In the 11 years between the release of “Because It Feel Good” and her brilliant new album “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain,” Kelly Hogan explored all the musical crayons in her box.
Following her 2001 release, the Evansville, Wis., resident toured for a couple of years, sang with Neko Case, and joined John Wesley Harding and Nora O’Connor to record Elizabethan madrigals on “Songs of Misfortune,” a Love Hall Tryst album. Three years ago, Hogan’s jazz band The Wooden Leg began what was supposed to be a one-month residency at The Hideout in Chicago.
“I’ve been busy, Gregg! I never stopped singing,” Hogan exclaimed when I caught up with her a few months ago to chat about her about her latest release.
It seems like most of the songs on “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” were written for you.
Certain songs might not have been written for me specifically, but they were given to me. Like in the case of The Magnetic Fields’ (“Plain White Roses”), that was an old song of theirs. Stephin (Merritt), was going to write me one, but he was busy doing an opera, so Claudia (Gonson) said, “There’s this song, I think it’s a great song and it never really got its due,” so she sent me a version from a Merge (Records) compilation from a long time ago. Now they do it in their live show and it’s on a recent record. They’re like, “Hey, that song is good!”
The album includes respectful nods to your Chicago cronies, including Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, Catherine Irwin and The Handsome Family.
Oh, man, I want to get one of those Mayberry police cars, with the giant speakers on top and go slowly down the street, “Ladies and gentlemen, check these people out! They kick ass!” I love waving the flag for people.
I heard some Lulu in your voice on “Pass On By.”
Good! I think Lulu is very soulful. Awesome! I apologized to Stephin Merritt. I said, “I Olivia Newton-Johned your song, I hope you don’t mind” (laughs).
There’s a disturbed domesticity on songs such as “We Can’t Have Nice Things” and “Whenever You’re Out of My Sight.” Do you think domestic tranquility is an oxymoron?
I don’t think it’s ever tranquil. Where would all these sad songs come from? I think that’s a myth, sir! I mean I have happy times, we all have happy times, but I don’t think that exists. Go chase that windmill, dude, I’ve got other stuff to do. When I sing those songs, I see pictures on the floor, broken glass, and people smiling through it. I think that’s reality.
Songs such as “Sleeper Awake” and “Haunted” have a commercial ring. They sound like the summertime hit singles you hear pouring out of car windows or radios at the beach. What would it mean to you to have a hit like that?
I love those songs too. I don’t just sit around listening to Lee Hazelwood, drinking brandy out of a snifter. I like The Archies and Olivia Newton-John and all that. John Wesley Harding sent me “Sleeper Awake” a long time ago, and he sent me some other songs when I asked him for this record. But I kept going back to it and I thought it might finally be time to do “Sleeper Awake.” I'm a horrible insomniac, and that song kind of gives me a heart attack to sing. Our idea was to take the song and flip it upside down. It was fun to play it with a Motown thing. I was thinking more of Kirsty MacColl. I love that stuff. I love to throw open my windows, clean the house and sing that stuff. I have an Army dad and he used to flip on the light, throw off the covers, and with a wooden spoon and a pan, beat it really loud next to our heads, while singing reveille. Actually, I wove the melody of reveille into my background vocals as a little “up yours” to my dad, a little homage. I’m not ashamed to sound like a box of Honeycomb cereal, because I’ll eat that stuff all day long.
So good and so good for you.
For “Haunted,” my only mixing note for that song was, “Let’s make it smell like beer.” (Songwriter) Jon Langford is very robust. He’s like a pirate. I love him so much. We wanted to make it like a bar sing-along. When Jon heard it, he said, “You’ve turned it into a Bay City Rollers song.” I was like, “What?” I guess it was the clapping and all. But I love how it turned out. It’s raucous.
How does it feel to be a part of the Anti- stable, along with Neko Case, Wilco, Kate Bush, Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette, among others?
I had to buy some adult diapers, man. Are you kidding? They were my favorite label in the world, and they asked me to make a record for them. I thought I was being punked. I was going to call my record “I’m Not Worthy.”
But of course you are.
I just like how they invest in you. It’s not like it’s my Anti- record, it’s my first Anti- record. They’re even giving me that benefit of the doubt. It makes me excited. I want to do them proud.