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All Songs +1: A Discussion With Neko Case And John Grant

John Grant and Neko Case
Courtesy of the artist
John Grant and Neko Case

Listen to this conversation and you'll feel like you're sitting in an airport lounge eavesdropping on two smart, funny, mutually-admiring musicians.

Neko Case and John Grant have been friends on social media for a few years — a recent Twitter exchange began with Neko exclaiming that "falling in love should feel like the intro to 'Get Down Tonight'" with John responding, "But should last a tad longer perhaps."

When we got them together — John was here with me at NPR's Washington, D.C. studios and Neko was in a studio in Vermont — the relationship blossomed. "I have written down here the first thing I was going to say to you. 'Neko Case, you are definitely one of the modern reasons to get out of bed,'" John Grant said. "Now I'm blushing," Neko replied.

Recently we've set up some fascinating conversations between musicians. Sharon Van Etten spoke with Mimi Parker of Low about being a mom on the road, U.S. Girls wanted to talk with Peaches on the hazards and humor of making explicit music. Neko Case and John Grant share an aesthetic based in honesty and humor that you can hear in their music. John's latest record is called Grey Tickles, Black Pressureand Neko will release Truckdriver, Gladiator, Muleon November 13, a career-spanning vinyl box set featuring her entire solo discography remastered.

Below are a few highlights from that interview, but truly the entire conversation was a wild ride. It includes an impromptu call to producer John Congleton, who discusses the possibility of making a collaborative record between Grant and Case. So sit back, imagine yourself in that airport lounge and tell your friends about this quirky, thoughtful, sometimes silly conversation between two talented souls.

On music and basic life skills:

John Grant: I really do feel like music is the only thing that I can do. You know, I don't cook. I sort of — did you ever read The Tin Drum? It's a great story about this little boy who decides to stop growing because he doesn't want to be a part of this world. And I sort of feel like I did that as well. And so now that I'm, you know, 47, I'm sort of awake now and really sort of looking at the world and I'm trying to learn to do things. Which is a lot of fun. I roasted a chicken, for example, recently for the first time ever.

Neko Case: It's wild when you realize your basic skills, isn't it?

JG: Well, that you have none, yeah.

On writing songs in specific locations:

JG: I feel like I would have made a very similar record to the one that I just made no matter where I was.

NC: Yeah, it's kind of like if you eat really good food all the time, you're probably going to be pretty healthy. Which is kind of where a landscape like that would come in. Vermont is definitely that way for me, but I felt that way in Tucson too.

On touring with a new album:

JG: I really need to let go of the songs, as I imagine a lot of people probably have to. Tell me if this is that way for you, Neko, but I let go of them to such an extent that I really have to learn everything over again when I start to tour it. I have to learn all of the chords to my songs again.

NC: Oh, I totally have that. But luckily it's easier to make a large sound with a lot less people live. Kind of like how the camera adds 10 pounds theory. It really helps.

On carnival rides and stage fashion:

JG: Do you remember the carnival ride called the Zipper? That's my favorite.

NC: I hung upside down in that forever till I got big bruises on my hips and everything. I love that thing so much.

JG: Me too. It's one of my favorite things in the world. And I want to have a suit that I wear on stage that has that embroidered on the back of it.

On Bulgarian harmonies:

JG: Those Ukrainians, they do some of that singing like the Bulgarian women. And it is, those harmonies are some of the most intricate, beautiful things I've ever heard.

NC: Oh, the laser drones? I was like, I want to learn Bulgarian so I can go to Bulgaria and just start from the bottom, kind of like in Kill Bill where she goes to the master and they beat her up every — like, I would let them beat me up every day and I would eat dirty rice off the floor if they would teach me how to sing like that.

On a potential collaboration:

JG: Oh, I think that would be wonderful. I think we should make like a Eurythmics album. Like one of those first two, really, really sparse, you know, electro things with lots of atmospherics and just beautiful harmonies.

NC: I've never made a record like that. I would love to.

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In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.
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