Neko Case Talks New Box Set, DIY Days, Getting Kicked Off Grand Ole Opry
It’s mid-afternoon on an October day and Neko Case has her work cut out for her: She must sign 500 copies of her new vinyl box set, Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule. “My wrist is feeling supple,” she says with a big laugh. “It feels pretty NASCAR.”
Today marks the first time the auburn-haired, bright-voiced country singer, 45, has seen the collection, which spans seven studio releases and a live record and ostensibly her life’s work. But rather than dwell on the deep meaning behind how she’s spent the past two decades, like Proust with an acoustic guitar, her main thought at the moment is how grateful she is that she doesn’t have to number each box along with her autograph. Nevertheless, she’s happy with the way the collection has turned out. That’s mostly because it’s a testament to the work she put into each record, which she’s reflected with the title.
“Everything has been kind of homemade in my career,” she says. “I’ve been a booking agent, driver, tech, publicist at some points — I have done everything. The title is a sweet nod to the fact that there isn’t actually glamour in rock & roll at this level. It’s all work. But it’s happy work.”
Case learned that lesson early, having put out her first solo record, 1997’s The Virginian, while still studying for her BFA. Although she’d spent her late teen years playing drums in punk bands and dedicated some of the time after she graduated to recording expansive harmonies with indie rockers the New Pornographers, she focused her own work first on twangy, rollicking country and then softened her sound somewhat to embrace folkier textures and let her powerful voice soar. All the while, she’s put in the “happy work,” and her latest record, 2013’s The Worse Things Get … , bowed at the top of the indie chart.
When Case does reflect on how she got to this point, she speaks frankly and casually, and she’s quick to stop herself when she sounds “pretentious,” to use her word. For as heavy and poetic as her lyrics can be, she doesn’t like to be overly serious. As she looks through the photo book that accompanies Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, she chuckles frequently: at her drummer dressed as a baby for Halloween (“That’s pretty fucking upsetting,” she says), at graffiti depicting a crudely drawn bird with a penis (“It makes me pee my pants laughing”) and at a friend’s foot with googly eyes on the toenails (“She did that to cheer me up once when I was sad”). When she spots one of her guitars in an airport, she becomes more serious, calling them the “cause of my shoulder injury” and says she’ll never get rid of it because “there will always be guitars to take to the airport.”
Even as she wraps up the box set, she’s begun work on a new LP (“I have one demo on my phone, probably,” she says) and is getting ready to bring more guitars to airport for a handful of U.K. dates toward the end of the month. When speaking to Case, one thing is clear: The work is a constant thing.