At Clearwater concert, Neko Case will renew her love affair with Florida

She plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Wednesday.

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click to enlarge Neko Case, who plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on Feb. 8, 2023. - Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Neko Case, who plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on Feb. 8, 2023.
At this point, even her most casual fans could hear Neko Case coming from a mile away. The 52-year-old’s supercharged vocal is unmistakably emotive and revered by devotees who first fell in love 26 years ago—and it’ll rattle downtown Clearwater like a freight train next week.

“We don’t get to play Florida enough,” Case told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay from Cincinnati, where she was about to kick off the third date of the 13-show run that ends with a trip on the Cayamo music cruise out of Miami.

She knows our state, like Arizona where she once lived, gets a bad rap, but swears there are some really killer people here. “The really shitty people, there’s only like, eight of them and they’re ruining it for everyone,” Case added.

Artists, activists, great human beings, all deserve musicians who come through and ask for their attention. And if there was ever a time to be on high alert, it’s now. Sure, Florida is a savage place to call home lately, but Case is also on the road in support of Wild Creatures, a new, career-spanning retrospective digitally-packaged with new essays, guest commentary from the likes of David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, Kevin Morby and others, plus a collection of art from Laura Plansker.

Case and her band arrive with a setlist so large that even she doesn’t know what the band is going to decide on playing after soundcheck. If we’re lucky, they’ll have found their way to “Wild Creatures.” For the compilation, Case felt too deep into her own body of work to cull the tracklist, so she asked Andy Kaulkin, founder of her longtime record label Anti- to do the pickin’. Case did request to have the opening track from her 2013 album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You in the lineup.

At the time, the record might’ve been her most vulnerable collection of work to date. But she’s not sure if that song resonated with fans the way it did with her. So it’s there for them, and for Case, to digest again because sometimes emotions can only be figured out by tapping into a little bit of patience, a value she learned more about during the pandemic.

And if they don’t get to the cut, fans will still be rewarded with tunes Case grew weary of after never taking a break from them over years and years of touring. “I would feel like ‘OK, I don’t feel super sincere when I play that right now, because I’m a little worn out on it, so I’m going to retire it for a bit,’” she explained. “Those songs we’ve kind of been bringing back lately, and it’s felt so good to know that you can take a little break, and come back, and they can feel fresh again.”

Read our full Q&A below.
You do have a show tonight, Pennsylvania and Ohio already happened. How'd it go?

It was great. And tonight we're playing Cincinnati, which I haven't played in forever, so I'm pretty excited about that. And then just making our way south.

OK. And I think in Ohio you covered Sparks, The Go Betweens. Are the covers different in every city?

It depends. We kind of start out with a similar setlist, and then we change it up kind of as we move along. So it depends, we do change things up somewhat.

Do you know the setlist for tonight already?

No, because we haven't soundchecked yet. We usually decide right after soundcheck what we're gonna do—depending on how we're feeling for the day.

And I do want to get into Wild Creatures on this tour, specifically, but I was looking back on the last time we talked. I wrote a sentence that said, "Case hopes to take a year off and just spend time in Vermont watching the seasons change." You wanted to spend time with your stepdaughter, too. Do we regret saying that at all because we got a lot of time off.

No, I don't regret saying that. I did actually get to spend like an entire school semester with her and that was really wonderful. It was what it was, as people say, very stressful, etc. There were good things that came out of it though.

Like what? What were some of those positives?

Learning a bit more about patience, I think. Things have not gotten easier by any stretch of the imagination, but I think my patience muscles have gotten stronger, a little bit. I hope. Maybe other people would not say that.

That's really cool. I am going to ask you about patience and waiting, I guess, and collaborating, in a little. But I did want to ask about "Wild Creatures." The tune kind of gets a second chance on this compilation, gets to come up to the forefront again. Have you been playing it on tour? If so, have you sensed that the crowd has picked up on your desire to give that song another chance?

We haven't played it the last two nights. No. It's not specifically about that song. It is a song that I did ask to put back on the compilation though. You know some songs, they mean a lot to you, but sometimes audiences don't respond to them. And it's not that audiences haven't responded. I just don't know how they feel about it. It's like the song "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood." That was my favorite off that record, and may still be my favorite of my own songs, but I don't know how it resonated with other people. And that's OK. It's not like a thing where I'm waiting for attention for that. It's just one of those things where—I don't know, it's like, we should put the songs on there if it's going to be a compilation that, you know, resonates with people. But then also you should make sure that you kind of advocate for yourself, too. Because maybe people are curious about that. Like, "What do you like about your own songs?," which is a really hard question to answer. So sometimes, you can only do it with a bit of patience, as we were talking about, and spending years with the song.

Yeah, I think a lot of people think, "Oh, Neko’s like looking back on this one." You are, but I mean, being in a band is pretty much looking back all the time, right? Because you're always relearning stuff and on tour, on a setlist, you're playing songs you already know. Right? So you're revisiting them all the time. It's nothing new.

