Neko Case was playing and touring with bands for a decade before she realized it was her job.
“Music was, and is, my obsession, but I guess I couldn’t see the forest through the trees,” she writes from her farmhouse in Vermont, reflecting on early periods of touring with several bands so regularly that she had to quit every other job she had. “I also didn’t feel worthy of calling myself a ‘musician.’ It was just too sacred.”
Now more than 20 years into that calling, Neko Case is the consummate career artist–fearless and versatile, with a fierce work ethic and a constant drive to search deeper within herself for creative growth. Nowhere is that clearer than in Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, a stunning vinyl box set of Case’s complete (so far) solo discography, available from Anti- on November 13.
All eight titles–The Virginian (1997), Furnace Room Lullaby (2000), Canadian Amp (2001), Blacklisted (2002), The Tigers Have Spoken (2004), Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), Middle Cyclone (2009), and The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013)– are remastered from their original analog tape and made available on 180 gram black vinyl, some for the first time in years, or ever. The set also includes an 80-page, limited- edition, full-color book of photography, designed and curated by Case herself.
“The release of this set gives listeners an excuse to appreciate the scope of one of the most individual and passionate artists making music today,” says Anti- label head Andy Kaulkin. “When you take it all in, Neko’s journey from punk/country torchbearer to avant pop icon has been staggering. This box makes a strong case for her fierceness of vision, pristine musical craft, unflinching lyrics, and of course…That voice!”
Born in 1970, and raised all over working-class Washington state, Case spent a turbulent childhood shuffling between divorced and uninterested parents, and often alone. This is one reason she is an ardent collaborator, working with a huge roster of Canadian and American artists throughout her career, and thriving as a member of indie-pop supergroup the New Pornographers and other projects alongside her solo work.
“I know there are people who are really good at performing solo,” she once said in an interview. “Me, I just feel lonely. I hate it. I don’t like to practice alone, either. It’s about community for me. I think it’s about not having a family as a kid. I just spent a lot of time being really, really, really alone. I just don’t want to do that anymore.”
Case began collecting her musical community shortly after leaving home at 15. Known now for her extraordinary voice and songwriting, Case started out behind a kit. By 17 she was playing drums for several local bands, and at 23 she moved to Vancouver for art school, where she drummed for emerging punk groups including Cub and Maow. Out of that punk foundation,
however, grew Case’s exploration of country. The Virginian, her 1997 solo debut released by Canadian label Mint and backed by the band referred to as Her Boyfriends, is a joyous collection of originals and covers, including Loretta Lynn’s “Somebody Led Me Away” and the Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green.”
Case relocated to Seattle after graduation and dug her roots deeper with 2000’s Furnace Room Lullaby, an emotional set of originals ranging from murder ballads to poignant eulogies both figurative and literal. She moved again, this time to Chicago, and released 2001’s beautifully home-recorded EP Canadian Amp, a cover-heavy tribute to Canadian songwriters and collaborators, spotlighting Case’s talents as an interpretive vocalist in addition to a gifted songwriter. 2002’s Blacklisted, recorded in Tucson, earned Case a new level of critical acclaim and a tour spot with Nick Cave for its dark, yearning compositions that unleashed an even greater power in her remarkable voice. While Blacklisted was Case’s first solo album without Her Boyfriends, it, like all of her work, featured a diverse list of musicians including Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, Dallas Good of the Sadies, and frequent vocal collaborator Kelly Hogan.
The live album The Tigers Have Spoken, released in 2004, spotlights Case’s incredible performance prowess recorded at several shows in Chicago and Toronto with Canadian band the Sadies. When she returned to the studio two years later, the result was Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, a stunning, evocative album of dark fairy tales based on Case’s life that critics called a masterpiece. But she had even higher to climb; 2009’s Middle Cyclone, drenched in the rage and beauty of the natural world, was nominated for two Grammys and reached No. 3 on the Billboard album chart.
In a painful three years that followed, Case lost both of her parents and several other loved ones, and retreated to a 100-acre farmhouse in Vermont, where she plans to stay. “I was really depressed and in mourning . . . and I’d never slowed down to just feel it,” she says. She turned inward, then, for her most ambitious and revealing album to date. 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You surges with themes of gender, fear, pain, hope, and power, from the heartwrenching “Near Midnight, Honolulu,” to the defiant “Man.”
“Being in a band isn’t a race to an awards platform; it is a life, a great and complicated, messy, anxious, hilarious, and home-made life,” writes Case from the farmhouse. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, ever. I gave up a lot of what makes people ‘normal,’ but it was always my choice. That is a victory in itself. This is a LONG story, which I will continue later.”