With the Grigoryan Brothers
“Ingenue Redux: 25th Anniversary Concert”
Sunday, March 25
Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, Md.
VIP meet-and-greet packages available
k.d. lang does not waste words. She’s delightful. Pleasant. She balks or hems at no question put to her.
Yet her economy of language is a bit startling.
So, of course, as any regular reader of celebrity profiles realizes, almost never is a Q&A a verbatim transcript of the conversation exactly as it went down. Quite often, in fact, we have to add a disclaimer that says so-and-so’s comments have been “slightly edited for length and clarity.”
But not with Miss lang. Aside from a few lines of opening pleasantries, this is the full chat. Verbatim.
She’s touring behind the 25th anniversary edition of her breakthrough album “Ingenue.” She plays the Strathmore on Sunday, March 25.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Where are you right now?
lang: Calgary, Alberta.
BLADE: I read you had moved to Portland a few years back. Do you still live there?
lang: Portland and Calgary. Back and forth.
BLADE: So “Ingenue” was such a change of pace for you musically. How much label convincing did that radical a change take? “Shadowlands” had done quite well I understand, so were they pushing for “Shadowlands part two” as they so often do or not?
lang: Yeah, uh, no, I was really successful at the time I switched because “Absolute Torch and Twang” won the Grammy Award for best country female vocalist and “Shadowland” I was the highest selling country album of that year and then I made “Ingenue. Um, I don’t remember them having an issue with it. I think they trusted me. I was signed to Sire Records, which was, you know, Madonna, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Chrissie Hynde. I was kind of from an alternative rock/punk label and I don’t think they had an issue with it. They trusted me and supported me. The issue was me coming out, really.
BLADE: Yeah, we’ll get to that. The only bonus material on the 25th anniversary edition for “Ingenue” is just your MTV Unplugged special. Why didn’t you put some b-sides if there were any, alternate vocals, demos, stuff like that on it?
lang: I didn’t really have any.
BLADE: Did you have the master tapes or were they sitting in some label warehouse somewhere all these years?
lang: Yeah, the label has them. But I didn’t even think about that and I don’t think we have any alternate takes because we just — I don’t think we have any. We just kept working on it until it was the finished deal.
BLADE: Was it a given that “Constant Craving” was going to be the first single? Did you and the label feel it had the most radio potential?
lang: Yeah, it was obvious to everyone that it was really the only one on the album that had any chance (chuckles).
BLADE: You’re credited with playing harp on “All You Can Eat” and “Watershed.” Is that like the big concert harp and how did you learn it?
lang: (chuckles again) I just make noise on the harp and it’s a tiny little one.
BLADE: So you never, like, studied the harp or took lessons or anything.
lang: No, no, no.
BLADE: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you did a ton of stuff for the LGBT groups in the ‘90s, like GLAAD, HRC but not so much in recent years. Do you get a lot of requests to make appearances from those kinds of groups anymore?
lang: I certainly did a lot back in the day, but no. I kind of, well obviously there’s a lot more people available to do the work now and I think I made my contribution and now I’m really just trying to walk the walk. I think I also wanted after years of being the spokesperson, you know, the poster “dykon,” I wanted the music to kind of come to the forefront again.
BLADE: Is it true your manager and label didn’t know you were going to do the Advocate interview when you came out? What was their immediate reaction?
lang: Well, they knew I was going to do the interview, but they didn’t know I was going to come out. Obviously people gave me their opinions but they knew I had to follow my heart and do whatever I felt was the right thing. They certainly supported me either way whether I came out or not. I think the obvious concern was that it would affect my career and it did, but in a very positive way.
BLADE: But did your manager say, like, “Gee, could you have at least given us a heads up?” or anything like that?
lang: No, no. They knew I was doing the interview and then as soon as I did, I let everyone know that I did, in fact, come out.
