SING IT LOUD: A CONVERSATION WITH K.D. LANG
This article is written by MIKE RAGOGNA at THE HUFFINGTON POST
MIKE RAGOGNA: k.d., hey there.
k.d. lang: Good morning or good afternoon…I’m not really sure.
MR: Are you touring around in support of your new album SING IT LOUD?
kdl: Just about to go. We’re headed over to the U.K. first. So we’re in the calm before the storm right now.
MR: One of my favourite tracks is the album opener I CONFESS, which sounds like Brill Building meets country meets…OK, I’ll shut up now.
kdl: No, those are all perfect. I sat down with my friends JOSH and DANIEL who are in the band and said, “You know what? I really want to write a Roy Orbison tune,” and that’s what came out. The whole record was done with such ease, joy and positivism and the Siss Boom Bang just happened to be this perfect convergence of energies. It all has turned out so far beyond my wildest expectations.
MR: Who played on SING IT LOUD?
kdl: Well, JOSH GRANGE and DANIEL CLARKE, who were on the WATERSHED tour with me. My coproducer and my cowriter really was JOE PISAPIA who is from the band GUSTER. LEX PRICE, who is a musician in Nashville, is the bassist and FRED ELTRINGHAM is the drummer. He’s from THE WALLFLOWERS.
MR: As playful as the album gets at times, its arrangements are often touching. And a few of these tracks feature some of my favourite vocals by you, such as SUGAR BUZZ on which you rock strongly.
kdl: Well, it was a big learning curve for me because it was a lot more rock and a lot more electric guitar than I was used to playing with and a lot of it is live off the floor. So it’s just reactionary, natural, instinctual singing, which is what I do best really. I think when I’m on stage, that’s when I feel most comfortable, when I’m reacting to the moment…and that’s what we were able to capture.
MR: Was it set up like that? Was it set up like a live project?
kdl: You know, it just sort of unfolded naturally. When we had the songs written, we put together this session with these people and the second they walked in the room, it was obvious there was magic. We just connected – there was love, respect, excitement and it just happened naturally. They gravitated towards the instrumentation naturally and JOE did such an amazing job in his studio in setting up the headphone mix, which is sort of a really technical, insider thing. But it’s so important that when you get in there to start making music, it feels good and sounds good and you have space and you can hear everyone and communicate. He had it all set up and we just ramped it. We did eight songs in three days.
MR: What was the creative process like for the songs?
kdl: Super easy. I flew to Nashville in coach on Southwest – completely out of character for me. My girlfriend was like, “You’re what? You’re flying to Nashville to work with some guy you don’t even know?” I said, “I just feel it. My instincts are telling me that this is the right guy and the right time.”
So I just went and we wrote THE WATER’S EDGE and PERFECT WORD on the first day. Then, we wrote SUGAR BUZZ, INGLEWOOD and I AM THE WINNER the next day. It was so crazy. It was just so easy and there was so much creative energy between us. I don’t know – I hate saying it was too easy because a lot of people think you have to suffer for art. But there was no suffering, I can tell you.
MR: Are there any songs on the album that stand out to you as being particularly special, relatively speaking?
kdl: Well, SUGAR BUZZ was kind of that way. I told JOE that I wanted to write a song called SUGAR BUZZ and JOE didn’t get it, but we started texting lyrics to each other. So, I went back to Nashville and got the form knocked out and we were like, “OK. Now we have to do some lyrics.” I went, “Wait a minute.” I opened my texts and I literally read the texts all the way through the song. It was done and we just laughed and laughed.
MR: Its lyrics that really stuck with me were:
Can’t get enough/Can’t live without what this love does to me
It’s so true.
kdl: (laughs) Nothing new, but pretty direct.
MR: SING IT LOUD is another one of my favourites with its lyrics:
Sing it loud/So everyone knows who you are
kdl: Well, I didn’t write it – JOE wrote that. He actually recorded it years ago with his band. He sent it to me out of the blue and I don’t know if he even knew why he sent it. I don’t think he actually thought I was going to react the way I did, but when I heard it, I said, “Oh my God. For me to sing that would be such an anthem for people who feel slightly left of centre.” You know, I kind of represent a different section of humanity and I just thought it was a good song to support that.
MR: Speaking of left of humanity, you’re officially now a Glee er.
kdl: (laughs) I didn’t have an appearance. I just lent my voice to the soundtrack. I wasn’t actually in the show.
