's full conversation with Neko Case below, or return to rest of our issue 50 cover story here
Are you still living in Tucson?Case:
I live here right now but I’m transitioning, moving to a farm.
Paste: How did that come about?
Case: I bought a farm. I didn’t buy the farm, I bought a farm. I’m a nature lover so I kinda want to go move there.
Paste: And are you going to be growing stuff on this farm?
Case: Oh yeah. Hay, vegetables, dogs. It’ll be a used-dog farm. I want horses
and goats really bad. I haven’t really gotten to be around horses since
I was little, so I’m kinda dying to. I really miss them.
Paste: How do you think farm life and touring life will mesh?
Case: It will mesh beautifully because when you tour it just doesn’t matter were you live.
Paste: Just gotta find somebody to take care of all those dogs.
Case: Yep the dog wrangler, to live on site. I’m very excited about it.
Paste: I got to hear the new album.
Case: Yeah? You got to hear it before me then, it's not even mastered yet.
Paste: It certainly sounds finished to me. Tell me a little bit about this
barn in Vermont that you converted into a studio for the piano
Case: Well I didn’t really convert it into a studio.
Basically the floor was made of dirt, and so I hired a friend of mine
to come in and put in a wood floor and build a stage. And it looks
amazing, but then we decided it would be really hilarious to see how
many free pianos we could get off of. Because that’s how I got a piano right off the bat, but when I went on I couldn’t believe how many free pianos there are on Craigslist.
And I was like, well I have a barn. So I ended up with eight, which are
playable. That’s when I came up with the idea for the piano orchestra.
I thought it would just sound so beautiful to have a bunch of people
playing piano at once in that barn because its so old; it's from like
the 1780s. I mean, it is old. The wood inside, some of it's
rotten, and you can see where they’ve built part of a newer barn over
an older barn, and its just a crazy crazy place. The lady that I bought
the barn from, she had written down in pencil every single person
that’s ever lived there. She actually knew—she was a scientist and
botanist and her and her husband had the farm for like 20 years—and
they knew everything about the farm and they loved it. They took such
good care of it and I kinda knew it was just the right place for me. I
knew I was going to continue the farm in a way that they really would
appreciate, so she told me all the history and that barn has been
there, basically for the last couple hundred years. There's only a
hundred years of people "legally" owning it, according to the
government. Basically the barn is just so old, and it feels really
good, and I was really excited. Like, I knew about the dairy cows that
used to live there in the '40s and before that in the '20s, there was a
man that raised Morgan horses and they are all buried underneath the
orchard. There's just so much history there and I really wanted to do
something there. We ended up with robins on the recording and frogs and
all kinds of stuff. And with a barn, you just don’t have control, which
was another element I really liked.
Paste: So is that where the final track of "post-album relaxation" comes from? The crickets on the farm?
Case: Yes. I actually went down to the pond and recorded that myself. There are frogs at the end of “Polar Nettles,” as well.
Paste: You have a pond on your farmland?
Case: Yeah. It’s about a hundred acres.
Paste: Why Vermont?
Case: I lived there when I was a little girl, and it was my favorite place I
ever lived, and the people were so kind. I always wanted to go back,
and I know that sounds like a fairy tale—“And the people of the
”—but it really was true. I reconnected with my friends from when
I was a little girl that also lived there, and they’re all the same
excellent nice people. I was really scared to go back because I thought
that it would have changed or been mowed down, and they would have
built condos or something out there. But it turns out they’d gone
backwards in time. Everybody I knew as a kid still lived there and
looked exactly the same. It was really bizarre. I left in ’79 or ’80,
so I was about 10. It was just great when I lived there. I was so sad
to leave when my family left, and all I ever wanted to do was get back.
So on a trip to Portland, Maine, we decided we would go see if we could
find the farm that I lived on as a kid. And the lady who bought the
farm after we lived there. I actually knew her, and she still lived
there. We pulled up to the farm, and she was standing in the driveway.
I said, “Hello, Sally,” and it was really amazingly easy, and it just
made sense. It just worked out really nice.
history has been moving from place to place. You moved around a lot as
a kid too and left home very young. What is it that’s driving you from
place to place because Seattle, Tucson, Vermont—those are very
Case: Economics. It’s not usually for want of
being somewhere until I moved to Tucson. When I moved to Chicago, I
really wanted to move to Toronto but I didn’t have a visa to do that,
and I wasn’t going to do that illegally because I work in Canada all
the time, and I wasn’t going to endanger my good neighbor status with
Canada. I love Chicago, too, and I had a lot of friends there. It
turned out I loved Chicago and had the best time. I was on tour for two
years while I lived there, and I had a little, tiny bit of money for
the first time in my life. I realized that if I didn’t buy a house now,
the money would be gone and I would have nothing. I couldn’t afford to
buy a house in Chicago, so I decided to go to Tucson because, at the
time—2002—it was so cheap. I recorded all the time so it made sense for
my job. And I had a lot of good friends here who are on tour all the
time, and then I moved here, and I’m loving it. But on that trip to
Vermont, I just kind of realized I don’t need to live in a city; I need
to live with some trees. Because I come from trees. That’s what I miss.
Not that I don’t love Tucson. I could try living in both places, but I
don’t think that would work. I’m not that kind of person. I’ve got to
have everything in one place. That’s something that rich people do, and
I don’t know how they do it. I don’t really get that. I could
understand why they want to do it, but I have too many animals and
they’re really large. You cant just get on a plane from Tucson with
four gigantic dogs.
Paste: I’ve talked to other touring
musicians who’ve found a remote place to call home since they’re
touring from city to city and getting that urban exposure every day.
Case: Yeah, and I grew up half urban and half in the middle of nowhere, so I
feel like I should keep that going. It just feels kinds natural.
Because half of the year I’d live with my dad and half the year I’d
live with my mom. With my mom it could be absolutely anywhere, and with
my dad it would be somewhere poor and urban in Washington.
Paste: Who did you record with in Vermont?
Case: Just the piano orchestra there. And the rest of it was recorded at Wave Lab [in Tucson].
Paste: You’ve recorded the last couple records at Wave Lab. What keeps you going back there?
Case: I love the sounds that Craig [Schumacher] gets, and we just have really
great communication. He himself is a really great musician, and he has
perfect pitch and great ideas. He’s enthusiastic. The man is a tough
nerd for sound, and I love that. I love it when people love their job.
He can’t wait to get to work and start thinking of new, ridiculous
things we can do with mic’ing an amplifier inside a piano or something.
He understands singing really well. Like I said, he has perfect pitch,
and he’s not afraid to go, “Sharp, flat, sharp
do it again!” Sometimes
when you’re inside your head, you can’t tell. So its good to have
someone say, “Nah, you can do better than that. Do it again!” He’s a