"I was really depressed and in mourning . . . and I'd never slowed down to just feel it," Case says of recording her new full-length.
Curled up on a plush green chair in the lobby of New York's Soho Grand Hotel, Neko Case admits that, throughout her career, she's used her mighty voice to tell stories from perspectives that aren't her own. Her 2006 breakout, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood," was highlighted by morbid anecdotes like "Dirty Knife" and "Margaret v. Pauline," while on 2009's "Middle Cyclone," Case sang from a twister's point of view on "This Tornado Loves You."
But for "The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You," the alt-country singer/songwriter forced herself to take stock of a career that had produced five solo albums, another five as a member of the New Pornographers and countless live shows but no immediate family.
"It's weird to look down and go, 'Yeah, I'm 42, and I'm in a world that doesn't really think it's very normal to be single, not have any kids and be a straight American woman in her 40s,'" Case says. "It's like, 'Are you crazy? Why don't you have these things?' I had to go through all of my personal paperwork and go, 'I really did choose that. I own it.'"
The new album, due Sept. 3 on Anti-, finds Case making the most incisive lyrical declarations of her career, often in first person point-of-view, on songs like the venomous "I'm From Nowhere" and the heartbreaking "Calling Cards." The self-examined songwriting was dictated by a painful four years for Case since the release of "Middle Cyclone," which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and received two Grammy Award nominations. The critical acclaim and commercial success washed over Case, who felt a "numbness" while experiencing the loss of multiple family members and friends following the release, and went through a period of having "absolutely no self-confidence" while touring.
"I was really depressed and in mourning . . . and I'd never slowed down to just feel it," Case says. The creation of the new album, then, became her time to "feel it": Recorded in Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; and Brooklyn, Case describes the process as a necessary time of catharsis.
Case recruited an impressive array of collaborators for the album, including M. Ward, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Mudhoney's Steve Turner and bassist Tom V. Ray. That guest list, combined with Case's consistently robust sales ("Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" has sold 232,000 copies while "Middle Cyclone" has moved 223,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan), makes the release "the biggest of the year" for Anti-, according to director of marketing Matt McGreevey. For the label that signed Case in 2004, the new album presents an opportunity to transform her from a veteran alternative star into a more mainstream presence. "With Neko Case, there's always more to get — she's just scratching the surface of what she can achieve and the people she can reach," McGreevey says.
The campaign began June 6, when a stark, 85-second teaser trailer for the album directed by Xan Aranda was posted on YouTube; five days later, a release date and track list were announced, and rollicking first single "Man" was unveiled. According to McGreevey, Case will start a promotional run on Aug. 25 at the First City Festival in Monterey, Calif., then head east to be in New York for release week. A performance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" has been confirmed for release date, and after festival appearances in Chicago and Portland later that week, a North American headlining tour begins Sept. 11 in San Diego.
Meanwhile, Case will continue to serve as an ambassador for the Best Friends Animal Society during her promotional duties. In the month prior to the album's release, fans who make a monetary contribution to the organization for abused and abandoned animals will be able to hear multiple songs from the new album before its release. The partnership comes four years after Anti- donated $5 to Best Friends for every blog that posted Middle Cyclone's "People Got a Lotta Nerve" as a free download.
Manager Amy Lombardi says Case will tour through 2014 after her fall trek wraps Nov. 1, and that she'll likely tour with the New Pornographers whenever the indie-pop supergroup, which also boasts Destroyer's Dan Bejar and singer/songwriter AC Newman, reassembles for the follow-up to 2010's "Together." "The new songs sound good to me and I'm really excited to go back," Case says of the next New Pornos full-length. "We'll probably have most of the vocals done in late July."
She also describes her next album, which she has already started writing, as "a companion piece" to "The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You," and believes her seventh LP won't take another four years — or another emotional roller coaster — to complete. "I feel like I kind of fixed my engine," she says. "I went and got a rebuild from Chevy, with all new parts. It's bigger. It's kick-ass. I've got a nitrous button now. I'm back."