Neko Case on the Power of Music and the Preciousness of Time

Kevin Cole

Since her 1997 debut album The Virginian and from her work with the New Pornographers and more, Neko Case's voice has been a mainstay on KEXP, all the way back to when we were known as KCMU. Which is why we couldn't be more excited to have Case headlining this year's KEXP Yule Benefit event on Thursday, December 5th at McCaw Hall with very special guests (and her long-time friends) CalexicoTickets for Yule Benefit are available now. A special VIP Package is also available, including a side-stage dinner and drinks, meet and greet with the artists, and more.

KEXP Afternoon Show DJ Kevin Cole chatted with Case back in October to talk about the power of music and community, the importance of not wasting time, and more.

KEXP: We are so excited to have you play KEXP's Yule Benefit this year that's happening Thursday, December 5th at McCaw Hall. Our Yule Benefit is a special concert experience for our audience while at the same time raising funds to support KEXP programing. So, Neko, thank you so much. 

Neko Case: You're welcome. It is my pleasure. I can't do my job if you guys aren't doing your job. So, the least I could do is come and help you guys raise money, because I believe in what you do!  

This event directly supports the programming and operations of KEXP and we take pride in championing artists and music from over the course of their career. So, it's been a real pleasure for us to be able to play so much of your solo work and your collaborations and your work with The New Pornographers. Would love to hear your thoughts on how KEXP has impacted your life and in the lives of other musicians and why this is important to you. 

I started listening to KEXP when it was KCMU, way back in the day, and you guys have been a constant in my life since I was probably 12 years old. There's a lot of music I would not have heard about and there's a lot of things I wouldn't have known were possible if I didn't have that kind of pipeline into my life. I learned about a lot of different things and I met a lot of people by going to shows and there were a lot of shows that were supported by KCMU, now KEXP. It makes a community and it's one of the last outposts of your very unique local place. is often the benevolent voice in the dark that's just there for you...

What do you want to learn? Like, what are the paths you're interested in? Those are the kind of places that you find those things and you find like-minded people, and it kind of feeds your soul. It's a really important part of development and a really important way to just reach out to your world and to feel connected to other people. Music — and not it just existing in space, but people talking about it and interviewing people, supporting shows, and even putting on shows — it really changes your outlook and the universe around you and makes you feel really hopeful. And it's a very exciting, moving, living organic sketch of what is possible. You know, music is often the benevolent voice in the dark that's just there for you. I don't know what I would have become or how I would have felt or what I would have done if I didn't feel like music was a real thing that you could think about, even way before I thought it was possible to be a musician. It was this group of people who also thought music was that good and that worth it and that exciting, and that being obsessed with it was not looked down upon. And so I don't know where I would've found that kind of, you know, just that little nucleus of possibility. I don't know where I would have found that.

I can't say enough about people supporting independent radio stations and independent arts of all kinds. And now that you can get KEXP on the internet, people from all over the country, and even all over the world, tell me that they listen to KEXP. So, that's a really major thing. I can't think of a more worthwhile reason. It just makes the world smaller and makes people inspired. 

This is a special show. You're not touring out on your own right now. You're out with The New Pornographers. So this is kind of a one-off show, which we deeply appreciate. Calexico is on the bill. You've collaborated with Calexico for years. 

They're basically the "husband band" to my band. I can't love them more than I do. 

And we're going to provide an existential outlet for people to wear their existential outfits. 

Bring your favorite version of yourself to the show! You just bring your very favorite version of yourself and don't censor yourself. Be the most flamboyant or not flamboyant or, you know, invisible or wear-a-suit-covered-in-eyes version of yourself that you want. 

Neko, you've called a lot of places home over the years and you've lived all over the place, including a bunch of cities here in Washington. When you come to Seattle, does it feel like a homecoming of sorts to you? 

It doesn't look like the place that I used to live, but there are still things there that make me really happy. And I'm a Washingtonian. It's where I'm from. And I did live all over the state, but that's like my ground zero touch point. And the bands from the Pacific Northwest were really huge to me, especially bands like Girl Trouble and the Young Fresh Fellows and on and on. So I love that all those bands are still playing, too. 

Yeah, it's amazing how certain things about locations can get embedded into your DNA. Just the smell of the air can trigger all those memories. 

Yeah. Just like the way the light comes through the clouds. A lot of people find low [cloud] ceilings very depressing, but I actually find it very comforting. Mostly makes me feel excited in kind of an electric blanket kind of way where I'm not missing out on things I'm supposed to be doing outside so I can make things. So, low ceiling and gray clouds make me feel kind of good and kind of energized. 

You've been really pretty crazy busy the last couple of years. New Pornographers released their album in September — In the Morse Code of Brake Lights — and you've been on the road with them. You've got a show coming up January 30th with the New Pornographers at The Neptune. In June, you did that amazing show at the Gorge Amphitheater with Emmylou Harris and Brandi Carlile. What do you take away from that experience as it might manifest in your work? 

Oh, don't waste any time. Wasting time is a bad thing. I think a lot about being young and being jealous of other people who are doing well. You know, I've talked a lot in the last few years about how music is not sports. And there's a lot of things about ranking lists and "top tens" that I think are really detrimental. And I wish more people grabbed on to the giant cable that is the possibilities of music. There's definitely room for everyone. Just because someone else is doing really well doesn't mean they're taking your place that you could have had to do really well. That's total weird mythology and it really hampers people's perspective, I think. Music is just not sport. 

So with the idea of not wasting time — I know that just popped into your head — but what does that look like moving forward? What are some of the things that are the most important to you that you want to put your precious time and energy into? 

I want to make another record. I want to live in a house. My house burned down two years ago. I'd really like to live in one again. So that's pretty important. That's been really difficult. But, you know, a vast majority of people in the United States, and Puerto Rico especially, are having that same problem, and I got a lot luckier than a lot of people did. So it's not a complaint. It's just, it does make you feel really ungrounded after a while. So, there are times when I've had a hard time keeping up the momentum of a project, just because there's a baseline of mental health that you're supposed to be at that is sometimes compromised by not being grounded. And, you know, if you choose to not be grounded, that can be one really great thing. You know, if you decide to be on tour for three years or something. Sure. But I did not really choose it and I had a lot of plans. So the plans are pretty much going forward, but they're taking longer. You know, I'd like to stand in my kitchen, in my underwear, with a cup of coffee and not worry about rain coming in an open hole. Just really basic things. 

We are so excited to have you play KEXP's Yule Benefit this year. Anything special that you're planning? 

Well, I haven't planned anything yet other than I just saw Calexico at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and we talked about doing some songs together, but we haven't decided what they are yet. 

Well, we cannot wait. 

We know there will be collaboration

Yeah, and again, this is a really special experience for the audience and again, a great opportunity to raise funds to support KEXP. So I just want to thank you so much for headlining this year's Yule Benefit, but also for all that you've done over the years. Your music has been a constant in the lives of our listeners like you mentioned. 

Aww, thank you. 

It really has. And you've been incredibly generous, generous with the VIP club shows you've done and the donor events that you've done. So this is again, another thing that's really special and just want to thank you so much. Thank you. 

It is my absolute pleasure. We couldn't tour and get music to people without your help and it's a very reciprocal relationship. So, back at you! Thank you.

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