Figuring out what sounds will work together takes a particular intuition. Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs are all accomplished solo singers — but they decided to combine talents on lang's hunch that a collaboration might be fruitful.
"It was truly instinctual," lang says. "I didn't really know, but I did feel like there were enough differences and enough similarities that it would blend together to create something unique and comfortable."
The result was the trio's new album case/lang/veirs, released on June 17. Veirs and lang, who both live in Portland, Ore., began sketching songs for the album while Case was on tour. Sometimes all it took was a walk to yield songwriting inspiration: The song "Delirium," Veirs says, began with the observation that a fireworks stand was selling a firework of that name.
While learning to work together, Case says they had to learn not to take the "absolute veto power" they exercised in their solo work for granted.
Veirs agrees. "One word would get axed and someone would be hurt," she says. (lang recalls a two-hour debate over the importance of the word "love" in one of their songs.)
Those sorts of discussions could take unexpected turns, Case says. "There's a lot of times when you would end up fighting for and being butt-hurt over somebody else's line being nixed, not even just your own," she says. "It's really easy to become attached to somebody else's lyrics or melody in exactly the same way as your own. So that was really surprising."
The trio says each new collaboration carries its own set of unexpected challenges. But making something work is reliably a thrill. "Collaboration is one of the finest, finest gifts of artistry," lang says. "But what I think is very interesting about this is that I trust them as people. I trust their souls, I trust their moral compasses. And to me that's what makes this a particularly strong collaboration."
Case, lang and Veirs spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the ins and outs of working together. Hear more of the trio's reflections at the audio link above.