Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs combine and create, despite their differences

There may have been tensions in the studio, but lang, Case and Veirs are hitting the road to promote their new album, which marries classic American songcraft with ethereal harmonies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 5:32pm

When singer-songwriter k.d. lang had a notion to form a supergroup, her inspiration was the Travelling Wilburys, an act that counted Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne as members.

So she shot emails to two contenders: Neko Case, whose breathtaking lyricism and soaring voice has leaped out of speakers since her 1997 solo debut, and Laura Veirs, whose delicate guitar melodies and way with a phrase have earned her acclaim and devotion.

Both had a similar reaction.

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“Come on, you’re not going to say no to that,” says Veirs, who jumped on the project despite having had her second baby that same week. “That’s a lot to take on, but I’m not going to say no.”

Case describes receiving the message: “I remember replying to it before I even finished reading it.”

The result of that invite is the new trio album case/lang/veirs, 14 songs that marry classic American songcraft with ethereal three-part harmonies and wondrous lyricism.

But that doesn’t mean the process was all roses.

After starting work on the project in 2012, convening in either lang or Veirs’ living rooms at semi-regular intervals over the next three years, the trio quickly butted heads. As solo artists, each was used to having veto power.

“It was never easy,” lang says. “As individual and accomplished singer-songwriters, all of us in our own right coming in to collaborate and not having a singular leader presented a lot of obstacles.”

Grammy-winning artist lang describes “very tense moments” over specific words and lines, as well as quibbles over arrangements or tempos. But that should have been expected. Before the collaboration, they didn’t know each other except as fans and certainly weren’t friends.

“I think I probably offended everyone pretty quickly,” Case says. “Of all of us, I would say that I am probably the clumsiest and the most blunt and rude.”

Case describes scratching out lines and calling out cliches before she realised she needed to tone it down. Her role, she adds, was as “the pollinator. I made up a bridge, or changed something around or wrote some new words.”

Lang’s faith in the process was centred on her sense of Veirs and Case as people.

“I trusted in who these people were fundamentally and morally,” lang says, “and I think that we all knew that we trusted where the person was coming from – that the music would always be first, that the ego would be overridden in service of the song.”

The record is proof of her conviction.

An album that mixes standard instrumentation with ethereal arrangements, case/lang/veirs isn’t too much of a stylistic departure for any member of the trio. Each tackles twang-tinted folk and country music from different perspectives, but there’s enough complementary overlap to provide a solid foundation.

Asked whether any tension from the sessions remains and how that might affect the tour, which began last week in San Diego and carries on across the country throughout the summer, lang says she isn’t worried.

“Our managers are coming,” she says, laughing. “We each have a bus, and we have our lawyers with us. We only talk through our managers.”

Case adds that while lang will be flying from gig to gig, she and Veirs have arranged separate transportation: “We’re going to take donkeys.”