Kelly Hogan: Cashing In An Album's Worth Of Favors A self-proclaimed "backup singing ninja" with a host of famous friends and admirers, Hogan has just released her first solo album in 11 years.
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Kelly Hogan: Cashing In An Album's Worth Of Favors

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Kelly Hogan: Cashing In An Album's Worth Of Favors

Kelly Hogan: Cashing In An Album's Worth Of Favors

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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KELLY HOGAN: (Singing) I wanna hear your voice coming out of my radio...


And now, to the story of a woman you've likely never heard of, but she's helped and is now being helped by a lot of people you probably have. It all started when a young Kelly Hogan decided she'd become a professional singer.

HOGAN: I started singing in bars when I was still in high school. So, it's not the easiest thing to do if you'd like to eat something besides ramen noodles and, you know, have insurance, things like that. It's just difficult when you're on a peanut level.

SIMON: Still, she paid her dues, toured, put out an album, toured some more. After 11 years as what she calls a backup singing ninja for acts including Neko Case, Jakob Dylan, Vic Chestnutt, Booker T. Jones and many, many others, Kelly Hogan became known as a singer's singer - the sort of singer that big names mention when they're asked who they admire. So one day, a record producer suggested she call in a few favors. Kelly Hogan sent some emails to her musician pals.

HOGAN: I just, you know, professed my undying love and sort of humbly just asked for - if someone wanted to write a song for me either for my sensibility or, you know, my vocal tendencies.

SIMON: Well, they sure came through.

HOGAN: Darn, didn't they?

SIMON: It's wonderful.

HOGAN: I'm not worthy.

SIMON: This is what they came up with: "I Like To Keep Myself In Pain." It's Kelly Hogan's first album in 11 years.


HOGAN: It was frightening to, you know, write to these folks and wonder how it would be received. And then, you know, certain songs you can really like but maybe it's just not the right fit, like going to the dog shelter. It's almost like the dog picks you. Some St. Bernard, you know, gives you the sweet eye and then all of a sudden you're buying a whole lot of dog food.


HOGAN: (Singing) I like to keep myself in pain, even when the sun is high, shining on the olive trees, there's still a shadow in my eye.

SIMON: Let's talk about this title track a little bit.

HOGAN: Yes. I love sad songs more than happy songs. I like to get down there and roll in them, you know, like a dog and a dead squirrel. Everything comes back to dogs with me, so.

SIMON: I noticed.

HOGAN: Yeah, you know, I like a dog. "I Like To Keep Myself In Pain." It's - when I told my manager that's what I was going to call the record, she's like, oh, Hogan, that's so you. I think it just means keeping yourself open, you know, hanging your booty out in the wind. You just got to hang it out there, you know.


HOGAN: (Singing) To the sweet cascading rain, then your voices come to haunt me so. I like to keep myself in pain.

SIMON: Who wrote this song?

HOGAN: Robyn Hitchcock, the great Robyn Hitchcock. And we've known each other quite a long time - since 1990. I guess my band, The Jody Grind used to tour with him and steal the cashews out of his mixed nuts when he'd go on stage.


SIMON: Does he know that?

HOGAN: Yeah.

SIMON: That's where they went. He'll know it now.

HOGAN: Could you please refrain from taking my cashews. So, yeah, he wrote that for me.

SIMON: Can you tell me a little bit about how you grew up?

HOGAN: Let's see. Both my parents worked and we spent most every day with my grandma in her apartment in downtown Atlanta, midtown Atlanta. And she'd have the country radio on - (Singing) WPLO 590 - in Atlanta. So, we'd be listening to Charlie Pride and cutting out chicken and dumplings on the table. And then my mom would drink some cold duck and vacuum the house to Tom Jones, so.... I was into all of it. So, cold duck - that just fascinated us. Why would you drink a drink called cold duck? But now I know what it is, so.

SIMON: Another song I want to ask you about.

HOGAN: Sure.

SIMON: "Plant White Roses."

HOGAN: Mm-huh. That is...

SIMON: It's not about roses at all, is it?

HOGAN: No, it's not about gardening. It's by Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, one of my all-time favorite songwriters.


HOGAN: (Singing) When you're gone, I stumble, and I fall. I'm told that you don't want to stay around, those trains call. You're all I need, but you need more than country songs...

My mom pointed out, I guess, growing up in North Carolina on Mother's Day, if your mother was alive you'd have a red rose and if she was deceased, you'd bring a white rose to church. So, that kind of means something else to her. But I like it, I like it.

SIMON: Yeah, it's a very good song.

HOGAN: Yeah, it's a great song. And I like in the bridge the narrator kind of gets this idea, just kind of comes to her that she's going to get her revenge after all.


HOGAN: (Singing) You'll have to stay. You'll have to stay and watch them grow. You'll have to stay, you'll have to stay and watch them grow. You'll have to stay...

SIMON: My favorite song on this album - "Sleeper Awake."

HOGAN: Oh, yeah. That's our get up, get out, yeah. It's John Wesley Harding. He's been a friend of mine for a long time too. He was my upstairs neighbor in Atlanta actually. And he's quite a prolific little jackrabbit. And so I asked him to write songs for this project specifically and I think my inbox dinged two seconds later and there were two new songs from Wes. But in the studio, we did it - the whole week we were there with all the musicians, we were just trying to get vocals off the floor, almost just the sound of what it was sounding like for these people to be in this room making music. So, we would do each song 15 or 20 times and we did it kind of the gentle way. And then we thought, you know, what if we just flip it upside down and do this, you know, Motown backbeat?


HOGAN: (Singing) Rise up from your deep sleep, baby, wake up from your slumber. I got your inner static ready. I got your number...

My dad is an Army dad and would wake us up by yanking the covers off, turning on the lights, banging on a pan with a wooden spoon and singing "Reveille." Ta-da-ta-da-da... And, oh my God, if you listen closely in the backup vocals in my arrangement, I snuck some "Reveille" in. You'll hear the ta-da-da-da.... Yeah. It was like, here you go, dad.


HOGAN: (Singing) Get out of your bed and quit playing games. Sleeper awake. How much time does it take?

SIMON: I like the subtlety in here; speaks to somebody who tours, you know, that life is in the coming and the going and the returning to each other, and the coming and the going.

HOGAN: I like that, yeah. It's constantly. Well, and then all the people that, you know, responded to my fan letter to write a song. And it was just like this crazy map of this ins and outs and my little, like, the Family Circus dotted line, you know, of what I've been doing for my whole life. So, that's what I like about this record too, it was just like this - everything I've learned to date, all the people I, you know, played with and learned from and sung with. And then we went into this crazy experience with all these amazing musicians. So, yeah, it's just the sound of the culmination of what I've done so far.


HOGAN: (Singing) Awake, how much time does it take...

SIMON: Kelly Hogan and an all-star cast of friends and admirers join her on her first solo album in 11 years, "I Like to Keep Myself in Pain." It's being released as we speak. Thanks so much.

HOGAN: Thank you for having me. I had a great time.


HOGAN: (Singing) ...I'm scared. One touch of your cold lips and I might join you there. But I don't care. This is a risk. This is a kiss...

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