Creativity of any sort appeals to Neko Case. That’s even so for those who defile establishment’s washrooms.
“The greatest graffiti I have ever read was in the bathroom at Gabe’s,” Case said while reminiscing about performing at the Iowa City club. “It isn’t printable, unfortunately. But it really was the Guinness Book greatest graffiti of all time. And it was in a bathroom that didn’t even bother to give the male patrons a toilet. It is legend.”
Case, 48, who will perform April 29 at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, is an indie rock legend. Uncompromising, cerebral and versatile are just some of the adjectives that describe the under-heralded leader of The New Pornographers.
Whether the singer/songwriter is with her solid band, on her own or performing with one of her side projects, the Washington state native impresses with her consistency. “Hell-On,” Case’s latest and eighth album, which dropped in 2018, is another project that is full of melancholy, inspective material.
Case, once again, shares the spotlight as well as anyone. Such guests as the underrated Mark Lanegan and k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, who recorded the 2016 album “case/lang/veirs,” shine during their guest shots.
She is wise enough to let her musical pals execute.
“It’s easy to cede time and space for great musicians,” Case said. “If you are going to hire someone who’s great at something, give them room. Tell the world. Ceding creative control — production, songwriting or veto power — is much more difficult. I’m detail oriented, which is a kind way to say ‘control freak.’ So I guess it’s hard to let go, but I do since it makes the material better. I’m smart enough to realize that.”
Veirs and Lang, who are super tight with Case, had a massive impact on the album from songwriting to production.
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“They were the positive rocket energy behind the making of this record,” Case said by phone from her Vermont home. “I’m so grateful and I owe them big time. They all gave me their trust, which was a big confidence builder. I felt more present for the making of this record than I have since ‘Middle Cyclone.’”
“Hell-On” is arguably Case’s finest album since the release of 2009’s “Middle Cyclone,” which is composed of atmospheric and brooding songs.
No one does brooding quite as well as Lanegan, who sings with Case on the bittersweet “Curse of the I-5 Corridor.” Case thought of the former Screaming Tree frontman shortly after she wrote the song because of his signature sound.
“People with low voices are rare, and his is very distinct and beautiful,” Case said. “I wanted him to sing on the song because we are both from Washington and from the same era. He knows firsthand the Curse of the I-5 Corridor. It was more than appropriate.”
Case said she wasn’t joking when she crafted the tune.
“Oh, there is most certainly a curse,” she said. She didn’t elaborate on that, but is more than happy that she resides on the other side of the country.
“Sleep All Summer,” the lone “Hell-On” track not co-written by Case, is gorgeous. The song penned by Eric Bachmann of Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers fame is a nice fit since it’s a clever, emotional track.
“The first time I ever heard it (‘Sleep All Summer’) was the Crooked Fingers version on KXCI in Tucson, and I had to pull my car over to cry. It was perfect,” she said. “Eric ended up playing in my band for a while, and I begged him to let us do it live, because I love it so much. After we toured it for a couple of years, lots of folks asked if they could find a version, so Eric was kind enough to let us put it on the record. He’s a cooperator.”
So is Case, who never lets ego get in the way of a good song.
“That would be a big mistake,” Case said.
Case is enjoying rare time at home before embarking on another tour.
“I would love to enjoy the four seasons at least once,” she said. “That would be amazing. I go outside with my animals as much as possible. I have way more things I’d like to do but I’m home so rarely these days.”
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She could take a hiatus, but is compelled to work. She and The New Pornographers almost have an album in the can.
“We are finishing up a record as we speak,” she said.
Since Case is always in the studio or on the road, she said she can’t pull it off without her team.
“I work with really talented people who manage book things and keep things together,” she said. “Organizing is not my strong suit. Without them, I’d be showing up late for some other job.”
Case relaxes by listening to audiobooks.
“They take me out of the world,” she said. “The last one was ‘Gingerbread’ by Helen Oyeyemi. It was a gorgeous vacation from the world.”
WHAT: Neko Case with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and The Clams opening
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. April 29
TICKETS: $42.50, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/event/neko-case/
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Nekocase.com