Neko Case Biography
Last updated: 05/03/2011 12:00:00 PM
Case was born to parents of Ukrainian ancestry. Her family traveled around while she was young before settling in Tacoma, Washington, the city she considers her hometown. She left home when she was 15.
In 1994, Case moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. While attending school she played drums in several local bands, including the Del Logs, the Propanes, the Weasles, cub (which featured I AM SPOONBENDER's Robynn Iwata), and Maow. All of these bands were local punk groups except for cub and The Weasles, which Case described as a "country music supergroup."
The Virginian and Mass Romantic
Case fully embraced country music on her 1997 album with Her Boyfriends, The Virginian. The album contained original compositions as well as covers of songs by Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn. When the album was released, critics compared Case to honky-tonk singers like Lynn and Patsy Cline.
In 1998, Case graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, which meant the loss of her student visa eligibility. She left Canada for Seattle, Washington. Before leaving, however, Case recorded vocals for a few songs that ended up on Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers' first album. Her lead vocals on songs like "Letter from an Occupant" are straightforward, full-volume power-pop performances, entirely shedding any country elements. Once the album was released on November 28, 2000, Mass Romantic became a surprise success. Originally conceived as a side project by its members, The New Pornographers decided to tour together and eventually to record a second album.
Furnace Room Lullaby
On February 22, 2000, Case released her second solo album with Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby. A full set of 12 original songs, Lullaby introduced the "country noir" elements that have defined Case's subsequent solo career. That tone was evident even from the cover photo, featuring Case sprawled out corpse-like on a cement floor. On the album itself, her vocal style moves away from outright honky-tonk but retains her twang, garnering her comparisons to musicians such as Cline, Lynn, Hazel Dickens, Tanya Tucker, and Dolly Parton. The title track was included on the soundtrack to Sam Raimi's film The Gift, and "Porchlight" was featured on the soundtrack to The Slaughter Rule.
Case sometimes tours with her friend Carolyn Mark, a Canadian singer and songwriter, as The Corn Sisters. One of their performances, at Seattle's Hattie's Hat restaurant in Ballard, was recorded and released as an album, The Other Women, on November 28, 2000.
At about the time Lullaby was released, Case left Seattle for Chicago because she felt that Seattle wasn't hospitable to its local artists.
Case's first work in Chicago was an eight-song EP that she recorded in her kitchen. Canadian Amp, her first recording without Her Boyfriends, was released on her own Lady Pilot label in 2001. She wrote two of the tracks. Six tracks are covers, including Neil Young's "Dreaming Man" and Hank Williams's "Alone and Forsaken." Four of the covers were written by Canadian artists. The EP was initially available only at Case's live shows, but was eventually released more widely.
Case recorded her third full-length album, Blacklisted, in Tucson, Arizona. Her first release credited to Case alone, without Her Boyfriends, it was released on August 20, 2002. The title Blacklisted alludes to Case being banned for life from the Grand Ole Opry because she took her shirt off during a 2002 performance. Asked about the incident in 2004, Case said "I had heatstroke. People would love it to be a 'fuck you' punk thing. But it was actually a physical ailment thing."
Most of the album's 14 songs are originals, except for covers of "Running Out of Fools," previously a hit for Aretha Franklin, and "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)." Blacklisted furthers Case's "country noir" mood, and was described by critics as lush, bleak, and atmospheric. Case cited filmmaker David Lynch, composer Angelo Badalamenti, and Neil Young's soundtrack to the film Dead Man as influences. One track, "Deep Red Bells," was inspired by Case's memories of being a vulnerable young woman in the Seattle area while the Green River Killer was at large.
In April 2003, Case was voted the "Sexiest Babe of Indie Rock" in a Playboy.com Internet poll, receiving 32% of the vote. Playboy asked her to pose nude for the magazine, but she declined their offer. She told Entertainment Weekly magazine that "I didn't want to be the girl who posed in Playboy and then—by the way—made some music. I would be really fucking irritated if after a show somebody came up to me and handed me some naked picture of myself and wanted me to sign it instead of my CD." In more recent interviews she's declined to discuss the survey at all. (In the late 1990s, Case did pose for cheesecake-style photos published in the Seattle magazine Kutie.)
Electric Version and Twin Cinema
The New Pornographers' second album, Electric Version, was released on May 6, 2003. Case sang lead on even more of the songs on this album, and toured with the group again.
On April 3 and April 4, 2004, Case played two shows with longtime collaborators The Sadies at Lee's Palace in Toronto, which were recorded for release as a live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, in October of the same year.
Twin Cinema, the New Pornographers' third album, was released on August 23, 2005, with Case again providing vocals on several tracks. Case's latest solo album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, was primarily recorded in Tucson, Arizona and was released on March 7, 2006.