Well we do have one new song. So we are playing one new song on this tour. And I've been writing songs for a new record, too, but those aren't at the stage where they can be played live to flesh them out yet.
Do you hope to play "Wild Creatures" in the setlist at some point on this tour?

I would like to. We have such a large setlist right now. We have so many songs, and I ask the band to tell me what they want to play, too, so there's a lot of things kind of in line in front of that one. Like right now everybody's like, "We got to play 'Ragtime.' Let's work on 'Ragtime.'" So tonight it'll probably be the first time we play "Ragtime." I don't even know what's gonna happen.

That's cool, that's good. I think as a fan, especially on a retrospective tour, you look at the setlist and you know you kind of know what's coming. It's kind of nice to know that you don't know either. We can just show up and be surprised along with the band.

As far as "Wild Creatures" goes, you're the only person who's ever asked me about that song ever. So I'm kind of taken aback.

I'm sorry.

No, not in a bad way. Like, "Oh, thanks for asking about it," because nobody's ever asked about it.

I think you kind of hit it on the head earlier. You said you release songs sometimes, and you wonder if people heard it. I like that it's kind of at the forefront of this one. Every songwriter is lucky to have the songs that they have, and you're having this great opportunity. And there is a lot of pressure to play all the songs in the setlist, so I get what you're saying about maybe not having the space.

Yeah, we're definitely playing long sets. There's sometimes when I'm feeling pretty tired and Carl Newman will be like, "Listen man, I'm here to advocate for the audience. They want to hear all the songs. So let's just do all the songs." And I'm like, "You're right. You're right, Carl."

You're like Springsteen now. You just have to do all of them. You have to have a bunch of tricks and schticks and stuff.

Basically, we're gonna be branching out into three hour sets. No, I don't know that I could physically do that, but I would try it. I could do it. But I couldn't do it every night. We do like six nights in a row. So that requires a different kind of physicality. You know what I mean? We do two hour sets, no problem, but the physicality of three hours might be... I mean, we've also rehearsed for like an hour earlier in the day, so we do play for like three hours a day, three, three-and-a-half. So, you know, it's really physically demanding. It's something that maybe doesn't look physically demanding unless you're looking at the drummer, but man it is.

Oh, speaking of drummers, I love your stories about Barbara but I think it's Joe playing the drums on the tour, right?

Yep. Joe Seiders from the New Pornographers. We call it "The Irregular Band." I don't have a regular band, so we're like, "Oh, well, this is 'The Irregular Band.' Great."

You're having an interesting drummer journey anyway with that Pornographers tour where, gosh, I forgot his name—he had to come on and sub, and learn like 40 songs in a day.

Oh, Roy McDonald, who's like my drum hero. Do you know how hard it was to play with them? Because I've worshiped his drumming since I was a teenager. He is my drum hero, for sure. And you know, I've toured with him before in other bands and stuff, and he's such a sweetheart, but this was just like, I couldn't even deal with the feelings while it was happening. I was just like, "I can't believe Roy McDonald is playing the fucking drums with us right now." It was very emotional.

Well, you've built up a lot of goodwill over the years.


So we're feeling good right now. I want to bring it down again.


You talked about parts of The Virginian that bother you a little bit, specifically things that you did on the record. I know Spotify’s ruined being able to make albums anymore, but knowing that we’re on the road after you’ve made the compilation, if someone gave you the money after this tour, would you rather re-record some songs and go back to the Gas Station (Toronto) with Brian Connelly and Darryl Neudorf or get new stuff on record?

Things that bothered me on The Virginian are things that I totally own. I was learning in front of people, and I was really scared. I'm only singing in one dynamic the whole time, and I sound really scared—to me. I can tell that I'm scared. That's the thing that bothers me, but it doesn't. Because I'm like, "Oh, well, that's me learning in front of people," and there's just no shame in that. I can handle it. I'm not super embarrassed about it or anything. And on the other hand, I'm super proud of all my friends who played on the record. I'm so proud of what they did, and it sounds so good to me. And I've formed a lifelong friendship with my friend Brian Connelly who's family to me. So there aren't regrets. I don't need to re-record it.

"The only thing that scares me is mental illness."

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We talked about that person, the fear that you hear. And it was interesting to hear Rosanne Cash call you fearless. She's sitting there talking about you being fearless in your songwriting and being transparent with that kind of energy. I know that the last few years have led people to worry about losing their homes and paying for this and that. This tour is kind of nice because now you don't have to worry about that, in that sense, right? But going back to fearlessness. Do you think you're fearless? Like what scares you now, these days?

The only thing that scares me is mental illness. I think that's about it. I do still worry about paying for my home because it burned down in 2017, and it's still not rebuilt. So, financially, it's still an incredibly scary time. But so many bad things have happened, you just become conditioned. I think I'm fearless about expressing myself, but I'm definitely not fearless about mental health and stuff. I've definitely had issues before you know, with depression, etc. I'm afraid of becoming depressed again, for sure. Yeah. Which I very much am not at the moment. I've done a lot of work. I'm in a very stable loving relationship and that helps a lot.

