What: case/lang/veirs with Andy Shauf
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: Sold out
Singer-songwriter k.d. lang likes to think she works well with others. Her previous collaborations with singers Tony Bennett and Roy Orbison were smash successes, which made her think the idea of writing a record with two other songwriters she barely knew wouldn’t be all that difficult.
It turns out she underestimated the strong-willed dynamics that would arise when lang got in a room with alt-country siren Neko Case and indie-folk artist Laura Veirs.
“We’re all songwriters, we all have our own careers and we’re used to writing for ourselves,” lang said from her home in Portland, Oregon. “To have songs written in collaboration as a democracy is very difficult. There was a lot of moving pieces and it seemed improbable most of the time. But the music kept pushing us forward. It was definitely the thing that kept the momentum moving.”
The case/lang/veirs project was a dream realized for lang, who had always envisioned being part of a Traveling Wilburys-style collective, she said. Having sung at various points of her career with Dwight Yoakam, Madeleine Peyroux and Ann Wilson of Heart, among others, lang knew what case/lang/veirs could offer if the right balance were struck.
“It’s definitely an enriching and educating process. It doesn’t matter who you collaborate with, you’re going to push some buttons and open some windows you’ve never considered before.”
lang and her cohorts faced hurdles early on. Three personalities with three different ways of writing made for some tough decisions, but the project was all the better for it in the end, lang said.
“It burned a lot of egos.”
Case, lang and Veirs were all able to contribute while keeping their identities intact, lang said.
“We didn’t want to create a trio record. We didn’t want to create a three-part-harmony record. We really wanted our individual assets to come out, with the support of the other girls. We wanted to be more like a band.”
The project got underway nearly three years ago, with lang making first contact. The Alberta-born icon approached Veirs, who also lives in Portland, about the idea. Not long after, Case, who lives in Vermont, was invited to participate.
“I always had it in the back of my mind, and when I moved from Los Angeles to Portland in 2012. I met Laura and Neko, at different times. One night it hit me: ‘That would be a really interesting combination.’ I wrote them both an email and, within half an hour, they both wrote back: ‘Hell, yes.’ That was a good indication.”
They thought about saving themselves the hassle and making an album of covers, but that “didn’t feel quite right,” according to lang. Schedules were eventually rearranged so that work on a batch of original songs could begin at the studio of Veirs’ husband, producer Tucker Martine. Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and former Zony Mash guitarist Tim Young, among others, were brought in for musical support.
Veirs is the only one with a co-writing credit on all 14 songs, but it was a three-person process. Veirs brought most of the ideas to the table, at which point lang set to work adding her input. They left spots in the songs for Case to fill, once she arrived, lang said. Recording was quick, lasting just five days.
“We’d say: ‘This sounds like a Neko one, I bet she’s going to like it.’ And we’d leave empty space, and she’d drop a brilliant bridge on us in about five seconds.”
The album, case/lang/veirs, was released June 17 to ecstatic reviews. Mojo called it “a vigorous, life-affirming record.” The group’s performance Tuesday at the Royal Theatre, as part of the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival, sold out three weeks ago and is the most hotly anticipated concert of the 10-day event. The show will be only the supergroup’s sixth concert, following its debut in Portland on June 20.
Concerts supporting the release have been better than she could have imagined, lang said. A few selections from the catalogues of Case, Lang and Veirs make it into the set, but the performances are more about celebrating the collaboration. By the end of the 33-date tour, which winds down Aug. 17 in Toronto, there is a chance case/lang/veirs will never tour or record again.
Lang is open to all possibilities.
“To me, what makes sense is not always the obvious choice. I like to make left turns. It’s also about setting the next thing up. I’m one record ahead sometimes. It’s a long, long process of gut instinct, and what’s going to be right as a business fit.
“It’s a combination of thoughts, but it always boils down to my gut saying yes or no. I feel there’s a record in me that maybe I will never find, a source I haven’t quite found yet, a vein of music or thought or emotion that I’m waiting to tap into. And I have no idea where that is.”