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K D Lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs on the challenges of their new collaborative album

The three singer-songwriters used to being in charge of their own careers, found out just how difficult it was to work in true collaboration.
Singer-songwriters, from left, Laura Viers, K D Lang and Neko Case. Don Ryan / AP Photo
Singer-songwriters, from left, Laura Viers, K D Lang and Neko Case. Don Ryan / AP Photo

Since she sang with the late Roy Orbison, K D Lang dreamed of forming her own version of the Traveling Wilburys, his supergroup with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.

When she proposed the idea to Neko Case and Laura Veirs in an email, they responded enthusiastically within half an hour.

When it was time to make it a reality, they learnt how hard it was for three singer-songwriters used to being in charge of their own careers to work in true collaboration. Their 14-song disc came out on Friday.

While the Wilburys’ two albums 25 years ago had the tossed-off feeling of rock stars on a lark, the case/lang/veirs disc reflects a determination to make something worthy of their talents, no matter whose egos were bruised.

“We all agreed that we were going to be brutally honest, and we just wanted to make something really good that had to be a part of all of us, even if that was painful for some people,” Case says. “­Actually, it was for all of us at some point. Letting go of control when you’re a control freak is ­really difficult.”

They set some ground rules at the beginning. They agreed each song would be original – no covers. And while the singers trade lines and harmonise on the opening Atomic Number and I Want to Be Home, most songs feature a clear lead with one or both of the others as backups. The song Honey and Smoke feels like a classic seductive Lang song with a skittering guitar figure. The others achieve their goal of sounding like they’re from a band instead of solo artists.

Case and Lang, and their booming voices, are fairly well-known. Veirs, who jokes about making nine albums in obscurity, emerged as the trio’s workhorse.

She’s listed as a writer on all 14 songs, four of them solo compositions. Her husband, Tucker Martine, was the producer.

Veirs and Lang, who both live in the Portland, Oregon area, got together at first to write. Case has roots in the Northwest but now lives in Vermont, so she joined later.

Each had individual strengths that worked for the group. Veirs, a skilful guitarist and more prolific writer than the others, put more energy into the writing. Her colleagues admired Lang’s perfect pitch and ease working with other musicians.

Case brought spontaneity; while the others were used to having things nailed down in demos, she encouraged more flexibility.

Veirs recalled bringing Atomic Number to the group as a finished song. The others tossed out most of the lyrics and started writing something new.

For someone used to writing songs alone in her room, “my fur got ruffled, for sure”, Veirs said. But she had to acknowledge it was better – certainly different. She learnt songs are more malleable than she thought.

“The process was full of debate and negotiation and emotional venting,” Lang said, “and I think that has actually made the music better. It’s one of the reasons why this has moved forward so positively for us, because we did explore the deep, dark territory of emotions with each other. It wasn’t easy. But it was real.”

Lang says she believed collaboration is more difficult for women, since men are more likely to grow up with the experience of being on teams.

True to form, perhaps, Case and Veirs rejected that theory.

They considered dozens of names for their new trio, before settling on the admittedly ­unsurprising case/lang/veirs.

The trio is touring behind the disc this summer, pulling ­together album cuts and songs from each artist’s back ­catalogues.

Lang joked that they’d consider a sequel (or Vol 3, as the Traveling Wilburys dubbed their second disc) “if we win the international music award for best music ever”.

“That this record got finished at all is a miracle,” she says. “I don’t know if we feel like ­pushing that.”

The album case/lang/veirs is out now


Updated: June 26, 2016 04:00 AM