Neko Case is on a roll. The singer-songwriter is a card-carrying member of the indie supergroup The New Pornographers, who are about to release a new album, Brill Bruisers. And she’s touring in support of her latest solo release, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
But Case has had a tough couple of years. She struggled with depression, caused in part by the deaths of her grandmother, her parents and some close friends. She retreated to her farmhouse in the Northeast Kingdom, and tried to focus on songwriting.
But Case is now moving forward, and will perform at Burlington Flynn Center on July 2 in a concert to benefit the Flynn and Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. She recently stopped by VPR's Montpelier studios to talk about her new album, her creative process and her life in Vermont.
On the New Pornographers' upcoming album, and their four-year hiatus
"We've been busy having babies and making movies and records and touring ... we being the entire band, in different chunks. And making other records, too. None of the babies are mine, unless you count, you know, some chickens.
"It [the album] is kind of a throwback to our earlier records where it's a lot messier. There's still the things that we really enjoy, [like] super layered harmony singing, but there's also lots of large rock and excellent cacophony, I think."
On ceaseless collaboration and the drive to improve
"Well, I'm kind of like a stray dog. I don't really know where my next meal's coming from, so I have this fear that if I stop working I'll probably die. You know, like a shark, I've got to keep moving. That has given me way too many things to do, and I'm actually a bit of a workaholic, which I need to work on. I need to calm that down a little, but I don't regret any of my projects that I've worked on."
"I really just want to become the best musician I can, which sounds super lame, and like a super blanket statement, but I definitely keep working toward improvement, because that's what I've committed my life to."
On the making of The Worse Things Get...
"I was really boringly depressed. It was very situational, but it was really large, to me. I lost my parents and my grandmother in a short period of time, and some friends as well. So, I hadn't slowed down to kind of mourn the deaths of those people who were close to me. I'd been on tour, and I kept on touring, and I think that's how I would deal with things: I would just work extra hard.
"And there was a point while making this record, where working extra hard stopped working. And that's when I kind of realized I was in trouble. But I mean, I kept working throughout all that time. It took about four years, I think, but it worked out."
On the popular notion that artists process their emotions by creating
"This record did not help me get through depression, except for the fact that I would just go to work. Meaning that I just had a task for myself to do, and I don't think the songs necessarily made me feel better about anything. Like it didn't feel cathartic at all. It's not really a cliché; it's kind of a mythology that isn't really so true. It's kind of like [the idea that] artists need to be tortured to make good art, which is also totally false."
On relocating to Vermont five years ago
"I've had no regrets. And it kind of takes me back to the only nice time in my childhood, really, which was living in Vermont, in Lamoille County. And I just remember it was the only place I ever felt like I fit in, and it's like a family group. There are different ages of people, there are different people you go to for different reasons. I don't know, I feel taken care of here.
"I touch dirt every day, and I take care of other creatures. You know, I'm not the most important thing in my life, which, we all are, to an extent, but there's something very unreal and kind of distorted about life on tour, which is also a great way of living, but doing it full time would make a person insane. So it's a very nice balancing. You know, you slow way down, and you make yourself very unimportant. There's lots of hilarious life and death experiences on every level, every single day in the farmhouse. There's a lot of gore, there's a lot of poop. It's very humbling."
On being neighbors with Catamount Arts
"It's been really good. I, of course, own the building next door to Catamount Arts, where they used to be, where my rehearsal space is [now] and a restaurant and whatnot. They were the first people to really welcome me to the area and really went out of their way to make me feel at home and give me pointers as to where to find good folks to help you with plumbing. It's just a very, very high-functioning, kind of hilarious, neighbor relationship. Rather like a sitcom. We're giddy teenage girls together."