Music Interviews
2:16 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Birth Of An Album: In The Studio With Neko Case

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 11:58 am

In the months ahead, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep will check in from time to time as singer-songwriter Neko Case creates the follow-up to her 2009 album Middle Cyclone. In the first installment, we listen in to a song that's not quite finished, not quite recorded, not even quite written. First, Case has to learn what the song is.

"That song is kind of just an ambient thought process," Case says. "I don't really know what the song's gonna do yet, so that's kind of the best description I have of it, I think."

There are people who go into the studio and know exactly what they want to hear. To that, Case says, "I'm always in awe of those people." Along with her band mates, she's wrestled with the song in rehearsals in Georgia, and then as part of an 18-day recording session at a studio in Tucson, Ariz.

'There's A Lot Of Inner Conflict Going On'

One phrase lingers in the not-quite-finished song: "Where did I leave that fire?" Case says it's about "just not feeling yourself, in a not-so-good way.

"I'm kind of just figuring out the themes now of the record," Case says. "So there's a lot of — I feel like every word I say is gonna sound super-cliche, but there's a lot of inner conflict going on."

"Is that always the case when you're writing?" Inskeep asks.

"No, I've never worked on a record where I couldn't recognize the songs when I went to rehearse them," Case says. "I didn't know really who the person was who wrote them, and it's been interesting, for sure — terrifying sometimes, but interesting, to say the least."

Case still doesn't know what the song is by the end of the day.

"But that's OK — I'm all right with that," she says. "Because when they're not done, the songs, they're like little nuclear reactors that are throbbing in your suitcase. And you're like, 'When's that thing gonna go off? Is it just gonna die out? Is it just gonna poison the groundwater? What is that thing doing in there?'"

Making Stew

Maybe it's just a matter of getting something out.

"I have a real dog-like mentality, in that it's like, 'Where is my next meal coming from? Am I ever gonna eat again? Will I ever write another song again? Will anyone show up for tour?'" Case says. "I think it comes from being really poor as a kid, where you're like, 'OK, gotta figure out how to get some cases of stew in the basement, because clearly there's gonna be a long winter ahead and I'll never get a job.' I don't know. It's my survivalist mentality. Or dog mentality."

By the end of the 18 days in Tucson, perhaps there was a little bit of stew left in the basement.

"There was stew in the bunker," Case says. "I felt like, 'OK, I can breathe a little bit easy. There'll be something to eat come winter.'"

Neko Case says she's not yet done with that song: She needs to add some guitar, and she'll re-record the vocals. We'll listen to the creative process in the coming months on Morning Edition as that, and other songs, come alive.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we're going to hear a song that's not quite finished, not quite recorded, nor even quite written.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can I hear some level for second? Like the - can you give me what you play when we get to the drum part?

INSKEEP: We listen to a recording session by Neko Case, the singer-songwriter with the haunting voice who's in the middle of making her next album. It would follow "Middle Cyclone," her last album, which debuted at number three on the Billboard charts. In the months ahead, we'll check in from time to time as Neko Case creates more music. And today, we're going to hear about one song that will end up on that new album, if she learns what the song is.

NEKO CASE: That song is kind of just an ambient thought process. I don't really know what the song is going to do yet, so that's kind of the best description I have of it, I think.

INSKEEP: Along with her bandmates, Neko Case has wrestled with this song in rehearsals in Georgia and then part of an 18-day recording session at a studio in Tucson, Arizona, which we're hearing as she speaks.

I'm sure there are people who go into the studio and know exactly what they want to hear. You're not one of those people.

CASE: No, not at all. I'm always in awe of those people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CASE: (Singing) Where did I leave that fire? Where did I leave that fire?

INSKEEP: Where did that phrase come from, where did I leave that fire?

CASE: Just feeling not yourself, in a not so good way.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

CASE: I'm kind of just figuring out the themes, now, of the record. So there's a lot of - I feel like every word I say is going to sound super-cliche. (Laughs) But 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. I didn't know, really, who the person was who wrote them, and it's been interesting, for sure - terrifying sometimes, but interesting, to say the least.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Did you know what the song was by the end of the day?

CASE: I still don't really know. But that's OK. I'm all right with that. Because when they're not done, the songs, they're like little nuclear reactors that are kind of throbbing in your suitcase. And you're like, when's that thing going to go off? Is it just going to die out? Is it just going to poison the groundwater? What is that thing doing in there?

INSKEEP: What you're saying is there something boiling inside of you and you just don't know how you're going to get it out yet until you do?

CASE: Yeah. And, you know, I have a real dog-like mentality, in that it's kind of like, where is my next meal coming from? Am I ever going to eat again? Will I ever write another song again? Will anyone show up for tour? Like there's just, I think it comes from just being really poor as a kid, where you're like, OK, got to figure out how to get some cases of stew in the basement, because clearly there's going to be a long winter ahead and I'll never get a job again. I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CASE: It's my survivalist mentality. Or dog mentality.

INSKEEP: So by the end of the 18 days, though, you felt like there was a little bit of stew in the basement.

CASE: There was stew in the bunker and I felt like, OK, I can breathe a little bit easy. And there'll be something to eat come winter.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Although, Neko Case says she's not yet done with that song: She needs to add some guitar. She will re-record the vocals. And we will listen to the creative process in the coming months on MORNING EDITION as that, and other songs, come alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CASE: (Singing) Will a stranger find it on a curb I leave? Phone call from a time zone (unintelligible)... Six o'clock tomorrow...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.