My introduction to Neko Case came courtesy of an erroneous search on YouTube, which brought me into contact with footage of Case performing This Tornado Loves You on the Late Show with David Letterman. At the time I was very much into heavy-metal and alternative rock, and in no way was alt-country on my radar of music I might end up getting into. Yet, despite my genre biases at the time, I become captivated; by the song, by Case’s voice, and by this particular performance. I would arrive home from work and immediately watch the video 3 or 4 times, back to back, and after a week of this I decided this obsession was ridiculous and that I just had to buy the album, Middle Cyclone. I wasn’t disappointed with what I heard.
Several years back, when I first did a series of Women-Who-Rocktober posts on Facebook for my friends, Case’s inclusion proved to be somewhat controversial as her music wasn’t “rock”. Case started her recording career playing drums in punk/indie-rock bands while living in Vancouver – where she was studying fine arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design – and in 1999 she joined The New Pornographers as a vocalist. While Case’s solo endeavors revolve around a country music sound, it is difficult not to feel that rock has informed her choice of subject matter – which often seems to run counter to country’s conservatism – as well as contributing to her commanding stage presence and immaculately constructed songs.
As I said in the introduction to Women-Who-Rocktober, rock is a state of mind, an attitude, not a postcode or adherence to a genre’s “sound” or tropes. When it comes to the attitude, Case has it in spades, as evidenced by her response to tweets from Playboy stating that she “is breaking the mold of what women in the music industry should be”. Case was right to respond that she is a “musician in music”, and there can be no doubt that, on the strength of her work, she can stand tall among musicians, regardless of gender.
With her gorgeous vocals, intriguing songs, and commanding stage presence, I can confidently say that discovering Neko Case was one of the best mistakes I have ever made. Anyone who hasn’t gotten past the “country music” label to embrace her style of rock should get a start now.