Although it took a number of years to finally happen, lang’s Hymns of the 49th Parallel album pairs lang’s interpretation of Canadian songs with a tasteful string arrangement.
k.d. lang, a “Buddhist, vegetarian, lesbian, Canadian artist,” will perform with the ISO Tuesday. Lang has been on the road with her band, playing the material along with symphony orchestras across North America. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will back lang at the Circle Theater on Tuesday night, Oct. 12.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” lang said of the symphony tour. “It’s just, logistically, very difficult to set up because the advance on symphonies is at least a year. So, fortunately, we finished the record a year ago so it allowed us the time to book the symphony.”
After dozens of shows, “I’m a little worn out but it’s OK,” lang said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles during a brief hiatus in the tour. “I’ll be OK once I start again. What’s hard is the transition from being at home to back on the road. Once I’m back on the road, I’m in the momentum of it and I’m fine.”
Going from a four-member band to a 40-piece orchestra is not as difficult a task as it would seem, lang said, due to a great advance team and plenty of preparation.
“The symphonies are so professional and so ready,” she said. “We have five sets of scores and they leapfrog around the country so they’re there before we get there. My conductor goes in on the day of show and rehearses. Then my band goes in to rehearse, and I go in to rehearse. By the time the show comes around, everyone is pretty ready.”
Although lang will certainly perform older material in her Indianapolis appearance, the emphasis will be on material from the 49th Parallel album, the songs for which she selected with care.
“There were two criteria” for the songs, lang said. “One, I had to have a personal relationship with these songs and they had to represent me emotionally. Secondly, I really wanted to illuminate the notion I have of how Canadian songwriters have an innate relationship with the geography of Canada. They rely on nature to express themselves spiritually and emotionally. Having those two things as my guidelines, picking the songs was very easy.”
She chose an eclectic mixture of songs, varying from Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” and songs by Canadian icons Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen to more adventurous material by lang’s friend Jane Siberry.
The album basically recorded itself, lang said.
“What happened was, I called in my longtime collaborators and told them I wanted to try this and wanted to demo a few songs. So we booked a month in the studio and within five days, all of the basic tracking was done. I redid a couple of the vocals but it went so fast, because their understanding of the songs is as innate as mine. It’s also a testament to our friendship and our long-term musical arrangement.”
At that point, Eumir Deodato came in and wrote the string arrangements for the songs, “That was very difficult because the songs are so intimate and very subtle,” lang said, “and to write for 30 or 40 strings and not over-arrange stuff is also very difficult.”
She praised the arrangements, saying they give her creative space to give her best effort to the vocals. Lang said that not only does the symphony not constrict her artistically, it gives her new mastery of the songs.
“What it does, actually, is that it allows me to focus on the narrative of the vocal and the subtlety of the vocal. I don’t have to worry about filling up space, because there’s such a rich harmonic wall behind me. It actually frees me up.”
When asked how much her audience’s expectations figure into lang’s career choices, she responded with her characteristic honesty. “With all respect to my audience, I don’t take them into consideration that much because I think that’s detrimental,” she said. “I really focus on my intuition and my muse and I try not to let external influences like audience, critics, music business, record companies, success, drive my decision-making. I’ve lost many, many, many listeners and gained many new ones. So it’s really about staying honest with myself and my relationship with my art.”
How removed does she see herself from today’s contemporary pop music scene?
“Quite removed,” she said. “I would say I never watch VH-1, I never watch MTV. I guess my biggest participation in the music business is listening to NPR and the eclectic music programming that’s on that. And being on iTunes. That’s about as deep as I get.”
One of the hallmarks of lang’s career has been her dedication to social justice, which has manifested itself in lang’s music as well as her words and actions. Her willingness to help out progressive causes is legendary, as is her outspokenness in advocating them.
Lang was asked what advice she would give to American voters during the last month of the presidential campaign. She laughed at the question.
“You’re talking to a Buddhist, vegetarian, lesbian, Canadian artist,” she said. “You probably can’t get any further left than that. Of course, I come from a place of non-violence and non-aggression. So my interest in this administration is probably nil. I would just really stress to the people who’d be reading this article to think that it’s really important to think universally and humanitarianly. Because we can’t separate ourselves from the Iraqis. There’s no such thing as good or evil. There’s no such thing as the separation between us. We are one. It’s one big ball of wax floating around in space. And the sooner we start thinking that way, the sooner we stop mass suffering.”
She will remain on the road through next year, touring in support of Hymns of the 49th Parallel. After that, she said, she has no idea where her muse will take her: perhaps a new studio album, perhaps something else. Whatever she does, she won’t visit the many lang fan Web sites, where career suggestions are offered freely to her.
“No, I won’t do that,” she said, laughing again. “I don’t do that. That’s not me.”
Who: k.d. lang with the Indianapolis Symphonic Orchestra When: Tuesday, Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Where: Hilbert Circle Theatre Tickets: Only $40 seats remain, 639-4300 or (800) 366-8457