ward. Does that help keep it fun and fresh? Very much so. It's very nice to have people come in and break up the monotony. Just renew your sense of joie de vivre when you're working on something.
The fact that you've worked and toured so long with your core cast of characters, does that make it easier? For the first time I have a full-time band now, now that we've added Barry Mirochnik on drums. It is an actual permanent unit. So this is the first record where we've rehearsed a lot of the songs before we ever went into the studio. We were able to give them full rehearsal, played them at some shows, stretched them out to see what we could do with them. That was really helpful. I felt much more grounded when I was going in to do the bed tracks. Was it a finite period of time to write these songs? Some go back a ways. I've had "Magpie To The Morning" forever. It was originally written for a movie and that didn't work out, so I just changed most of the lyrics for myself. "Pharoahs" I wrote with the Sadies quite a while ago.
You've co-written a lot with the Sadies. How does that process work? I do all the lyrics by myself. Whenever I am working with somebody else, it is always about the music. It is so much fun with those guys. So nice to feel like you are part of a band, playing music in a room, rather than by yourself, going "does that chord sound good?" I don't know. I play tenor guitar, so I don't even have any bass notes to put in there, know what I mean? And there's something about being able to step back and listen to somebody else play something you just wrote together, to be able to tell if you want to change something or which way you want it to go. It is very freeing, so I prefer working with other people to working by myself, I have found. It's lonely! It's not very bands-y or fun. That's what I always liked about being in a band, that sense of camaraderie, laughing and what not. So this really feels like a band now? Very much so.