'Recalling A Memory or Two'
When K.D. Lang released her first major-label album in 1987, she caused considerable controversy within the traditional world of country music. With her vaguely campy approach, androgynous appearance, and edgy, rock-inflected music, very few observers knew what to make of her or her music, although no one questioned her considerable vocal talents.
Born in Alberta, Canada, Lang was first drawn toward music while she was in college. In particular, she was attracted to the music of Patsy Cline. She became acquainted with Cline's music while she was preparing to star in a collegiate theatrical production based on the vocalist's life. Soon, Lang immersed herself within Cline's life and music and decided that she would pursue a career as a professional singer.
With the help of guitarist/co-songwriter Ben Mink, she formed a band, named The Re-Clines in tribute to Patsy Cline, in 1983, and they recorded a debut album, Friday Dance Promenade, which received some positive notices in independent papers. A follow-up album, A Truly Western Experience, was released in 1984 and received even better reviews and led to national attention. In 1985, lang was named the Most Promising Female Vocalist by the Juno Awards.
Sire signed Lang in early 1986, and she recorded her first record for the label later that year. The result, Angel with a Lariat, was produced by Dave Edmunds and appeared in the fall of 1986. As she was recording her second Nashville album in 1987, lang performed a duet with Roy Orbison on his old hit "Crying," which was recorded for the film 'Hiding Out.' The single was released at the end of the year and was hit, marking her first appearance on the country charts.
Shadowland, her second Sire album, made her debt to Patsy Cline explicit. Recorded with Cline's producer, Owen Bradley, the album lacked the campy humor of Angel with a Lariat, which helped it succeed in traditional country circles - "I'm Down to My Last Cigarette," the first single from the record, was her first to break the country Top 40.
The following year lang released the harder-edged Absolute Torch and Twang, which garnered her a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female in 1989.
Before the release of her fourth album, Lang declared that she was a lesbian in an interview in The Advocate, and with Ingenue steerig clear of her musical roots, it turned out to be a set of adult contemporary pop that owed very little to country. That said, its first single, "Constant Craving" became a Top 40 American hit and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, leading the album to platinum status in America, Britain, and Australia; it went double platinum in Canada.
It wasn't until 1995 that Lang delivered All You Can Eat, her full-fledged follow-up to Ingenue. All You Can Eat continued the pop direction of its predecessor, showing no traces of country. Lang continued to follow her pop-oriented instincts on 2000's Invincible Summer, while embracing traditional popular standards on 1997's Drag - a collection of songs about smoking - and in her duet with Tony Bennett on his 2001 set, 'Playin' with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.'
In 2004, after lang's contract with Sire Records ran its course, she signed with the artist-friendly Nonesuch imprint and recorded Hymns of the 49th Parallel, a collection of tunes by Canadian songwriters. Reintarnation, a new set of original material, was just released here in the US and is a brand new collection of Lang's songs from her groundbreaking first decade in music.
Chatting recently with K.D., and with her new album ‘Reintarnation’ named after a neologism defined by The Washington Post as “…coming back to life as a hillbilly,” I’m first wondered if a musical hillbilly is truly how she had always seen herself? ”No, musically I have not always been a Hillbilly,” she laughs. ”I really didn’t start to like country music until around 1980. I actually leant more towards being a singer/songwriter like Kate Bush. So, yeah, I only got into country in around ’81 or ’82.”
Is there a genre of music that you feel more comfortable being labeled as? ”No, not really.”
And that’s a good thing I would imagine, correct? ”It depends on who you’re asking,” she laughs once more. ”I guess if you asked the record company they’d tell you it wasn’t probably a great thing. But in terms of just following my instincts, my muses, and having integrity between myself and my audience, I think it’s a good thing.”
