In 1992, k.d. lang bit the hand that fed her.
With its graceful, understated arrangements and introspective songs about love and desire, Ingénue, the Canadian singer's fifth album, doesn't sound much like a kiss-off. But up to that point in her career, lang had made her name as a country artist, and a damn fine one. Her previous album, 1989's Absolute Torch and Twang, won a Grammy and established her in the mainstream as a next-generation Patsy Cline. Issuing a set of torchy ballads just three years later was a risk, but one she felt she had to take: As an out lesbian and—gasp!—vegetarian, she already had the conservative Nashville establishment clutching their collective pearls. If she didn't turn her back on them first, how long would it be before they did the same to her?
The gamble paid off: Ingénue was a multiplatinum hit, with the single "Constant Craving" earning her another Grammy and proving to be her most lasting moment. Now, lang—a proud Portland transplant and vociferous Blazer fan—is revisiting the album live, in full, for its 25th anniversary. WW spoke to lang about looking back on the album, what it meant for her career, what she would've done differently and her conflicted feelings toward her greatest success.
Willamette Week: Ingénue is always talked about as a kind of act of subversion against the country music establishment. Was it a conscious attempt for you to break away from country?
kd lang: I had quite a lot of success in country music, and from a business point of view and marketing point of view, it wasn't a great idea to completely shift genres. At the same time, in terms of longevity as an artist, I felt like it was imperative, and that I had to explore my actual influences which were not country music. Coupled with me coming out around Ingénue, that's something that was viewed by my inside team as a gamble that was going to challenge my commercial stability. But again, that was also for the betterment of my longevity and honesty and viability as an artist. I felt like I needed to be honest and to make both a musical change and to come out, it was a total necessity for me.
Ingénue is your most successful album, but is it your favorite?
I don't know if I have a favorite, but I definitely have a good relationship to it. I think it was a vulnerable, honest record. I was writing really from the heart on that record, and it happened to become a success. Now, "Constant Craving," maybe, is the song that resonates in a slightly different way. I didn't like the song at the time. It stood out as a pop song, it was obviously going to be the single. I didn't like it for that reason at that time. Obviously I like it now, because it's allowed me a lot of in-roads as far as my career and financially. But that one particular song was the one I had a tumultuous relationship with.
When you play these songs live now, 25 years later, do you still connect with them? Or is your relationship to them more nostalgic?
It's a combination of all those things. It's sentimental and it's romantic. It's something I deliberated a great deal before I toured last year in Australia and Canada, of how to approach delivering a piece of work that's 25 years old that people have their own relationship to. I came to the conclusion to deliver them in a neutral way—not without emotion, but in a way that people can have their own internal experience with them, without me superimposing my experiences and memories and so forth. And to me, going through the songs again has reinvigorated my relationship to songwriting. To be afforded to interpret my own work in a way that is different than going out and just playing "Constant Craving" and maybe "Miss Chatelaine," as I would on some other tour, and take the whole body of work and reinterpret it is a really enriching experience for me personally.
Are there any songs that have taken on a new life for you?
Absolutely. It's the songs I disliked the most, and I never played them live. It's a sequence on the record near end—"Season of Hollow Soul," "Outside Myself," and "Tears of Love's Recall"—and those three songs become my favorite part of the show every night. And that's to the graciousness of the musicians. We've taken it to a whole different place, and they challenge me every night. It's very exciting for me.
You put out a remastered version of Ingénue last year. In revisiting the record in its studio form, did you anything you would have done differently?
That's always a difficult question to answer. I know the process was arduous and meticulous, and we spent six months making that record in Vancouver, and we gave it every ounce of our blood, sweat and tears. Other than some technical stuff there's nothing we would've done differently.
The status is just a warm glow in my heart that I have for Laura [Veirs] and Neko [Case]. It was an amazing experience, and I felt a full spectrum of emotion. It was extremely difficult and extremely rewarding, and it rejuvenated my love for music and my appreciation for the process of making art. To watch two other great artists go through their process in close proximity was very enlightening for me. For me, it released some of the built-up anxiety about the process, to see some other people go through it. I love those girls, I think they're extremely talented. Who knows what the future brings?
SEE IT: k.d. lang plays Ingénue at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, on Tuesday, Feb. 27. 8 pm. $35 and up. All ages. Get tickets here.