Her new album, "I Like to Keep Myself in Pain," features Hogan's interpretations of songs gifted to her by her Rolodex of songwriter pals, including Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, Robyn Hitchcock, M. Ward, Vic Chesnutt and Stephen Merritt. Booker T. Jones and James Gadson (Beck) provide a band that can keep up with Hogan's vocal prowess while letting her, finally, take the spotlight.
Hogan headlines the second night of Twangfest on June 7 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room, just two days after her album's release. I reached Hogan by phone as she sat out on the front porch of her rural Wisconsin home on the eve of the tour.
Robin Wheeler: I've been listening to the advance of the new album and I love it. I've had "Haunted" stuck in my head all week.
Kelly Hogan: That's what everyone says! "Haunted" is so catchy. My friend Nora said her little son was playing Legos, singing "Haunted" the other day. My other friend Jack in Oxford, Mississippi is like, "I sing it to whatever I'm doing. Like [sings to the tune of "Haunted"] 'Sandwich. I've got a sandwich. It's a Manwich.'" I'm sorry everybody! It's [songwriter] Jon Langford's fault.
It is! I saw him in Chicago last weekend. Between "Haunted" and having just seen him in concert … I'm not complaining. He can stay in my head as long as he wants.
That dude gets around. He's pervasive. He needs to be on a stamp. It's so crazy. He's my idol of energy and gusto and cross-pollination. If Langford called me and said, "Hogan, meet me on 63rd and Kedzie." What are we gonna do? "We're gonna sing some songs." I'll see you there! I wouldn't care what the songs were, what it was for. I'd just show up because he's ready to throw down at all times.
If that ever happens, call me.
I'd tweet it, but I don't have a smart phone. I have a dumb phone. A Fred Flintstone phone. But yeah, I'll get the word out, somehow. It could happen.
Why did you take so long between solo albums?
Well yeah, you have been a little busy.
Yeah, I was in, like, a barjillion things all the time in Chicago because it's such a fertile place for making music or art or anything, really. Chicago kicks ass.
I don't know. My last record came out two weeks after 9/11 and everyone was kind of sitting down and staring, which is understandable. It was a rough time.
I mean, it's always a rough time to put out a record as a peanut and tour on it 'cause it's not a matter of are you going to lose money on tour, but how much. It's just tough and I don't mind taking a hit, but I've got to pay my guys. I've got to pay my awesome players. It got too hard for awhile, so I thought I would hang close to Chicago. And whew, man, I had six colors of highlighter all the time in my calendar. It was crazy. I had it open on a plane one time and this man was like, "Just looking at your calendar gives me a heart attack."
I was always interested in any crazy new project. The harder, the better. I didn't say yes to everything; I'm not a total whore. But I am mostly a whore. I love music so much. I love it. I want to know it from all sides. I was busy doing that, concert bands. Then Neko Case blew up. When "Fox Confessor [Brings the Flood]" came out, the band committed to ten months of touring, and we toured on it for two and a half years, solid. It was crazy.
I've been busy. That's why. If I had to wait that long to have the kick-ass, amazing baseball fantasy camp experience of this record, it was worth it.
Looking at the list of songwriters on this album, fantasy camp's a good way to put it.
It's crazy, man.
How did you acquire all the songs? I read that you said people just kept giving them to you. How does that happen?
I wrote, like, 40 fan letters. I wrote 40 love letters, rolled over and peed on myself in subjugation.
Andy Kaulkin, my beloved Pancho at Anti- Records suggested reflecting on all the work I've done for years. He said, "Call in some favors," which is not how I look at it at all. These people don't owe me at all. I wrote these love letters to all these folks I'd worked with through my crazy music life, and this crazy musical tidal wave came back at me. Everyone sent me songs. Some songs were written especially for me for this project. Some were demos. I asked for orphans. The people I wrote to knew me and my propensities, the stuff I like and the way I do things. Some folks said, "Here's a song I could never make fly for me, but it's perfect for you, blah blah blah." I was overwhelmed and completely humbled. That's how it happened.
You've called this album your history. Can you expand on that?
It's my history because it's all these folks I've worked with and known. I've known Robyn Hitchcock since my old band the Jody Grind toured with him in 1990. John Wesley Harding used to be my upstairs neighbor. I used to yell at him to shut up and stop stomping on the floor -- speaking of gusto.
Anyway, this is all the people I've worked with, and they've given me this thing and it takes all of my know-how and experience to be able to make this record and do right by these songs with my musical skills, mixing skills, producing skills. It took everything I've learned until now to walk into that studio and work with these musical legends and not completely pee my pants. It took everything I've learned to not have to wear Depends.
The album really sounds like every song was created for you.
