|Songwriter Neko Case in
her piano barn in Vermont. (Photo by Jason Creps)
It’s hard to pin down Neko Case.
She moves around a lot, has since she was a child, and in her career she gone from punk to country to her
current undefinable sound.
And her lyrics sometimes seem to elude precise meaning, "I don’t like to be too literal," she
explained, not that they are alluding to anything beyond their own dream-like tales.
The forces of nature that swirl through the songs on her recent CD "Middle Cyclone" came from
the dreams she was having about tornados. Those dreams only made her think about nature even more than
she usually does. "I am always thinking about it in one way or another," the singer-songwriter
When she comes to Bowling Green for a show Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Cla-Zel, she won’t have some of her
natural accomplices from "Middle Cyclone." The frogs that are featured on the CD’s final track
"Marais La Nuit" will be back in Vermont "hibernating under the mud."
And Case won’t be bringing the piano orchestra on the road with her. The six pianos used on her cover of
"Don’t Forget Me" are back in the old dairy barn along with their two companions that are in
such poor condition that can’t be tuned.
Case accumulated the pianos, she explained in a recent telephone interview, when she went online to find
a free piano, and found many. So since she had the barn she adopted them all. She’ll even find a use for
those that couldn’t be tuned – "that’s the thing about a free piano. I knew the kind of risk I was
That unpredictability is characteristic of her lyrics in which female inmates show up at her door, or
ants troop across her face or a tornado declares it is in love.
A certain violence lurks within the sings. She writes about "instincts," Case said "and
the damage that happens when people are disconnected from their instincts."
Listeners, Case said, seem particularly drawn to the songs "This Tornado Loves You" and
"People Got a Lotta Nerve."
The latter is her tongue-in-cheek reflection on how people are surprised when the large animals in
captivity still retain their wild, killer instincts.
Case voicing the thoughts of a killer whale sings: "I’m a man-man-man, man-man, man-eater. And still
you’re surprised when I eat you."
These surreal inspirations can pop up at the most mundane moments, Case said.
"When my body is doing things it knows how to do like washing dishes then my subconscious is able to
poke its face out of the hole and say: ‘Hey, I’m here. Check me out.’"
Case didn’t decide to make music her career until she was 30. She had already released her first country
album "The Virginian" with her band The Boyfriends.
She had moved to Chicago collaborated with The New Pornographers. Case, who has a bachelor’s degree in
fine arts, had a job "drawing shadows" at an animation studio and worked as a bartender. Jobs,
she said, she liked. But Case said she was just too busy, so she dedicated herself to music.
Her training in art, she said, helped shape her creative process. "It teaches you to pay attention
Her lyrics are full of striking visual images, but she attributes those to her love of literature.
"I like descriptive things," she said, and that lends a "cinematic" quality to her
work. "It all falls under the same umbrella."