One way of looking at case/lang/veirs, the new collaboration between three of North America’s most distinctive song stylists, is to see it as a record about friendships lost, found, and insufficient. After all, the disc ends with “Georgia Stars”, an instant folk-rock classic about a former camping partner now lost to time, and its high point might be “Best Kept Secret”, a loping Laurel Canyon anthem about the kind of bestie who’ll always pick up that late-night long-distance call. “Song for Judee”, on the other hand, eulogizes ’70s songwriter Judee Sill, whose showbiz friends—including David Crosby and Graham Nash—couldn’t keep her from heroin addiction and an overdose death.
The idea that there might be some kind of concept behind the record is new to Portland, Oregon, residents Laura Veirs and k.d. lang, however. (Neko Case, the third member of the trio, was unavailable for comment.)
“I don’t think we consciously did that, but… Hmmm. I don’t know,” says lang, in a telephone interview from Calgary, where she’s visiting family. “I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t even thought about what the record’s about; I’m just happy that we actually got it made!”
Veirs, interviewed a couple of weeks later, is equally surprised, but she’s willing to consider the possibility.
“That’s kind of a cool point,” she says, on the line from Portland. “And now that I think of it, ‘I Want to Be Here’ is also about a friend. So, yeah, there is a lot of friendship on the record. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I’m glad you pointed that out.”
With lang and Veirs having Portland in common and Case and Veirs being from the same indie-rock generation, it’s plausible that the three women have themselves been long-time confederates. The warmth and ease audible on case/lang/veirs might give further credence to that view, but it’s not true; the project began when lang essentially cold-called the other two, suggesting they do something together.
“Okay, I’m going to break it down for you,” says lang. “In 2012 I moved from Los Angeles to Portland. I met Laura, and then I met Neko, and then I wrote them an email and said ‘Let’s make a record.’ And in half an hour both of them wrote back and said ‘Hell, yes,’ so it was a green light.”
“We didn’t know each other at all before we started,” Veirs elaborates. “We’d just met once, for like five minutes. And so we were really going in cold, just as admiring coconspirators. There was no friendship there. We’ve built a friendship, but it’s not like we’ve found our soulmates and we’re going to be tight buddies for the rest of our lives.”
Both Veirs and lang say that the making of case/lang/veirs wasn’t a friction-free process.
“I have more experience, so I thought they should bow down to me,” says lang, who’s 54 to Case’s 45 and Veirs’s 42. “Which they didn’t. And it pissed me off.”
More seriously, lang reveals that all three had to find room for compromise. “As you can imagine, with three individually strong and independent artists thrown together‚ things got pretty hairy at times,” she notes. “For example, we would come up to a section and I would want to use the word love, and neither of those guys would. Laura would be like, ‘I haven’t used the word love in five years. I refuse to use the word love.’ Or Laura would want to use the word sun, or sunshine, and we’d be like, ‘You’ve used the word sunshine a thousand times!’ So, yeah, it was excruciating at times, but the music was the thing that kept us focused and the momentum going strongly forward.”
In turn, Veirs credits coproducer Tucker Martine with building a happy environment in the studio. That Martine is also Veirs’s husband is not lost on her. “He’s from the South, and I think they’re trained to be a little more gracious than in the North, where we can be very blunt,” she says. “So he was great at keeping the vibes good. And the recording process seemed easy, because we had done so much struggling in the writing and demoing process. When we got to the studio it flowed quite well.”
As of last week—a few days into rehearsal for the tour that will bring Case, lang, and Veirs to Vancouver next week—things were continuing to go smoothly. So will this trio become a regular thing?
“Probably not,” Veirs says frankly. “It’s probably a one-off. But, you know, more will be revealed after this tour. After a year, we might go, ‘Actually, that was awesome. Let’s do it again!’ Or maybe we’ll be like, ‘You know what? That was really cool and really hard and really amazing, but that’s enough.’ It’s hard to tell!”
case/lang/veirs plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Wednesday (June 29), as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.