Singer-songwriter Neko Case is a rising star in both the punk rock and alt-country music scenes. Her work appears on many "Best Of" lists, including Amazon.com's Music Editor's Picks and NPR's All Songs Considered. And Case's latest album — The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You — was nominated for best alternative music album at this year's Grammy Awards. Neko Case will perform this Sunday in Flagstaff. From the road, she spoke with Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris about the inspiration behind her music.
GF: I'm curious when, and in what form, music came into your life to the degree that it became a passion and, eventually, a career path for you.
NC: Well, there was no specific time. I listened to it all the time when I was a little kid, and my parents listened to it, and my grandparents listened to it, and everybody was a huge fan of music. So, I just kind of think it's always been that way. I kind of started noticing when I was around 13 that I was pretty obsessed with knowing things about it. And it also made me realize that though I was probably not the greatest student, I wasn't nearly so dumb as I thought because I could retain a lot of information about stuff I was interested in. That's when I kind of put that nut together. I was like, ok, I'm not a total dummy cause I can remember these things. I'm, like, maybe I'm just bored.
GF: Speaking of your childhood, you are very open in interviews about having a pretty unhappy childhood. You've been quoted as saying you had "crappy parents" and that you probably shouldn't even be here. How much does that experience play into your song writing?
NC: I'm so close to it I don't actually know. I'm just a really independent person because I raised myself. So, I'm probably less afraid and less self-conscious in some way. I mean, I am trying to please people. I do want love on a huge level. No question. But, I guess there's no one to answer to. But that desire's still there, like, love me, I'll love you back. Look how I'll love you! Let's get to the lovin' everybody!
GF: Is there some sort of therapeutic effect from putting your pain to music?
NC: I don't really think about it that way.
GF: How do you think about it?
NC: I don't think about it like, 'here is my pain'. I don't know if I really chose things so much as I'll start writing some sentences and...I don't know. It's different every day. You know, you're thinking about something, you'll be doing the dishes and there's a line that comes to you that won't leave you alone, so you write that down. And then you go back and you read something you already wrote and you'll be like, 'Oh! That goes with that!' Those ideas tend to make other ideas. They're very prolific breeders, like rabbits. So, those 2 ideas make another idea and then you've got kind of a story. I generally start with lyrics first; writing things down, and then I start with music. But, you know, I'll start the other way, too.
GF: In preparing for this interview and reading some of your interviews from the past, I was particularly struck by the scene of you as a child, in an unhappy household, singing songs to your dog.
NC: Oh! I sing songs to my dogs, about my dogs...I'll sing about anything in the house to the dogs, about the dogs. They're in the songs. It's pathetic.
GF: Your music crosses many genres: punk rock, alt-country, honky-tonk...a lot of different genres. And it's the dream of many country and honky-tonk musicians to perform at the Grand Ol' Oprey. But, your performance there resulted in you being banned for life because you took your shirt off during a performance due to heatstroke. Did that ever resolve itself? Was there any sort of understanding at the end that it was your health that was the issue?
NC: No, I don't think they care. But, it wasn't nearly as punk rock of an experience as people make it out to be. It was just, like, heatstroke. Human condition. This woman was blocking my exit from the stage so I could get some water. I just really wanted some water because I was dizzy. I think that everybody except for one person there found it pretty amusing.
GF: I also think it's amusing that shortly after that Playboy Magazine asked you to pose nude for a pictorial. Is that like being objectified from both ends of the spectrum?
NC: We all know that if you are in Playboy Magazine one time - not that I have any interest in doing anything like that - you are 'Playboy model', or 'Playboy centerfold', or whatever, that goes before your name forever. Like, you worked for 8 years to get a PhD in something and it's like, 'Dr. So and So'...no! It's like, 'Naked So and So'! You might as well just add 'Naked' to the front of your name professionally, which isn't exactly how I want to be remembered.
GF: How do you want to be remembered?
NC: Just as an awesome weirdo who fought for people because they loved them.