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Making a Case for Neko

By Andy Turner, March 2000

Neko Case has one of those voices. A soaring, knockout voice.

But Case, who just released her second album, "Furnace Room Lullaby," (Bloodshot), didn't start off as a singer or in country music, for that matter. After a friend gave her a drum set when she was around 17 or 18, Case says she joined a band right away.

"I was in a punk rock band, the Del Logs," the 29-year-old says. "I don't know why we named ourselves after fire place logs. We thought Del Logs was kind of funny. And there were all these Del bands at the time the Del Lords, the Del Fuegos."

She drummed in numerous other punk bands, including Vancouver trio Maow, where she finally got to sing.

The band released their only album, "The Unforgiving Sounds of Maow," in 1996 for Canada's Mint Records.

Around that same time, she was writing songs that "weren't really punk." At a young age, her grandmother had instilled in her an appreciation for country music, which showed up in her songwriting, she says.

"I write songs more naturally that way I suppose," says Case, who cites Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson as influences. "Also, I don't think I'm as good as a drummer as I am a singer. Not that I'm a genius at singing...But it is incredibly fun to play drums."

In fact, she didn't "switch" from punk to country; she says she does it "in addition to."

She convinced Mint to allow her to make a solo album, and in 1997, along with The Boyfriends her rotating ensemble of backing musicians recorded "The Virginian."

The album received an overwhelming positive critical response. Bloodshot soon licensed the album from Mint to release "The Virginian" she was born in Alexandria, Va. in the United States.

"Furnace Room Lullaby," released in late February, has also generated plenty of positive press. Case says all the attention hasn't put any extra pressure on her.

"It doesn't hurt anything," she said. "Sometimes I wonder why we get such good acclaim. It's nice. I don't take it for granted."

Recorded in Vancouver and Toronto, "Furnace Room Lullaby" features another round of Boyfriends (and a couple of girlfriends) that number around 15.

Between "The Virginian" and "Furnace Room Lullaby," Case says she got a better idea of how she works.

"I'm more efficient," she says. "I'm feel more comfortable. I think I sound a little more relaxed. I don't know if people can tell." The 12 songs are all originals. "The Virginian" featured several covers, including Ernest Tubb's "Thanks A Lot," the first country song she ever covered in front of an audience.

Except for "Set Out Running," the leadoff track, Case co-wrote all the songs. She wrote mostly with Boyfriends, but there are a few songs co-written by non-Boyfriends, including Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams.

Case says she constantly has ideas for songs.

"There are pieces of songs floating around all the time," she says. "It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few months. It varies. If I write by myself, it doesn't take as long. It just depends on the situation."

Her favorite song on the new album is the haunting, noir-ish title track. "It sounds a little different," she says. "It isn't a love song, which I'm a little bit sick of right now."

Another thing she's sick of is videos and she's only done one. A video for "Timber" off her first album was filmed and serviced to MuchMusic and CMT, but it was reportedly "too country" for MuchMusic and too violent and out there for CMT.

Case wasn't disappointed that that the video never made it to television.

"I don't like making videos," she says. "I'm glad they didn't play it. It was terrible. It costs too much; it's a big waste of time. It was one of those things where we had a plan for what we were going to do, and the director changed the idea at the last minute."

Case, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, hopes to get her master's degree some day "in the nottoo distant future."

Although she was living in Seattle at the time of this interview, she planned to move to Chicago in April.

She's not a novice at moving. Among the places she's called home are Vancouver (in Washington state and Canada), Vermont, Oregon and numerous other localities in Washington, including Tacoma, which she honors on her new album with "Thrice All American."

She insists, however, she doesn't like being a rolling stone.

"I like to travel," she says. "I don't like to move."