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Neko Case: A Meteorological Masterpiece

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Neko Case: A Meteorological Masterpiece

Neko Case: A Meteorological Masterpiece

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Neko Case has one of those huge, powerful voices that pulls you in and swirls you around, kind of like a tornado.

(Soundbite of song, "This Tornado Loves You")

Ms. NEKO CASE (Musician): (Singing) Tornado loves you, this tornado loves you, this tornado loves you, this tornado loves you, this tornado loves you. What will make you believe me?

SIMON: That's a song from "Middle Cyclone," her newest album, which comes out this week. Neko Case joins us from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. CASE: Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Look, a number of the songs in here, including, of course, this one, of storms, hurricanes, tornados, cyclones. Are you hoping to get promoted on the Weather Channel?

Ms. CASE: No. I just really dig feeling subservient to nature. It brings me a peace and calm, kind of like a Faustian thing, I think, where you want the devil's minion to tell you, you know, Faust, I could tell you what the meaning of life is, but your human brain is so tiny you just wouldn't get it.

SIMON: Well, I…

Ms. CASE: That's kind of what weather is like for me, I think, that reminder that should make you feel cruddy about yourself but you just go, you know what? You're right. I feel so much better.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You've got a lyric in here. This is a love song, we should explain, "This Tornado Loves You." I mean, let me - I carved her name across three counties and ground it in with bloody hives, broken necks. We'll line the ditch till you stop it, stop it, stop this madness. I want you. Happy Valentine's Day.

Ms. CASE: The idea for that song was what would happen if a tornado was in love with you, how would they express themselves?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASE: Which all came from a dream that I had. I was driving across the country, and I ran into a tornado who wanted me to read him a book because he couldn't hold the book or read it. And he really wanted me to read it to him.

I just was so haunted by that dream, you know, thought about it a lot and came up with different scenarios. And one was,, what if a tornado was in love with you? Like, what kind of excellent love letters could you get from a tornado? Well, I guess it would wreck a bunch of stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: See, now, I thought the song was about someone whose love feels as great and overwhelming as a tornado.

Ms. CASE: Yeah, it seems like it should be metaphorical, but it's actually quite literal. But, you know, it's really up to the listener, too. I mean, if that's how they feel about the song, then they're not wrong either, you know.

(Soundbite of song, "This Tornado Loves You")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) I want you. I waited with a glacier's patience. Smashed every transformer with every trailer 'til nothing was standing. Sixty-five miles wide. Still you are nowhere, still you are nowhere, nowhere in sight. Come out to meet me, run out to meet me, come into the light…

SIMON: Did you record some of this on a dairy farm?

Ms. CASE: Yeah. It's a former dairy farm. I own a farm in Vermont. It has a gigantic barn. I really wanted to find a piano for the farmhouse, so I went on Craigslist. And there was so many free pianos on Craigslist, I thought, let's get as many free pianos as we can and stick them all in the barn. And so, that's what we ended up recording at the farm.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Forget Me")

SIMON: How many pianos?

Ms. CASE: Eight, I got eight in a short period of time - only six of which were tunable, but it's still quite something.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Forget Me")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) In the wintertime, keep your feet warm. But keep your clothes on and don't forget me. Keep your memories, but keep your powder dry.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the last track on this album. It's about 30 minutes long. I'm not going to set it up. Let's just play some of it.

Ms. CASE: Okay.

(Soundbite of frogs)

Ms. CASE: We thought it was sad that there was 37 minutes of silence at the end of the CD, so we thought, let's put something there that's kind of soothing. And I had a field recording that I had made of the frogs at my house.

(Soundbite of frogs)

SIMON: Now, is it hard to get them to sing all at once in the same key?

Ms. CASE: Yes, very.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASE: No, they were pretty much going for a few weeks strong. Mating will do that to you, I guess.

SIMON: How does a song start for you?

Ms. CASE: Usually, when I'm doing the dishes or doing something that my physical body knows how to do, like taking a shower. And then the subconscious has a little more access to you, so you'll think of something. And seemingly, it comes out of nowhere but it doesn't. It comes from your subconscious and you think, I just had that idea. That was mine. I should really write that down.