BLADE: So there was a chance you might have done an Advocate interview and not come out?
lang: Yeah, there was that chance but I pretty much knew that was the right place to do it.
BLADE: What’s it been like on this tour singing “Ingenue” straight through. It’s such a restrained album and you’ve talked about it almost requiring a classical-type approach. So often records sound great at home on the stereo but making that work live in a room is a whole other thing, especially an album like this I would imagine.
lang: Yes, you’re absolutely right and I feel like it’s really my energy and presence and focus that translates to the audience so if I’m bored with it or if I’m doubting myself, I think people pick up on that so it’s really up to me and the musicians to deliver it with absolute truth and integrity. I try to do that anyway, but especially, like you said, when you’re doing a record in sequence, you know, it’s a lot for an audience to digest. But I also think the fact that the audience has had 25 years to develop their own relationship with the record, it creates a space anyway and I never try to superimpose my relationship or my emotions on the song to supersede that of the listeners. I really try to deliver it in a way that everyone can relieve their experiences with the record.
BLADE: How did it go when you were touring it in Australia and Canada last fall?
lang: Very, very well. It was really for me, a beautiful musical experience. Really wonderful interplay with the band and with the audience and, you know, it’s a pretty quiet, pretty introspective show. It’s not in-your-face entertainment, stars show 101. But it’s pretty musical.
BLADE: Besides “Constant Craving,” had you done many of the other “Ingenue” songs much live over the years?
lang: Yeah, yeah, I’ve, you know, done “Save Me,” “Mind of Love,” “Wash Me Clean,” “Miss Chatelaine.” There’s always been a handful of songs in the rotation on any tour that I do from “Ingenue.”
BLADE: You originally toured that album over a year. How are the live arrangements different, or are they, from how you performed them back in ’92-’93?
lang: It’s a mix. Some are straight ahead exactly like the record which it’s also fun to kind of shadow the record, but some are very different so it’s a mix.
BLADE: How much of the vocal stuff you do live is improvised in the moment, like holding a certain phrase or using a different inflection on a lyric, or are some those little things the same each night?
lang: (pauses) Well, I definitely approach things different vocally. It depends how I feel, how my throat feels, how the hall sounds and how the audience is. If they’re rambunctious, I sing slightly different than if they’re very quiet. How the band is, what they’re throwing at me harmonically, so there’s a lot of variables. But I also get sort of attached to certain little phrases that I like to do every night, so I would say it’s a mix.
BLADE: How long did it take to shoot the famous Vanity Fair cover with Cindy Crawford? Was that an all-day thing or more like snap-snap-snap and you were done in an hour?
lang: Uh, no, it was probably like a full day’s work.
BLADE: Was it a fun process?
lang: Yeah, because we were all friends. I was really close to Herb (Ritts) at the time and Cindy was really close to Herb and I knew Cindy through Herb so it was just, you know, like we were just hanging out taking pictures. It was work, it was very professional, but it was also very easy.
BLADE: How did you like Tony Bennett’s album with Lady Gaga?
lang: I haven’t heard a lot of it but, um, I don’t — you know, it’s great, it’s awesome. I love those kinds of collaborations.
BLADE: I just find it interesting that you and Lady Gaga are the only female artists Tony Bennett has ever made full albums with.
lang: (chuckles) Yeah, we’re just different choices.
BLADE: It feels like there was this ‘90s wave of out women singers with you, Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, then it felt like there was this long, barren stretch before we got to, say, Tegan and Sara. Do you think maybe there was a backlash for a while and maybe female singers were a bit more skittish about coming out after that initial wave?
lang: (pauses) I’m afraid I can’t enlighten you on that one at all. I don’t know.
BLADE: Are you with anyone now?
lang: Yeah, I’m with somebody. I have a very nice home life.
BLADE: How long has this relationship been and does she ever tour with you?
lang: About four years and yeah, she comes out once in a while.
BLADE: OK great, thanks.
lang: Thank you, take care.