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Power Up: Musician Neko Case

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Photo illustration: Paula Friedrich

Super-talented singer-songwriter Neko Case is not immune to self-doubt. 

In the years before becoming “an adult,” Case says she had a complicated relationship with ambition. 

“I wanted to be in a band and I wanted to play music, but I couldn’t have even told you that then,” she told Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen. 

“I wouldn’t have even thought that I was capable of that, even though I was completely obsessed and had been my whole life.”

Case’s work has gone on to receive a lot of critical acclaim over her 30-plus years of making music (and counting). 

Her newest album is called Hell-On. She stopped by WBEZ to tell us how she maintains her sanity while touring and how she’s not superstitious — even though she learned her house burned down on the same day she recorded the vocals for a song called “Bad Luck.” Below are highlights.

‘ ... And then my house burned down’

Neko Case: I don’t think I’m superstitious, but I’m superstitious, you know what I mean? Like I don’t really believe in that stuff, but I think if I say, “I’m doing OK right now. I feel really good and present,” then tomorrow, what could happen? 

I was in Sweden congratulating myself on almost being done with a record. I was like, “Ah! This is great! You’re such an adult! You did your research! Look at you! You finished those lyrics! Here we are!” And then, my house burned down. So I was like, “Oh, never congratulate yourself again please.” 

Obviously, that didn’t have anything to do with it.

‘If you don’t move your body, your body will punish you’

Greta Johnsen: How do you make sure that you’re ready to take on the day?

Case: Well I don’t eat sugar, and for the most part, I don’t eat any wheat because I get a nice rash on my face if I do. But I’m not going to lie: There was really soft sourdough bread at dinner last night, and I ate a fair amount of that. So most of the time, I’m really good, but every now and again, I do something bad.

But I do try and exercise every day otherwise I would be, mentally, insane. I think it’s kind of the number one thing. Because if you don’t move your body, your body will punish you. But people don’t really realize that’s what’s happening.

I’m not saying, “Why don’t you just exercise, people?” Because there’s times when you just don’t have that sort of control of yourself. I didn’t just start one day and nail it. It’s been a long process, but it’s worth it. 

And sometimes, I kinda slide out of it. And then I’m like, “Why do I have a beard-shaped rash on my face?” Well, you were eating a lot of bread, and your body doesn’t really like it. So you’re just going to have to wear this beard of shame.

‘I just want to be a musician,’ not a ‘woman in music’

Johnsen: What does success look like for you now?

Case: Well, I still employ a lot of people. And I think that’s a good thing. We can still draw enough people where we can afford to rent a tour bus and drive around and play for people. So that’s good.

I don’t want to be on a list of “The best women in music.” I just want to be a musician. I don’t want to be a woman in music. I like being a woman, but I’m done with the lists. Like this whole idea that music is a competition — and that the competitions are segregated by gender — is ridiculous. And I just wish that would stop. I wish we were further along.

It’s not a compliment. Like, “Here’s the women! Here’s the best woman. And there’s the 10th best woman.” That’s not a compliment at all.

Johnsen: [Laughs] We put the women in a bucket, and you rose to the top of the bucket.

Case: Yeah, that is like a country fair swine competition. It’s not a compliment.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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