Jeff the man friend, right?

Man Friend Jeff, yes. He is the greatest. We've been together for, like eight years now. Being part of a family, you kind of have to—well, you don't have to do anything—basically, I'm privileged enough to have found a couple of doctors who are really helpful. And anything I was experiencing with mental health is so normal across the board for so many people—and of course, people still have a hard time reaching out to get help and so I try to mention it as much as I can just because everyone deserves to have a safety net with mental and physical health. We all deserve that kind of peace, because it's terrifying.

And, you know, we should always tell each other and the people that we love that we love them and we're here for them.


I kind of want to stay in this realm, but you mentioned the fire. Did you find all your cats after that?

Oh, yeah, all the animals were fine. Man friend Jeff was fine. But, you know, I lost a lot of dumb shit.

You lost some family pictures and shit, too, though. Pictures and heirlooms right?

I lost all my pictures. Yeah, stuff like that. All my childhood photos. That's the only thing I really regret losing because everything else is just stuff. My house burned down at the same time that Puerto Rico was underwater. Houston had just gone through all this flooding, and California was on fire. A whole lot of people lost a whole lot more than I did.

Yeah, but your loss is still important, too.

Absolutely. My loss is important for sure. I was relieved, honestly. You can say out loud, and you can believe in your life, "It's just stuff. It doesn't mean anything." But then when you actually lose it, and then you actually go, "Yeah, it's just stuff I actually don't care." It's proven to you what your beliefs around it were. That you actually were right about that. It's very validating, and it's a huge relief to know that it won't kneecap you to lose a bunch of furniture. You know what I mean?

Totally. I get it.

That was kind of a nice benefit. You can believe things and say them, but deep down maybe you don't feel them. Then there's a hard way that you find out that that's true. And it was just a relief to find out like "OK, I'm not going to mourn."

You’ve said that you’re more of a memories writer than a current events writer, I believe. Can you talk about what kinds of memories were drawn up as you put this compilation together? What about going back to the songs from The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You—that record was a grind for you, and you were pretty depressed when you made it, was it hard to go back there?

Generally songs are not hard to go back to because the processing—like the hard processing you do—happens in the actual writing of them. So playing the songs is very different. The only song I have a hard time playing is "The Tigers Have Spoken." It's a sad song, but mostly now it's because Dallas (Good, guitarist and vocalist for the Canadian rock band The Sadies) has passed away. So sometimes I just start bawling in the middle of it. But people are very nice about it. And I'm not afraid to bawl in front of people. If it happens it happens.

I mean, I think you know this by now. I think your fan base always has appreciated that about you. Whenever I mention you on social media or stuff your fans always really come back more than other artists with a certain kind of like warmth and communal, familial kind of affinity for what you do, and when you come to town and stuff like that, so it's not surprising that they embrace you when you cry on stage. I know I'm running out of time, so I wanted to ask about Andy Kaulkin. In the process of picking the songs, what were some of the specific things about your songs that Andy could see or know about your work that you had a blind spot on? Like, what did you two together learn about your songbook?

Well, I'm too deep down in it. So when the subject came up, I was asked to pick the songs, and I was like, "Well, I don't have the right perspective." So I asked Andy to do it, and he was like, "Sure, great," and he said, and he was really nervous about it because he didn't want to offend me with his choices. And I was like, "You're not going to offend me with your choices." So he picked a lot of stuff, and I just basically asked to add a couple things that were my personal preferences. I've never stopped touring for any of these songs. So there was no huge revelation that came about. But there's a lot of songs that I haven't played in a long time because we would tour them for like two years, and I would feel like "OK, I don't feel super sincere when I play that right now." Because I'm a little worn out on it, so I'm going to retire it for a bit. So those songs we've kind of been bringing back lately, and it's felt really good. It's felt so good to know that you can take a little break, and come back, and they can feel fresh again. So that's been kind of a nice takeaway.

And is there anything you want your Florida fans to know that you haven't talked about here? And I think you get a lot of it out on Substack.

We don't get to play Florida enough. I always say this when I'm in Florida. People really fucking show when you're there. Florida gets a bad rap.

I wonder why.

I wonder why. It's like Arizona. I lived in Arizona for years. Arizona has the same bad rap, but it also has the most killer people living there. The really shitty people, there's only like, eight of them and they're ruining it for everyone. And then, you know, there's a lot of people that are up and coming and a lot of younger people that are fucking fantastic and incredible activists and artists and just great human beings. They deserve music and art ,and they deserve people that come through and ask for their attention, and ask them to complete the circuit with them. It's so great to connect with people. And, you know, a state or a place can get a bad rap, but that's like, the news lens. It's a very narrow lens. It's really important to go to a place yourself and to meet the people and to see the people. I've never had anything but fun in Florida, and people have been so kind. I just know from living in Arizona, the bad rap thing—there are elements that are true, but people on the ground are fucking excellent. And I'm so excited to come play. Every other band should do like a full week in Florida because you can. People show up. It's fucking great. And I really appreciate it.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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