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Neko Case defies easy categorization

Case is widely admired for her powerful, full voice that — on songs like her impassioned “Star Witness” — can sound like siren and Greek chorus rolled into one.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Neko Case has four dogs and two cats, but that only hints at the affinity she feels for animals and nature.

On her sixth studio album, “Middle Cyclone,” Case sings of tornadoes, killer whales, vultures and elephants. The album finishes with a half-hour of looped nature sounds. One of the disc’s most powerful tunes is titled “I’m an Animal.”

In a recent interview, Case explained her wild songwriting instincts.

“I like to make sure (animals) are there, too,” says the singer-songwriter. “It’s kind of to me the equal to, say, writing only about women and not men. It’s like writing about living things and nonliving things. I kind of want it all because I grew up with lots of animals and I related more to them than I did to people. I feel a lot of empathy for them.”

The 38-year-old, Virginia-born Case moved around a lot when she was younger and left home when she was 15. She eventually worked her way into the music scene in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she eventually fell in with Carl Newman.

Newman leads the New Pornographers, the band that gives Case her rock ’n roll dimension. Though Case generally focuses on her own material, she always sings on New Pornographer records and frequently tours with them. (Newman has his own solo album — “Get Guilty” — out now.)

While the Pornographers have raised her profile, Case’s solo career has grown in tandem. Her acclaimed last album, 2006’s “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” was her best-seller to date, moving 200,000 copies.

Though frequently labeled as alt-country or Americana, Case generally eludes categorization. She is widely admired for her powerful, full voice that — on songs like her impassioned “Star Witness” — can sound like siren and Greek chorus rolled into one.

“I just want to make stories,” she says. “They don’t have to have a moral or a reason. There might be some mild cautionary notes, but they’re not moral. They don’t impart any Judeo-Christian ethic of any kind.”

Perhaps reflective of her nomadic roots, Case recorded “Middle Cyclone” all over the map: Tucson, Ariz., Vermont, Brooklyn, N.Y., Chicago, Toronto and in rural Ontario. She currently lives in Tucson, but is preparing to move to Vermont.

Few could miss the storm theme to “Middle Cyclone,” but Case doesn’t view it as reflective of any tumultuousness in her. She says the lead track, “This Tornado Loves You,” isn’t any kind of metaphor, but rather a simple idea from a dream.

“I was just fascinated by the dream and what it was,” says Case. “The mystery is kind of exciting. I don’t really want the answer. I just like the excitement of the idea.”

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Her other big influence, at least of late, has been Russian and Eastern European folk tales. Though she’s of Ukrainian heritage, Case says she stumbled across them just because she “likes to read.”

“I think maybe Christians didn’t have as good a sense of humor as ancient Russians did,” says Case.

Asked what the Russians had right, Case replies: “That death is funny. And that humans are animals. They have that right. The Bible tries to make humans not animals the whole time. I think it’s a bit of a mistake.”