Chanteuse k.d. lang talks about her new CD—her first all—original recording since 2000—her former flame, and her new love…but not much.
K.d. lang is on the phone, and I immediately sense that she has probably endured a long day of press and publicity chores—perhaps fielding the same questions over and over again, suffering ill-prepared journalists, who knows? She is short with her answers. Too succinct. She even clams up a couple of times, leaving only dead air on the line.
That’s fine, though. Lang’s latest CD, Watershed (Nonesuch), does more than enough speaking for itself: a sumptuous, dreamy, melodic affair wedding introspective lyrics with romantic and melancholy music. Producing, writing, singing, and playing multiple instruments, lang proves a true musical auteur. Country twang can be found within “I Dream of Spring,” and “Once in a While,” harkening back to her country roots (after all, lang hails from the cattle and prairie country of Alberta, Canada), while the combo of shimmering vibraphone, strings, and effects on “Je Fais La Planche” bring to mind Chicago’s post-rock legend, Tortoise. And “Sunday” and “Shadows and Frame” are so lushly beauteous that they could melt a boulder-sized knot of angst.
“Watershed is like a culmination of everything I’ve done,” lang explains in the press release for the CD, which is released this month. “There’s a little bit of jazz, a little country, a little of the Ingénue sound, a little Brazilian touch. It really feels like the way I hear music, this mash-up of genres, and I think it reflects all the styles that have preceded this in my catalogue.”
Watershed is lang’s first album of original material since Invincible Summer, released in 2000. Since then she’s kept quite busy, however, with the 2002 Tony Bennett collaboration, A Wonderful World , Hymns of the 49th Parallel , a 2004 cover album of songs by fellow Canadian artists, and numerous duets/guest appearances with the likes of Anne Murray, Madeleine Peyroux, and Nellie McKay. In support of her new recording, lang launched a tour on February 23 at the Boston Opera House, following a January 26 preview performance aboard an Olivia cruise, part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the travel company for lesbians and friends.
But back to that phone call, during which we spoke of the meanings behind her songs, ex-girlfriend/L-Word star Leisha Hailey, and some election predictions.
Lawrence Ferber: Did Watershed‘s songs pour out all at once?
k.d. lang: No, I wrote it over around six years.
You produced, wrote, sang, played multiple instruments… What was your biggest indulgence in making this album?
Time. Giving myself the time to do it.
On “I Dream of Spring,” you sing, “She arrives like autumn in a rainstorm/the threat of thunder above/I’ll return from the streets of Melbourne/I’ll return my love.” Who is the “she” in question?
It’s not necessarily about a woman. It’s just about a love. It’s about a pure love that makes you feel new life in you. Not necessarily about one particular person.
There are a few songs about being in love, but also songs about being vulnerable, adversities, and possibly breakups.
Well, even though I use love as the conduit for expressing and examining oneself, it’s really a record about looking at myself and how I am in relationships. It’s not necessarily about a relationship or even love relationships, because it can be applied to spiritual relationships, to art, to myself, to a lover.
In “Sunday,” you sing, “Six days a week/I spend waiting to be spending Sunday afternoon/naked in your room.” I find myself wondering why you have to wait until Sunday to get naked with her. Why not Tuesday?
Good question. I don’t know the answer to that one. [Laughs] I just like Sundays.
What mood were you in when you wrote “Flame of the Uninspired,” and what light can you shed upon its meaning?
It was sort of a self-reflecting, introspective mood. I was looking at, I guess, my relationship towards being an artist or someone who has to look for inspiration. Habitually, I have this tendency to look for chaotic experiences to write about. That is the flame of the uninspired. To be habitual in my seeking out inspiration. It was really a moment where I decided to look past the pattern I was in.
When 2000’s Invincible Summer came out you were in a relationship with Leisha Hailey, very much love, love, love and in a happy place. Where does today find you?
I’ve been in a relationship for the last six years and I’m happy. Her name is Jamie Price.
There hasn’t been a lot written about you and Jamie so far.
That’s because it doesn’t really have that much to do with my music.
And which song does she like you to sing to her while she eats grapes?
Oh, she’s not thrilled by me singing to her while she’s eating grapes.
Are you a better person when single or when in a couple?
I don’t know—I’m probably not good at either one!
What are three things that bring k.d. a smile?
Sundays. My dogs, definitely. And I guess the unexpected.
And three things guaranteed to make you unhappy or disgusted?
Hypocrisy. Violence, definitely. And too much work.
What about foie gras—yea or nay?
You’re one of the all-female singers who appear on Annie Lennox’s “Sing” fundraiser single. When she approached you, were you hoping it was a flirt at first?
No. Annie and I have known each other forever. She contacted me to do it and of course I would do it.
What is the strangest duet or guest appearance you’ve been approached to do?
[Matt Johnson of] The The contacted me way back in the early days. Never happened but that was pretty out there.
Would you like to sing with one of Rufus Wainwright’s parents?
Sure, why not. I’d rather sing with Rufus, but yeah. I had him open for me at the Hollywood Bowl, and in both of our sets we did our renditions of “Hallelujah,” which I thought was lots of fun.
You’re a Canadian, and Canadians are rather secular. But you’re living in the USA, a country that has taken quite a religious turn. How do you feel about that?
That’s a big can of worms to open.
I’m all for people having faith, and spiritual foundation. I think when it starts creating dualistic thinking, which is “I’m right and you’re wrong,” then I don’t condone it.
If Hillary Clinton could pick one of your songs as her campaign song, which would you recommend?
And Mike Huckabee?
Umm… this is fun. “Jealous Dog” from the new record.
Have you been watching The L Word ?
Never seen it.
Would you appear on the show if asked?
No. I don’t think it’s necessary.
According to IMDb [the website Internet Movie Database], you haven’t acted in almost a decade now.
I don’t like to act. I’m not an actor, so it’s not something I’m out pursuing.
How do you look back on your starring role in the 1991 lesbian indie Salmonberries?
It was a good experience. I think just the experience of being in Alaska [for the shoot] was pretty interesting. It was very cold! And that was a nice experience for sure.
You once said that prior to your relationship with Leisha…
You keep talking about Leisha, and that’s such old history.
OK. Your election predictions?
I think Al Gore’s going to come back at the last minute.
And who’s going to get the biggest beating?
Did some songs not make it to the album?
Yeah, a couple.
Will any of those or B-sides come out?
Maybe remixes but no, probably not.
How should first-time k.d. lang listeners approach this album?
Anyway they want. I have no stipulations!
And what should people do when they listen to this CD?
Anything they want.
Perhaps you should limit us a little bit. It’s not something you’d want played while the crazy from The Silence of the Lambs makes his prisoner put the lotion in the basket, right?
No, I probably don’t, but I think people can figure that out.
Lawerence Ferber frequently writes about entertainment for OutSmart.