INTERVIEW BY AMY MATHENY AND PETER MAVRIK
For two decades, kd lang walked a road less traveled. Starting in country music, she traveled to new genres exploring pop with her award-winning album Ingenue, and then recording with Tony Bennett, who has called her 'the best singer since Judy Garland.' In addition to singing, she pioneered for the community as an openly gay artist and activist. This summer, lang is on tour with Lyle Lovett, stopping at Ravinia for two shows on June 29-30. ( For tickets, call 847-266-5100 or visit ravinia.org . )
Amy Matheny and Peter Mavrik interviewed lang on the Windy City Queercast, and there were a lot of laughs and much teasing. To listen to the full interview, visit www.windycityqueercast.com
Windy City Queercast: Let's go way back. Back to [ your ] roots. Your home is Alberta, Canada, and [ it ] has greatly impacted you. Your Hymn of the 49th Parallel, it's an amazing CD [ where ] you cover Canadian artists from Leonard Coen to Joni Mitchell. What is it about Canada that produces such wonderful singer/songwriters?
k.d. lang: It's just a phenomenon. In terms of per capita, we have just an embarrassment of riches in Canada of great singer/songwriters. I don't know. I really don't know. I guess it could be the cultural melting pot, the different ethnicities that landed in Canada. Or maybe it's the isolation and the harsh winter that allows people to stay indoors and practice. I'm not really sure.
WCQ: You have sung many different styles of music [ from ] pop with Ingenue to disco with Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but you first hit the music scene with country music. Was [ that ] your earliest influence as a singer?
kdl: No, it was one of my latest influences.
WCQ: So how did you land there?
kdl: Well, I started in classical music, and then through the development of my own taste and through my sister's influence I got into singer/songwriters—Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Kate Bush—and when I studied music in music college, I started getting into jazz and so forth. It wasn't until after I got out of music college that I started to get into country music. Sort of after I had been doing performance art and industrial punk music. Because at that time, I was … looking for something really odd to lean towards. … I was looking through second-hand stores and things that were uncharted territory at least for me. So then I landed on country music and really started to get a vision for cow punk and fell in love with Patsy Cline, and sort of had an image of how I could approach country [ music ] with a very liberal, gay, vegetarian point of view.
WCQ: How did … trying to be a punk cowgirl [ in Nashville ] work out for you?
kdl: Well, actually, it worked really well for me. ... There were a few people doing it—Jason and the Scorchers, Dwight Yoakum, Lyle Lovett—so it actually worked okay because we managed to get a lot of attention. And, as you know, that's a big part of moving forward. Plus I really, really did love what I was doing. I was really inspired by the contrast, and by all the different hybrids I could create within that genre. I played a lot with the clothes. I had a lot to do with the style of it and the creation of the sound of the Reclines. It was a very creative time for me.
WCQ: On those albums—Shadowlands, Absolute Torch and Twang—your voice was so well-suited to that music and that genre. I am curious, now with you being on tour for the first time with Lyle Lovett, do you have a yearning to go back and [ try ] country again at this point in your life?
kdl: Well, country music is something that I will always, always, always cherish and love. I don't think that I would go back entirely, just like I never really committed to it in the first place. Definitely country music is a part of who I am, so that will always be present, and I'll probably make a country record here and there in my next 40 years.
WCQ: One of your chief collaborators who has been very significant to you the past decade has been Tony Bennett. How did you meet Tony and how has performing with him influenced you?
kdl: Well, Tony is an unbelievable man. He is a really beautiful soul. He asked me to sing with him in 1992 on MTV Unplugged and, ever since, we became really good friends. He's a painter and very renaissance; very liberal; and very politically savvy and fiery. We have great conversations.
So we have maintained a friendship and of course he had the idea to do the duet record [ What a Wonderful World ] and that was a dream come true because there has been so much interest and so many people covering the American Songbook that I felt that I really didn't need to go there. But being asked by Tony Bennett it's almost like …
WCQ: The universe is summoning you.
kdl: Exactly; you're going directly to the source. He helped create the American songbook, and so to learn from him was just unbelievable, unfathomable that I would be that close, to have that proximity to the real deal.
WCQ: You [ are ] involved in the new Ella Fitzgerald CD: We All Love Ella. You [ perform ] Angel Eyes. How did Ella influence you and [ how ] were [ you ] asked to be a part of [ this compilation ] ?
kdl: Ella's beyond a singer; she's a force. She's definitely a musician. Actually, Phil Ramone asked me to be a part of that CD and asked me to sing Angel Eyes, specifically—so it was an honor to try to tackle that. Really, Ella has influenced me just as a listener. She's sort of beyond my capacity so I just have to sit there and listen.
WCQ: Is there someone that you'd like to collaborate with?
kdl: There [ are ] probably a thousand million people.
WCQ: Well, just a couple.
kdl: You know I can't do that. You know why? Because I'm a big believer in cause and effect and, so I think I will leave it up to the majesty of the world and consequences and just wait and see what surprises I get. Because I really would have never thought I would work with Roy Orbison, or Tony Bennett or Loretta Lynn, and yet the universe surprises you and it turns out to be totally beautiful. I really like the element of surprise to be my guide.
WCQ: So, [ on tour ] with Lyle Lovett. Can you give us a clue [ as to ] what we're going to hear at Ravinia?
kdl: Well, it's kind of a bit of an overview. Of course, [ there'll be ] some of Hymns of the 49th Parallel, and one or two country things, but the couple songs I'm most excited about are two of my original songs from my next record, which is coming out Feb. 12, 2008. I'm really excited about the record and I'm excited to play them this summer.
WCQ: So summer is finally here in Chicago and I love your Invincible Summer CD. It evokes summer—being on a beach, being barefoot, which I know you love. Are you still singing barefoot?
kdl: I am.
WCQ: Good. We like some consistency here. Why do you do that? I know why but why don't you tell [ us ] .
kdl: You tell me, since you know.
WCQ: Well, see I've interviewed you before and … I think it's the core of what I believe to be kd lang is why you sing barefoot. So I'm going to let you tell why you sing barefoot.
kdl: No, no, you tell .
WCQ: OK, this is why k.d. lang sings barefoot. We don't even need her to be here. I could have been interviewing between myself and my other personality, my k.d. lang personality. [ All laughing ] k.d. likes to sing barefoot because it grounds her into the ground, and she can feel a connection with the earth, plus she just doesn't like shoes. Is that true?
kdl: Both of those things are true.
WCQ: Is there an addendum? Something you want to add?
kdl: It really started because I don't wear leather, and finding appropriate plastic shoes became too much of a hassle.
WCQ: You love to write when you're feeling in love, and obviously you have a new CD coming out. Are you happily in love right now? Are you writing from a place of happiness and joy in your life right now?
kdl: I definitely am, yes.