3 solo artists describe the ‘excellent exercise’ of musical collaboration

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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: how three became one.

Jeffrey Brown talks to a new musical group getting much attention this summer.

JEFFREY BROWN: The pre-performance huddle in which three singer-songwriters with successful solo careers morph into one group.

Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs become case/lang/veirs.

The collaboration was the brainchild of Lang, who wanted to form what she calls a:

K.D. LANG, case/lang/veirs: Folk punk girl group.

JEFFREY BROWN: The three women released an album earlier this summer. We spoke before a recent performance at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C.

K.D. LANG: I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I thought it would be interesting. And I love these two artists as individual sources of great inspiration.

So one day, I just had the instinct to call them, to e-mail them, and they wrote back in half-an-hour.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Canadian-born Lang, now 54, is the senior member of the band, and probably best known to the wider public, selling two million copies of her 1992 album, “Ingenue.”

Neko Case, 45, has been a mainstay of indie rock and country music since the late ’90s, both as a solo artist and with the band the New Pornographers; 42-year-old Laura Veirs, known for mixing classic country and folk, has turned out a range of work, from a children’s record, to a film soundtrack, to her 2013 album, “Warp and Weft,” which included contributions from Case and Lang.

The three made an important decision from the start, that they would write only original songs for this effort, and write them together as much as possible.

NEKO CASE, case/lang/veirs: I often start with lyrics, and I try to make sure that they’re accessible, but slightly off.

And Laura uses a lot of alternate tunings as a guitar player. And she comes up with incredible melodies. You know, when you first hear them, they seem familiar to you. And then you sing them or play them, and you realize they’re on a completely different level, like something familiar is so completely brand-new. And the different languages take you outside of your comfort zone.

LAURA VEIRS, case/lang/veirs: How do you meld minds to come up with something that’s cohesive and make a record that sounds like it’s not like a variety show or piecemeal? So, it was a really hard project for us.

JEFFREY BROWN: So how’d you do it?

LAURA VEIRS: Well, some of it is just like gritting our teeth, like, what are we going to write about today? I don’t know. Let’s go take a walk. Oh, there’s a fireworks stand. Oh, there’s a fireworks named Delirium.

That’s a good song title. Let’s go write a song. Oh, we can’t finish it. Well, here’s Neko. She’d kind of come in and write a bridge and finish it. And she took that song, “Delirium,” and made it her own, and added her own lyrics and vocals.

NEKO CASE: Being the boss of your own career, you get used to having veto power and getting what you want, or as close to what you want as you have mapped out, you know?

JEFFREY BROWN: You didn’t get that in this case?

NEKO CASE: Not always. And it was a really excellent exercise..

K.D. LANG: It was a difficult process at times. Like Neko said, we’re used to having our own veto power as individual artists. And to hear somebody say, no, I just don’t like that bridge is excruciating at times.

(LAUGHTER)

LAURA VEIRS: And we all sulked. We sulked. We pouted.

NEKO CASE: Yes, there was some sulking. But we…

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re laughing as you say it now, right?

K.D. LANG: Yes, but what that ended up doing, because we didn’t have a language, we weren’t friends, we didn’t have a vernacular, a common vernacular between us, so we had to swiftly develop one.

JEFFREY BROWN: They took turns as lead singers.

On “Honey and Smoke,” it was Lang, with the other two on backup. The collaboration has brought great reviews from critics and a summer-long tour around the U.S.

You all three had success. I assume tough times as well. Being a working musician, has it been a good life?

LAURA VEIRS: I say yes. I feel every night like, I can’t believe this is my job. Like, I get to do this. I love the solitary aspect of writing, because usually I write solitary, by myself. But I love the teamwork aspect of the touring and the recording.

K.D. LANG: I like the music. I don’t like the business. I get very tired of the travel and moving, constantly moving. But the hour-and-a-half that I’m making music, I’m one of the happiest people on earth.

NEKO CASE: Around 2010, I kind of looked up and said, I’m 40 years old. You know, I chose music. I don’t have a husband. I don’t have any kids. Like, I chose music. So, I had to make a decision. Like, do I want to do something else, or do I want to go from journeyman to master?

And I realized, you know, I want to be a really good musician. So, this particular opportunity happening at that time was this beautiful kismet.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, at least, Neko Case, K.D. Lang, and Laura Veirs say this is a one-off project, one album and one tour. And they will savor the collaborative moment of Case/Lang/Veirs before returning to their solo careers.

I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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