SIMON: Is that why - a number of artists say they get good ideas in the shower. It's because they're…

Ms. CASE: I think so.

SIMON: Yeah, the subconscious takes over.

Ms. CASE: Yeah, I mean, like, you know how to take a shower. It just frees up your subconscious.

SIMON: I want to ask you, there's a cover song on this album, "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," which is by a '70s band called Sparks. What drew you to this song?

Ms. CASE: Well, I've actually wanted to record this song for a really long time, but you know, when you do cover songs, you have to try to make them fit with what you've written, too. And on this one, there is a lot of nature and there's a lot of weather. And I thought, well, this would be the perfect opportunity to do this because I'm either going to have to go one of two ways.

I'm going to have to take out some of the tornado references, but it might be kind of fun to just go completely over the top, and just stuff in as many weather references as I can.

(Soundbite of song, "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Towns are hurled from A to B by hands that looked so smooth to me. Never turn your back on Mother Earth. Grasp at straws that don't want grasping, gaze at clouds that come down crashing. Never turn your back on Mother Earth.

SIMON: You spent at least part of your time with the Canadian band called the New Pornographers, don't you?

Ms. CASE: I do, yes, much of my time.

SIMON: And you put out a new album with that group last year.

Ms. CASE: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: How do you go back and forth between the solo and the group?

Ms. CASE: Well, it's actually a very nice transition because I don't write the songs in the New Pornographers so for me, it's kind of like sleepover camp, where you get to go in canoes and jump off floating docks and stuff of rocks. And I've been in that band since 1995. So, it's nice that it's still happening.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song here because it contains a lyric that I really admire. It's the song, "I'm an Animal." And in here you - it's just one single beautiful, may I? Almost perfect line. I do my best…

Ms. CASE: Aw.

SIMON: I do my best, but I'm made of mistakes.

Ms. CASE: It's a true line.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASE: Thank you for liking it.

SIMON: When you say it's a true line, I mean…

Ms. CASE: I'm a professional mistake-maker from way back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, but we are the sum total of our mistakes. That's how we learn.

Ms. CASE: That's true. I started as a mistake. I was a product of a teenage union, to put it dramatically. But my parents find that kind of funny. So, it's not without a sense of humor, for sure.

SIMON: May I ask, are they still together?

Ms. CASE: No, no. They haven't been together since I was a small child. And my father passed away a couple years ago, so my mother is living in Hawaii, but she's going to move into my house in Tucson and take it over with her mom-ness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASE: She's going to mom it out. My plants are going to be fantastic.

SIMON: You're about to go on tour.

Ms. CASE: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Do you enjoy touring?

Ms. CASE: Yes, very much. It's the one part of the job that I feel like I really know what I'm doing. I don't feel nervous or fearful when I'm on stage. And I have a very close group of friends that I'm on tour with - you know, both with the New Pornographers and with my own band. We've all known each other since we were kids, basically.

So, you know, one of the ways I try to make it not hard on myself and the band is, we don't tour for as long of stretches of time. It's a little more costly but, you know, everybody in my band is married, pretty much, and have lives at home. And so, I don't want them to be away from their families so long that they just start to feel psychotic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASE: You have to go home and stand around in your bathrobe doing your dishes to feel like a normal person, sometimes.

SIMON: Is there a song we can go out on, you'd like to recommend to us?

Ms. CASE: I think maybe "People Got A Lotta Nerve" would be a good one -another literal song about large predators doing what they do. But people are still shocked that a tiger will eat someone.

(Soundbite of song, "People Got A Lotta Nerve")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) So the saying goes an elephant never forgets, standing in the concrete cave swaying side and sing. They walked over the ocean…

SIMON: Ms. Case, a real pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. CASE: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Neko Case, speaking with us from NPR West. Her new CD is "Middle Cyclone."

(Soundbite of song, "People Got A Lotta Nerve")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) I'm a man, man, man, man, man, man eater…

SIMON: "Middle Cyclone" comes out on Tuesday, but you can get an exclusive first listen to the entire album on one of our Web sites, NPRmusic.org.

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