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.
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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!”
You tour as a solo artist, but most of your backing band has remained the same from tour to tour. What would do you most wish concertgoers could know about you and tour mates role in creating the sound that we think of as Neko Case?
They are a huge part of creating the sound. Except for my drummer Dan, they’ve all been around for a long time — not that that makes Dan a schlub, either. He really works hard and his enthusiasm is fantastic. But none of them are attention hogs; Tom [V. Ray] and Jon [Rauhouse], especially, they’re like “We don’t want to do any interviews! We’re side men. We like to be on the side.” So they’re happy like that — but their sound on the record? I mean, there are things I suggest but I end up mixing it with either Daryl or Tucker, and I have the executive veto power. But generally, I work with people where I already like what they do, so I veto things almost never.
How does it help to tour with people that you know and are friends with?
Oh, it’s so helpful. There are definitely nuances of songs that we worked on really hard, years ago, that stick, even today, like it’s in all of our muscle memories. They really care and they really want to be there. I have very close relationships with their families, like, I know all their parents!
That’s great, like you’ve built yourself a real road family.
Well, they’re kind of my real family, cause I don’t really have one.
I follow you on Twitter, where you spend a lot of time hilariously describing the antics of the many, many animals you live with. So, I have to ask: which of your many pets is the biggest jerk, and why?
Well, right now it’s my new dog, Joanie, because she’s a puppy. It’s not really her fault, but she likes to chew up things and other basic puppy s—t. She also likes to chase the cat and he’s so nice and loves dogs so much, he doesn’t really understand. He’s like “Why...why are we doing this? Don’t claw me in the face!”
And which of your pets is the nicest?
Probably my cat Marty; he’s a slutty slutty slut slut and five [years old]. He’s just an example of what every human being should get to be like. He’s so okay with himself and confident and loving, and silly. He just doesn’t have any airs.
On Twitter, I feel like you have a very direct and open relationship with your fans. Can that be challenging sometimes?
No, I mean, I know sometimes people are going to get mad at me for stuff, but I’m not really a mean person, so I try to trust that I have the best intentions. I’ve had to apologize to people before for saying things in not the most elegant or sensitive way, but it’s hard in 140 characters. But it’s kind of a nice limit, because you have to try to be the best version of yourself in that amount.
I feel like you’ve just related two of the most important social media principles: Try to be the best version of yourself, and be comfortable apologizing.
Yeah — or talk about poop a lot. Everyone understands poop.
I think that’s the official third silver bullet for social media success: Talk about poop.
It’s the great equalizer.
Is there any aspect of performing in Boston that’s particularly special for you?
I have just been playing there forever. I think the first show I ever played in Boston was at T.T. the Bears, which is now gone, but I loved. I love Boston, especially your food!
Any particular food or places?
Via Matta! They have this ricotta cheese that’sridiculous, and the chef is so nice! They’re nice. I’ve probably over-told them how much I love them, but you can tell them again.
If you go:
March 2 at 7 p.m.
House of Blues
15 Lansdowne St., Boston