MR: But you’re no stranger to acting. SALMONBERRIES was basically you, right?
kdl: Yeah, that was me. He wrote that movie for me, but it’s not something that you need to run right out and Netflix. (laughs) Acting is something that is not in my innate understanding. I understand singing but acting I don’t totally get. So I think rather than being one of those people who have a perfume line, clothing line, a car interior company and a music and acting career, I’m going to stick to singing.
MR: On the other hand, you did combine the two when you did the BLACK DAHLIA role, right?
kdl: I know, I know. And I did not want to do that, but they twisted my arm.
MR: (laughs) I’ll just throw out, for education, that you were also in EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.
kdl: I was. That’s right.
MR: So? What was it like working with EWAN McGREGOR?
kdl: Oh, EWAN was funny. All we did was look for vodka the whole time. That was in his drinking days, so we spent a lot of time in the bar. It was fun. It was a good experience.
MR: One last thing before we leave movie connections. I wanted to ask about EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. That was a kind of break for you basically, being your soundtrack, wasn’t it?
kdl: Well…break. I don’t know. That kind of destroyed my career in a way because I followed INGENUE with the soundtrack to EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES and the movie stiffed and the record did worse. Then, just through the retail process, that’s where my marker was. So I took a big hit for that decision. But creatively, it was very liberating and I would never regret it.
MR: Sometimes the best works are not necessarily commercially rewarding.
kdl: Oh, definitely. You can definitely see that in painters and stuff for sure.
MR: Now, you’re a four time GRAMMY winner. How do you feel about all the awards today? I imagine you’re grateful for receiving them, but what role do you feel they play these days?
kdl: You know, I just don’t even think of myself in that realm anymore. There is so much competition these days…I swear to God I just feel lucky to have a label at this point. I’ve been in the business for twenty eight years and that’s a long time. Especially in the middle years, there’s kind of this awkward time in one’s career, in the middle years – I’m sure TONY BENNETT went through it, I’m sure JOHNNY CASH went through it and PEGGY LEE and all those people who have had life long careers. You’re in the middle, where people aren’t that interested in you because you’re too young to be a legend, but you’re too old to be hip and pertinent. I kind of feel like that’s where I’m at right now, but I just keep doing what I do because I love the music.
MR: You mentioned TONY BENNETT before and you recorded MOONGLOW with him…
kdl: …Yeah, in 94, I think, which won a GRAMMY. Then we did A WONDERFUL WORLD together, which also won a GRAMMY. So, I have good luck with my friend TONY.
MR: Was ROY ORBISON an idol to you before or after you recorded CRYING with him?
kdl: After. I was a bit young to really be a huge fan of ROY. At the time, I was asked to sing the duet of CRYING with ROY in 87. Through that, I got asked to do the BLACK & WHITE NIGHT, which is just a stellar recording of his concert. It had TOM WAITS, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and BONNIE RAITT and I just happened to be a part of it. That’s when I really started to study his music and really became a fan. SING IT LOUD is definitely an homage to ROY and that influence sort of went through my being and came out on this record.
MR: You know, I felt like the vibe of SING IT LOUD was definitely ROY ORBISON but I was shutting up.
kdl: No, are you kidding? I would light a torch and sing it loud. It’s definitely an homage to my experience with ROY, for sure.
MR: Another homage – and you have one of the best versions out there although it seems like everyone has recorded this song – is your take on LEONARD COHEN’S HALLELUJAH.
kdl: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s just such a good song. I think everyone has a good version of it. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful song.
MR: It is. By now, it would be impossible to hear every version out there.
kdl: (laughs) Probably. You’d probably die, I think.
MR: (laughs) So, having your new album out there, how do you feel about k.d. lang now compared with when you first started out?
kdl: Well, obviously, I think you look back and take stock every time you make a record. But to me, this is very similar to the energy I had at the very beginning of my career. There is a youthfulness and freshness to it – I guess it could be considered my midlife crisis record. I think there is a certain joy and a certain abandonment that this record has that really comes from the liveness, the spontaneity and the fear factor of recording live.
MR: k.d., do you have any advice for new artists?
kdl: I would not have any…and calculatedly so. I think that a new artist – and I’m using artist in the most empowered sense of the word – they don’t need advice, they need support and they need momentum. I just think that advice is really self projected. I don’t think I have anything to offer someone who has energy, motivation and inspiration.
MR: Beautifully said. What does the immediate future hold for you beyond touring?
kdl: That’s it. I can’t say. I’m just getting ready, crossing my fingers and getting my clothes dry cleaned. Other than that, we’re just going to be touring.
MR: k.d., thank you for spending some time with us and also for appearing on solar powered KRUU-FM.
kdl: Solar power! Let the sun shine!