The CD cover for ‘Reinternation’ is a real shout out to The Clash’s own ‘London Calling’ … was this on purpose? ”Yes, and also Elvis Presley’s original one. I just liked the idea of taking Elvis and The Clash – as I always used to get compared to Sid Vicious and Elvis Presley when I was doing country. And so I just thought that that was a tip of the hat to the people who used to call me a ‘CowPunk.’ It sort of goes back to the combination of Rockabilly and Punk. So I thought that there was no better way of doing that then with The Clash album cover.”
The term ‘CowPunk’ seems to be a constant in all that is written about you, but is it a rude word to you these days? ”Oh, no. I think that all stuff that’s been written or said about me is in the tail wind and I’m really just trying to focus on what lies ahead. I could say that about lesbianism or vegetarianism as well, but I just try and understand how the media works and then focus on what I’m doing.”
Trying to understand how the media works … isn’t that an oxymoron?! ”Yes, that’s very true,” she heartily laughs.
‘Reintarnation’ features your first single ‘Friday Dance Promenade’ (1983), but knowing that you were in a Patsy Cline tribute band at the time along with Ben Mink called The Re-Clines, how does it hold up for you today? ”Well, The Re-Clines was my band that I put together, but no, I'd not quite formed The Re-Clines yet. That was maybe one year before I put together my band. What happened there was that I answered an ad in a newspaper for an audition for a western swing band. So, I went and auditioned and I got the gig which was held at a studio that was owned by Larry Wannergen who later became my manager. Back then he had a special on his studio where if you had a $1,000 you could go and record two songs and it would be pressed into a thousand singles. So that’s where ‘Friday Dance Promenade’ comes from.”
The previously-unreleased track ‘Changed My Mind’ is now on this compilation, but what was so wrong with it back 20 years ago?! ”I don’t know, ‘cause it’s certainly a lot better than some of the stuff we’ve put out,” she laughs again. ”I don’t know what happened, but we just decided not to put it out at that time. It was meant for ‘Absolute Torch and Twang’ and it just didn’t make it. And Ben and I would always refer to that song as the song we should have finished. So when we came to putting this compilation together we knew we had to finish that song now. I just thought that it would be a neat thing for the fans of the country era to have. Giving them something a little special that had never been released.”
Indeed, and whilst this new album is definitely a chance for older fans to catch up on your country roots of yesteryear, it does leave the others craving brand new material. After six years since ‘Invincible Summer,’ will there be an album of spanking new material soon? ”There is,” she quickly fires back, ”It’s halfway there. I keep getting distracted by this and that. But, it’s definitely in the works and this next record will definitely be an original album. I don’t know what genre, I don’t know what’s like, I just know there’s definitely songs in the pipeline.”
Being that you are a four-time Grammy award-winner I’m wondering just where those golden darlings can now be found in your house? Are they pride of place on a shelf or being used as door stops, perhaps? ”They have been doorstoppers and right now they’re in boxes somewhere. I don’t even know where they are.”
Are awards not that important to you at this stage? ”Well, while they’re certainly nice to win it’s not what motivates me. It’s not the Holy Grail.”
At what point did Katherine Dawn Lang become K.D. Lang … and what prompted it? ”Around seventeen or eighteen … because I hate the name Kathy! Nothing more mysterious than that. I also wanted it to be more androgynous.”
Was being this androgynous person throughout your early career something that the label forced upon you or was it more self-induced? ”No, definitely not a record company plea. In fact it was the complete opposite. I’ve been androgynous throughout my entire life so it was a very natural reflection of who I am.”
Do you ever relax and listen to your own music? ”No, not that I couldn’t but it’s not something that I practice, no.”
So, what music are you listening to? ”I like eclectic radio. It’s all over the place. Really, really all over the place like Corrine Bailey Rae, … and the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs.”
Finally, if you could sit down with anyone, dead or alive, for a jam session who would it be and why? ”Maybe John Coltrane … because of his melodies. I would just love to sing with a sax player like that.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win a copy of K.D.'s brand new CD 'Reintarnation', just answer this easy question: K.D. was Grammy-nominated for Best Country Vocal Collaboration for "Sin City" which she sang with ... who?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title 'K.D. LANG CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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