Thursday, March 12, 2009
Watershed Moment: k.d. lang believes in music
“In perfect dreams life is so quite serene,” k.d. lang sings on the soundtrack to Portland director Gus Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Even though the 1993 film flopped, her accompanying album has been a warm blanket on even the coldest days of my life. So you can only imagine what a pleasure it was to tell her directly how much her music has meant to me. Our recent conversation also touched on her first self-produced CD, her live DVD recorded at an 18th century landmark church, the evolution of gender-bending and, of course, the economy.
Jimmy Radosta: What led you to decide to produce your last album, Watershed, on your own? How did this alter the recording process?
k.d. lang: Well, it was sort of a natural unfolding. I had been writing the songs for about six years and realized that I had almost an album’s worth of songs. When I looked back, I really felt like there was something essential about the demos that I didn’t want to lose. So out of the desire to keep those and to maintain the integrity, I just decided to finish the record by myself.
The recording process was different because I didn’t actually hire musicians and rent a big studio and do it in one fell swoop. I built it really slowly and spent a lot of time editing and making sure that the songs that I had were the ones that I wanted and that I felt were really speaking to me. It took a lot more time but a lot less resources.
There is a certain gratification in knowing that I accomplished something, but the onslaught was scary. It would be all my fault if it went terribly wrong. [Laughs]
JR: What was it like recording your new DVD, Live in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra?
kdl: It was nice. The scary thing about it was it was the third time the band and I had played live together. I had been working with the same musicians for like 20 years, and this year it was all brand new people. The BBC Orchestra is so amazing; they’re really one of the best assemblies that I’ve ever worked with.
JR: You composed one of my all-time favorite film scores, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
kdl: You rock, thank you! You are the only person that’s ever said that to me.
You know, I actually think that movie is so fucking hilarious and awesome. I think it was way before its time, and Gus Van Sant is just a genius. I love that record, too, and I think that whole combination was really just so amazingly wonderful for me. And I, of course, had to watch the film over and over and over again; I never got tired of looking at Rain [Phoenix] and Uma [Thurman], that’s for sure.
JR: You and Annie Lennox and Boy George were gender-bending pioneers, especially when you did that Vanity Fair cover with Cindy Crawford. Even though we live in more enlightened times, it seems like the most daring stuff was happening in the ’80s and ’90s. What kind of reaction did you get in those days?
kdl: It was good for me. I think Cindy got more negative reaction than I did about the Vanity cover. Gender-bending goes in cycles; there was a type of sexual energy or enthusiasm going on in the ’80s with Madonna and the aforementioned artists. Right now we’ve moved out of the physical nature and there are different things going on. It will probably roll around again to some sort of sexually oriented pop culture, but I think the AIDS crisis and just the abundance of sexual innuendoes in pop culture—it got tiring, you know? The AIDS thing kind of put a stop to the frivolity of it. It just seemed to become a little distasteful and unnecessary—at least it did for me.
JR: Can you tell me about your acceptance speech when you won a 1985 Juno Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist?
kdl: Well, I just thought, “Who is one of the most promising figures in our society?” So I wore a wedding dress and promised to “marry” the integrity of art and to make all of my products as “pure” and as “honest” as I could.
JR: Looking back on that today, did you ever imagine you’d achieve such a level of respect and popularity that you’d be recording with legends like Tony Bennett?
kdl: Um, I think I was so cocky and so sure of myself back then that, yes, I absolutely did know. I was focused on it and I had the energy, and I think I was destined to make it happen no matter what because I was so determined.
JR: Have you seen the music industry affected by the recession yet?
kdl: Oh yeah, definitely. Ticket sales have been down at least 30 percent across the board for everybody. When we were on tour last year and the gas prices were up to those amazingly high figures, it really affected us. The overhead was really, really very difficult to deal with.
But I think that music is something that does survive during these depression and recession times. People find solace in music and entertainment, so as long as we can keep the overhead down and the ticket prices down, things will be OK.
Wood Brothers open for k.d. lang 8 p.m. March 24 at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway. Tickets are $36-$60.50 from Ticketmaster.