Over the last two decades, Neko Case has circled laps around a few different blocks. She’s gone from the small-town fables and old Tacoma roads of her early country albums, like 1997’s The Virginian and 2000’s Furnace Room Lullaby, to the deeply introspective baroque-pop grandeur of her most recent album, 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight ... In between, she’s released three more studio albums, a couple live LPs, and an EP, on top of her commitments to indie-rock supergroup the New Pornographers. Like the true Virgo she is, Case decided to “scrapbook” the hell out of her solo efforts with a gorgeous, eight-disc vinyl boxed set (including an 80-page photo book), dubbed Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule and out November 13. She loved putting the retrospective together so much, she’s already working on her second one — not a new album (sorry, y’all). Ever the conversationalist, Vulture caught up with Case to discuss streaming-music culture, feeling the Bern, and why rock and roll is the least-glamorous job you can imagine.
Rock and roll’s so-called glamour: total b.s.
Case says the title of the boxed set is “all about a good portion of my career where I was doing all the jobs: driving, booking, managing, everything,” and it captures the essence of her philosophy that rock and roll and glamour don’t mix. “It’s like when you’re at the airport,” she says, “and there’s a piece of carpet that goes to the plane, where you scan your ticket, and there’s two ropes. There’s one for preferred access, and there’s another one right next to it, and you scan your ticket on the exact same thing. The idea that somebody invented two lanes right there, for a space that’s three feet wide, is fucking ridiculous. Like, ‘No, this one’s more important!’ It’s fake, made-up.” Musicians may get put up in fancy hotels when they play a big festival, but they only get to see it for about an hour. “The glamour is false. It’s just like a movie set. It’s not a real thing. There’s no expensive Champagne anywhere. Nobody’s hanging out by swimming pools anywhere.” (Exceptions: Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.)
Music streaming and digital downloads: “disrespectful, in a way”
Case gets a little nostalgic when speaking about growing up buying records in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “Now when I buy albums or songs on iTunes or whatever, it doesn’t really come with any graphics or anything to really look at. So I don’t. I don’t really learn the names of the songs, or really immediately know who the backing musicians are. I feel kind of disrespectful, in a way.” She still collects records to offset some of the guilt: “When I buy a record, I want to look through this colorful, booklike thing. The size of it, the weight of it, everything appeals to me, but that could just be because that’s what I grew up with.” The vinyl resurgence is a big part of why Truckdriver came to be; fans kept requesting out-of-print albums to be reissued the classic way, which was exciting for Case to see that younger people are interested in album art, liner notes, and, you know, paying for music. “I generally buy things because I’m still very much into making sure artists get paid for what they do. But that’s my own personal choice. I like to pay for stuff.”
She’s feeling the Bern, but not America’s depressing political climate
Case has been a vocal figure on Twitter, where she’s been known to defend Planned Parenthood and talk politics, but recently, she says, she’s lost interest. As a Vermont resident, where she owns a farmhouse that doubled as the studio for 2009’s hypnotic Middle Cyclone, Case met Senator Bernie Sanders in Montpelier at a rally against the War on Women a few years back. It was a very casual hello, nice to meet you, handshake, good-bye, after which “he was like, ‘How dare we treat women like crap!’ He seems like a nice guy.” Still, Case wearily admits she doesn’t “have any thoughts on politicians anymore. I don’t care what they do or say. I have lost my faith in politicians, honestly. Every now and again [Massachusetts senator] Elizabeth Warren says things that make me go, ‘Thank you, Elizabeth Warren,’ and that’s about it.”
On dealing with double standards
One of the more memorable Twitter exchanges of last couple years was when Case told the “pussy shavers” at Playboy to “get with the now” after they claimed she was “breaking the mold of what women in the music industry should be.” It was an epic reminder that as much as people might have good intentions behind their empowerment of female musicians, siloing women off (and thus hyperfocusing on their gender) isn’t the best way to promote true equality among the sexes. We still have a ways to go on these matters, but Case’s solution these days is doing what she wants and refusing to acknowledge the negativity (after all, to steal one of her song titles, “People Got a Lotta Nerve”). “I think that just carrying on as I feel like will dispel any of those feelings for me personally, so that’s what I would hope to impart to other people.” Putting out a boxed set, however, has made some think — quite absurdly — that Case is ready for retirement at the age of 45. She deadpans, “Obviously I’m still super fertile.”