Neko Case needs no introduction. The 45-year-old musician's career is one to balk at: lending her vocals to the beloved Canadian indie rockers, The New Pornographers; spanning genres, from country to experimental, as a multi-decade solo artist. Case released "Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule," an 8-record catalog of her solo work from ANTI Records in late November. She chats how the set came to be and how she's grown as an artist — oh, and that time she guest starred on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."
What does it feel like to be a musician with a career long enough to justify a retrospective box set?
It feels pretty surreal. Apparently, people don’t usually do this until like, they die. People keep being like, “Why did you do that?” and I’m like, “Because I didn’t know I couldn’t do that, basically.” It only spans my own solo career, so there are all kinds of other stuff I’m working on getting together for later.
One aspect of releasing this box set is spending time with recordings from very early in your career. Are there any songs from that early period that you’re especially excited to revisit?
It was really nice to go back and revisit things off “The Virginian,” because at that point in my musical career, I’d played in a lot of bands and stuff but I didn’t know a lot about music. So I didn’t know things like, if there’s a song that’s a little out of your range, you can actually change the key. So songs like “Duchess,” for example, is in a key I could not really sing in, which is kind of ridiculous. Now that I’m playing it live, I can change it into a key I can actually sing.
That must be really satisfying.
Yes and, it’s embarrassing, but it’s one of those things where you’ve just got to own it. I realized I was pretty much learning in front of my audience and I’m okay with that. If you don’t care, and you’re brave enough to [share] recordings from before you knew everything can be fun.
A lot of your songs depict you as kind of a gender-less force of unruliness. But, when your voice is used in other people’s projects, it’s often cast as hyper-feminine, like when you played a siren on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” What is it like having this dichotomy in how you understand yourself and the response your voice produces in others? How does that inform your writing?
Well, sometimes I write songs from the perspective of characters. In fact, that’s what I usually do; they’re usually kind of stories. And, if they’re about me, they’re generally kind of gender-less or at least gender-slippery. For “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” I was just going to do whatever they said. They could have told me to be a paramecium and I would have been like “Yeah! Let’s do it!”
Many of your songs are written from the perspective of distinct characters, sometimes animals, or even extreme weather systems. But on your most recent album, some of the standout songs are about gutting personal experiences, like “Nearly Midnight Honolulu” and “Where Did I Leave that Fire?” How is writing and performing songs about your own experiences different?
“Nearly Midnight Honolulu” isn’t about me, it’s about something I witnessed, and it’s nearly verbatim. I don’t normally write about myself and so when I was writing that I was doing it because I wanted to show up for work every day and not lose my thread with that. So I did it not really thinking it would go on the record, necessarily.
But then, when I got a ways in, I figured I was going to change a lot of things up, and put new lyrics in, but I thought to myself, “Your fans have been around a long time, and they’re nice people, so just trust them. If they don’t like songs about you, so be it.” I mean, I don’t really like writing songs about me, but it happens — not a lot, but sometimes! And I’ve finally been like, “That’s OK.”
Is it hard to perform those songs live?
No, by the time we get to the performing, we’re just focused on actually pulling it off live, so there are no difficult emotions at that point. There’s no sadness with the song necessarily, [and] that doesn’t mean that performing the song isn’t satisfying, or a joy to do. Sometimes I’ll have an emotional connection more with songs I haven’t done in a long time. Like if we haven’t done “The Tigers Have Spoken” in a long time, that song will make me tear up. It’s really funny how that can happen with your own song if you haven’t heard it in a while. You’re like, “Awe, this f—r is sad!”