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Neko Case comes alive as "The Tigers Have Spoken"

By Brian Baker, January 2005

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"It's the length of a vinyl album. That's the attention span I have," says Case. "Two sided vinyl. No double album Led Zeppeliny experience. Not that there's anything wrong with Led Zeppelin doing it, but if I were to make a double CD or an hour and a half-long CD, it would be self indulgent and crappy, and I would be so burnt out on it that I wouldn't even enjoy it. You have to enjoy it while you're making it, or you're going to make a super crappy record. Not like I'm a genius now, but that material seemed right, and that seemed like the best parts of the show to us, and we all decided together what we wanted."

Another of Case's concerns was that the album reflect the way the band sounded live in the moment, without any studio overdubbing. Other than one unavoidable stage snafu that required correction, the contents are exactly as heard by the Chicago and Toronto audiences.

"It wasn't hard not to tinker with (the tapes). The hard part was getting used to living with certain things after knowing what you can get in the studio," says Case. "I don't tinker much with the studio albums either, but that's because everything is recorded separately. You're not going to have cymbal mikes in the vocal mike when you record in the studio. You don't have these problems. I don't use pitch correction or that horrible Autotune; we don't do those things. There's live records where people go in and totally re-record tracks, and I felt very staunch about not doing it, but we ended up having to do it on one thing. And that's because we had acoustic guitar on one song where the drive input failed, and so we had Travis come in and redo the guitar. So I always want to be very upfront about that so people don't think I'm a 'Live-at-Budokan' scam artist."

Elsewhere, more oblique considerations were used in determining the composition of the album's set list. One of Case's favorite numbers had to be deleted simply because of its unlucky content.

"There's this song with Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, which we didn't use on the album because we would have had three train songs if that had been the case," she says with a laugh. "I think when my web site is finished, that song will be downloadable there. I love Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, they're one of my favorite bands in the world, and I totally wanted this song on there, but we had to not use it because of the train factor. It wasn't our Jimmie Rogers tribute album."

As with the covers, Case had a personal agenda for selecting which of her original songs made the final track listing.

"I chose 'Blacklisted' because I kind of thought it was better than the recorded version; that night it just seemed to work really nice," says Case. "That's one of my more favorite songs, and I thought it would be good to include at least one song that people were familiar with, and I thought that song best represented my stuff that people have heard. I put 'Favorite' on there because the live version sounds completely different from the recorded version, and that song is not so widely available, but it has a special spot for me because it's the first song I ever wrote with a guitar."

That same kind of nostalgia is ultimately the reason for The Sadies' appearance. Case had worked with the Good brothers early in her career after relocating from Tacoma, Wash. to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Her original intent was to attend art school in Vancouver (the drawings on "Tigers" are all by Case), but she had also been a drummer in Tacoma's indie rock scene and she gravitated toward Vancouver's scene as well. She did stints with the punk band Maow and roots rockers the Weasles before putting together her own band, the Boyfriends.

In 1997, Case released her first solo album, "The Virginian," a foray into straight country with a familiar and well-balanced blend of covers and original songs. By this time, she was already ensconced in the New Pornographers and working with them regularly.

She finished school the following year, moved back to Washington and put together her second solo album, the hauntingly beautiful "Furnace Room Lullaby," which garnered her a Bloodshot contract and a ton of critical praise.

After another move - to Chicago, Case released the show-only Canadian "Amp" EP in 2001 and followed with the dark and smoky "Blacklisted" in 2002, an album that cemented Case's reputation as a first class singer/songwriter and earned her an opening gig on Nick Cave's tour that year plus a place on a good many year end top 10 lists.

While never one to look back, Case missed the early days of gigging around with the Goods and was determined to do a project with them at some point. Everyone's schedule finally aligned for "Tigers."

"The Sadies and I used to work together a lot a long time ago until we got so busy," says Case. "And I don't live in Canada anymore, which made it harder. We'd run into each other and we'd be like, 'We miss each other, let's make a record together.' And we'd been saying it for years, and finally I just called them up, and they said, 'That would be so much fun!' And it was ridiculously fun."

About the time Case was conceiving "Tigers," her Bloodshot contract expired. Deciding it was time to branch out and try something new, she examined her options and found a great deal of label interest. She finally settled with legendary punk label Epitaph, whose Anti division is home to Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull and Case's old tour mate Nick Cave.

"Everybody was really nice, and it was difficult to decide where to go, but Anti was interested first," says Case. "I feel very grateful to everyone for their interest, but unfortunately you can only pick one. Otherwise, that creates serious problems."

2005 looks to be another hectic year for Case. She continues working on her new album toward a hopeful September release date and the eventual touring that will inspire. A new Corn Sisters album could be in the offing at some point and as Carl Newman's recent solo activity winds down, Case is awaiting word on a possible recording schedule for the next New Pornographers album. And although she's back in the studio with The Sadies for her new record, she won't be hitting the road with them right away. But she knows their paths will cross again soon.

"I'm going to go on tour with my regular band - Tom Ray (on bass) and Jon Rauhouse (pedal steel)," says Case. "The Sadies are very busy; they just put out a fantastic album so they're going to be busy on their own. This has been like the great reunion time. They're one of my favorite bands in the world. I know that we'll tour again in the future. We can't stay away from each other. We're all so in love."

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