3:28am

Tue April 2, 2013
Music Interviews

Back In The Studio, Neko Case Recovers 'That Fire'

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 8:34 am

Over the past year, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep has been following the progress of singer-songwriter Neko Case as she works on a follow-up to her 2009 album Middle Cyclone. Inskeep spoke with Case last spring, right after an 18-day recording session in Tucson, Ariz. During that first installment, Case said she was struggling to get a feel for the songs she'd written.

"There's a lot of inner conflict going on," Case said. "I've never worked on a record where I couldn't recognize the songs when I went to rehearse them. It's been interesting, for sure — terrifying, sometimes."

Inskeep recently checked back in with Case, and over the course of studio sessions in the summer, fall and winter, songs that were strangers to her have since become intimate friends.

One is "Where Did I Leave That Fire," which last spring existed only as what Case described as an "ambient thought process." She says working on the song made her feel as if she was living in a submarine — so she asked her engineer to add some some submarine noises to the track.

"To me it felt — this is going to sound very flaky — but it didn't feel of this world," Case says. "So I thought submarines would be kind of the appropriate way to do it. I had really gotten into the book Shadow Divers [written by Robert Kurson] right before we had recorded all of this. ... It's about a U-boat found off the coast of New Jersey that had been lost. It was a German U-boat, and these American divers became obsessed with it, and it was riveting. Everybody in my band read it, and we were super-obsessed."

That led to an obsession with another story about the sea: Moby-Dick. Case says she read it for the first time last year during a break between recording sessions and was inspired to include a line from the novel — "There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness" — in one of her songs.

"[Melville] really kind of simply mapped it out," Case says. "Well, there's wisdom that teaches you something, and then there's woe that teaches you something — and then there's woe that's like, yeah, you maybe need to go to the hospital. And if you can differentiate which one of those you're feeling, then you'll be fine."

As it turns out, Case was fine. She just wrapped up the final mixing session on the album, which is tentatively titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.

"It's a little long," Case says. "But I'm sure it'll get shortened to something."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we'll continue listening to the sound of an album as its being recorded. We're getting inside the creative process of Neko Case.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NEXT TIME YOU SAY FOREVER")

NEKO CASE: (Singing) I hear the tiniest sparks and the tenderest sounds. Diving music, drowning the sound...

INSKEEP: That's a 2009 earlier recording by Neko Case, an acclaimed songwriter whose voice can tug at your heart. She's been letting us listen as her latest album slowly comes together in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CASE: (Singing) (unintelligible) find it on the curb idly...

INSKEEP: Now, when we last talked with Neko Case, she'd just finished 18 days of recording in Tucson, Arizona. At that time, she was struggling to get a feel for the songs she'd written.

CASE: There's a lot of inner conflict going on.

INSKEEP: Is that always the case when you're writing?

CASE: No. No, I've never worked on a record where I couldn't recognize the songs when I went to rehearse them. It's been interesting, for sure - terrifying, sometimes.

INSKEEP: That's how she felt last year. Let's find out how she has changed the partly finished recordings we heard back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CASE: (Singing) A chill ran through me and I grabbed on tight. That was when I left my body for good...

INSKEEP: So that's how the song sounded in the spring of 2012, Neko Case. And you knew you didn't have it, but you believed you were going to have it.

CASE: Yeah, I knew at this point, with the basics I knew it would be OK.

INSKEEP: What did you do then?

CASE: I sat with it for a while and thought, well, what could we do. And then I went into the studio and Chris Shultz, who is one of the engineers at Wavelab, I said, you know, it would be really great. Can you find a really good track of submarine noises?

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: 'Cause I just feel like in a submarine. And he was like, Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CASE: (Singing) A chill ran through me and I grabbed on tight. That was when I left my body for good...

INSKEEP: The sounds that you add in create that otherworldly sense; that sensation that we're floating in space, or maybe - since its submarine sounds - we're floating in the ocean.

CASE: Yeah, I think to me it felt - this is going to sound very flaky - but it didn't feel of this world. So...

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: ...I thought submarines would be, kind of, the appropriate way to do it. And I had really gotten into the book "Shadow Divers"...

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: ...right before we had recorded all of this.

INSKEEP: What's that about?

CASE: It's about a U-boat found off the coast of New Jersey that had been lost. It was a German U-boat, and these American divers became obsessed with it, and it was riveting. Everybody in my band read it and we were super-obsessed.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: And that led to another obsession for Neko Case. She was feeling creatively frustrated, so she put a nose in another book, Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick." Apparently that book helped, since she went on to write a song lyric that quotes a line from the novel.

CASE: It's a coda at the end, but that's one of the backing vocals I have to do that's not on there yet.

INSKEEP: What are some of the words?

CASE: There's wisdom that is woe. There's a woe that is madness.

INSKEEP: That's how you were feeling.

CASE: Well, that's how I was maybe feeling. I wasn't sure. But he really kind of simply mapped it out. Like, well, there's wisdom that teaches you something. And then there's woe that teaches you something. And then there's woe that's like, yeah, you maybe need to go to the hospital.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: And if you can differentiate which one of those you're feeling, then you'll be fine.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CASE: (Singing) Last night late, I was watching it snow. It always goes sideways in the city. It comes right out from the streetlights, you know, pumped up by an engine inside the Earth's core. It goes sideways in the city...

INSKEEP: Have you ever had a moment where the song was almost done and then you listened back to it, in the mixing process, and decided there's nothing there - I don't like this? I want to change this.

CASE: There's actually a song on this record that has been scrapped from two previous records. And it's finally getting used because it's finally what it was supposed to be.

INSKEEP: What changed about it?

CASE: It got simplified. It was just too many ideas in one song. And so, I ended up making it about one idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CASE: (Singing) There you are at the edge of the world. Hmm-mm, dangling with my heart a'pounding, above a gulf of hamstrung promises you sang like Auld Lang Syne. You wanted it so badly that believed them at the time...

INSKEEP: What is the name of the album, by the way?

CASE: Well, it's really, really long. It's called "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You."

INSKEEP: I like that.

CASE: Thank you. I'm sure it'll get shortened to something.

INSKEEP: Wasn't there a Joe Walsh album called "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get?"

CASE: Oh, thank you for making it a Joe Walsh reference.

(LAUGHTER)

CASE: I'm serious. I'm like oh, man. People are just going to compare me to other stuff, now that I've a long title. But if it's Joe Walsh, I'm so down with that.

INSKEEP: That's Neko Case who's been talking with us while recording her latest album, whatever it ends up being called. Later this year, as that album comes out, we'll talk again.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CASE: (Singing) Many think there was something coming some day...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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