k.d. lang is an icon to women in the music industry who is also known for her activism for gay rights and animal rights. Laura Veirs is a cult-favorite indie musician and songwriter who produces some of the Pacific Northwest's finest music. Neko Case has been in more bands than we could possibly list here, but most notably the New Pornographers, and is a successful solo musician in her own right. Now, the three have teamed up for a project called case/lang/veirs, working together in Portland to collaboratively write and record an album that will be released on June 17.
I remember the first time I heard each of them sing. k.d. lang blew my mind with her slow and sensual style on "Constant Craving." I listened to "Galaxies" by Laura Veirs on repeat for literally years and felt like my heart was being destroyed each time. Neko Case made me want to sing and dance like a woman barely holding on to her sense of control on the New Pornographers track "Mass Romantic."
Courtney E. Smith: How did this project get started?
k.d. lang: I felt like doing something different. I felt like doing a group collaboration to bring in a little bit of outside joy into my musical experience. On a whim, I just … I don't remember what, emailed or texted the girls, and they immediately responded, saying, "Let's do it."
Laura Veirs: She asked if we wanted to start a band, and I said, "Let me check my schedule. I'm free!" I think I might have just had a baby at the time. I was very busy, but I was pretending like I wasn't busy.
Neko Case: I didn't think about it at all, I just said, "Well, yeah, of course I want to do that!" I don't think I reacted, I just snatched it up.
CES: What was it like to collaborate?
LV: Initially, we thought we might do a punky girl group, but then we kept writing songs and they weren't that style. We were writing Americana/folk/indie music — we just had to follow what the songs were.
NC: We definitely came at it knowing that it was going to be a strange situation, because all three of us are alpha personalities who run our own bands. We're all in charge of ourselves, and we do things in very different ways. k.d. is at the big music industry end of the spectrum and has done all the huge things you can do. Laura has been doing her own DIY thing, putting her band together by herself and giving it to record companies later. I'm in the middle of the two. It was an interesting fit.
kdl: Oh my God. There was a ton of compromise. We definitely had different ideas of songwriting and lyrical approaches and so forth. Egos were slain and conceptions were slain and there were really tense times, but I would say the music kept us together, kept us focused, and kept us feeling like we had a good, positive momentum.
CES: How did you blend your musical styles to come up with cohesive songs and, ultimately, an album?
kdl: We came to a crossroads in the music when started trying to demo them. We all decided that we didn't want to have three-part harmonies on every song and that we didn't want to try to make every song a trio song. What we thought was interesting, and more to what we were doing instinctually, was that Laura does take a song, and then I try to blend into her, and Neko blends into her. We did want it to feel more like a collaborative band rather than a three-star trio thing.
NC: I was proud of us for getting through that and not resenting each other or feeling weird. It was kind of like being in Harry Potter and Dumbledore going, "OK, Harry, I'm going to be under this spell and I'm going to beg you to give me water, but no matter what, don't give me the water." And Harry having to look at Dumbledore suffering and say, "Sorry, dude, but I can't give you the water because the song is going to suck if I do." It wasn't quite that dramatic, but that's the only metaphor I can think of for it.
LV: It worked because we actually wrote the songs together. That's the part I am most proud of, because I've never written with anyone. I was freaked out, wondering how you sit in a room and come up with an idea with someone else. It felt strange to me at first. I would bring in a source song and they'd like it, but then Neko would change the lyrics altogether. At first, I would ask, "What do you mean? My lyrics are cool!" But then her lyrics would be so interesting and different than what I would come up with. I loved that.
NC: I think you'd be surprised at who wrote what here and there. Some songs will sound like k.d. maybe, but I wrote them. Or Laura will have written a guitar part that will sound like me. We did try to work for each other, as well as for ourselves.
Listen to case/lang/veirs' new track "Best Kept Secret"!
CES: What's the story behind "Best Kept Secret"?
LV: Tim Young, who is actually the subject of the song "Best Kept Secret," plays guitar in our core band.
kdl: It was done in one or two takes, and it went down super-fast. We were all dancing. It just had so much joy. Then Neko came up with that ba-da-da ba-da-da ba-da-da ba-da-da. It just kind of unfolded in this really joyful, celebratory way. I wasn't a huge fan of it in the demo stage. It was kind of straightforward. I was wrong. It tracked really well and it is super- joyful.
NC: It was beautiful to see Tim playing guitar on the song that Laura had written about her friend, who she adores and admires. I didn't know him at all until we started making the record, but it was cool to have him come in as this legend and beloved person. I felt as if I was already attached to him, having worked on the song for such a long time. Then he showed up, and he's even greater than I thought!
CES: How do you feel about the word supergroup?
NC: It doesn't bother me, but I don't envy the people who write about music's position to have to describe what we are in a paragraph and a half. I don't begrudge people saying that if they need to.
kdl: I was tickled as hell to see people calling us that. I don't think we initiated that. At least I hope we didn't! I first started seeing it in the Twitter reaction to "Atomic Number" and the idea of the three of us touring. I'm excited. I love the idea of a supergroup.
LV: I think that's just cute. It's fine, it's fun, and it's just a way for people to get excited. I think it's a supergroup in a way because we did a super job. I'm like an elementary-school teacher saying, "We did a super job!" But we did! It was really hard to have the patience, and three years in the making. I'm really proud of the work we did, and I think the record sounds super-cool. I'm excited to share it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Courtney E. Smith is the author of Record Collecting for Girls and a freelance writer. She feels strongly that this project qualifies as a supergroup.