I'm super proud of it. With working with Anti- and having a bigger budget I had the luxury to get it exactly how I wanted it. No compromises on time. Since my name's on it -- as opposed to being in a band. I'm always super concerned about being the best I can be in any musical situation, but when your name's sitting out there like an orangutan's ass, you want it to be exactly how you want it to be.
You had an amazing backing band for the album. Who's going to be backing you on tour, specifically in St. Louis?
I can't afford to take my studio band. We wanted the record to sound like what it was that week. That's what it sounded like when these people got together. For my touring band I'm keeping it Chicago-based. I live in Wisconsin now, but I go to Chicago about every two weeks. So I want to base it out of Chicago. I know so many great musicians there. I've got Joe Camarillo who plays in the Waco Brothers. It all comes back to Jon Langford. Jim Elkington is an amazing guitar player, plays with Janet Bean's band the Horse's Ha. He has his own band called the Zincs. He also plays with Jon.
Jon was giving me shit, "Yeah, go ahead and take all my band. I'll go find a hobo. I'll train a hobo to play exactly how I want him to play." I didn't even think about that when I asked Jim Elkington. I just took Skull Orchard. Sorry.
So yeah. Jim Elkington on guitar. Joe Camarillo on drums. K.C. McDonough, who's from Chicago, and I'm in a band with him called the Flat Five. He plays everything; he's a musical genius. I had to show him how to fold pants the other day, but he's a musical genius. It's the same as [Flat Five's] Scott Ligon. He's not fit to deliver pizza. I wouldn't trust him with my pizza. But those guys are the most amazing musicians. That's what they do. They both play drums, keyboards, bass, guitar, everything. Jim Elkington also plays drums.
My non-negotiable for this band was that everyone has to sing, and sing harmonies, because that's what I'm super interested in with all the arrangements on the record. For Twangfest I roped in Scott Ligon. So the wunderkind will be there for some extra harmonies.
I'm conflicted and bummed that I'll be camping with Girl Scouts the night of your Twangfest show.
Oh, can I come, too? I'm a Girl Scout! Can we make some hobo dinners and Sit-Upons? Are you gonna do those things where you put a banana in foil with chocolate chips and marshmallows in it and roast it? Those are killer! "On my honor/I will try/To serve God and my country/And help all people at all times/And obey the Girl Scout Law." I'm doing the little salute right now.
The first place I ever sang a solo in front of anybody was at Girl Scout camp. Camp Tanglewood. My campmates stole my clothes when I was in the swim class. They wanted me to sing and I was too shy. But they stole all my clothes. I had to walk around in that bathing suit for two days before I agreed to it. I think I was 11.
Are you starting to look beyond the new album and tour at what collaborations might be looming?
Anti- said I can make another record, so unless they change their mind … Right now this is super up in my grill and I can't see around it. Mostly I'm just really stoked to tour, because I really love to play live. And I'm excited to come back to St. Louis. I haven't played Twangfest in a while. Have you been to the Rick and Nancy Wood House parties? I've done a couple of those and they're super cool.
You're in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin, aren't you?
Yeah. I'm sitting on my porch right now. It was like moving from Chicago to Mayberry. The birds are singing. I'm looking at my irises and tomato plants. My jasmine's right here at my elbow. My car's parked in an actual driveway in front of me. I'm also looking at the crumbling wood -- I rent the bottom of this old crappy Victorian that's falling apart. But for me it's perfect. I just toured so much, I was home only about ten percent of the time. I was kinda done. I needed to be closer to a creek. Because I work out of Chicago so much, I'm there all the time and I get the best of both worlds. Knock wood, as long as my van holds out.
How does being in a more rural area influence what you're doing?
It gives me peace of mind. Sometimes I'll think, "Oh, if I still lived in Chicago I would have been on that gig or done this, and I miss out on this crazy Everlasting Gobstopper machine that never stops." But I have more peace of mind and time to contemplate the songs. It's just good for my soul. We'll see what that does for my music.
I mean, I wear overalls all the time. And much to my manager's dismay I might forget to change outfits before I go play in Chicago. When I first moved here and I'd shop at the Piggly Wiggly, I was wearing jeans, and maybe a shirt that buttoned, and boots. I'd be at the Pig and all these other ladies would be looking at me like, "What's she trying to prove?" They'd be in their Badger hoodies. Things have kind of blended. I've acclimated. My dude works at a cheese factory, so I'm living the Wisconsin dream. I Google so many ricotta recipes, you wouldn't believe it.
I gotta get my bras off the line because I'm going into Madison tonight to sing with M. Ward and Chris Scruggs. I gotta find where I put my girls so I better go hunting' 'em up. But I still have my Junior Girl Scout handbook on my bookshelf. I'll bring it.
Kelly Hogan performs at Twangfest 16, presented by 88.1 KDHX, on Thursday, June 7 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room.