News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Sounds: Kelly Hogan
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
Kelly Hogan is the pinch-hitter of roots music.
With a voice steeped in old-school soul and vintage country, she’s become the go-to candidate for any Americana act looking to beef up their sound with a little background harmony. The Drive-By Truckers, Wilco and Jakob Dylan have all asked for her help in the studio. Neko Case, Hogan’s close friend since 1997, gave her a permanent spot in Case’s backup band.
After years of providing support from the wings, though, it’s time for Hogan to claim a spot at center stage.
“I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” is the singer’s first solo album in more than a decade. Legendary musicians Booker T. Jones and the Dap–Kings’ Gabe Roth perform on every track, and a number of top-shelf songwriters—Andrew Bird, M. Ward, Robbie Fulks, and others—are responsible for the music, most of which was written specifically for Hogan.
“It was incredibly humbling to have this tidal wave of great songs come crashing down on me at my request,” said Hogan, who sent out requests to more than 30 writers. “Hearing the songs for the first time, especially the bespoke songs for this project, was scary and thrilling.”
After taking a minute to praise Vic Chesnutt’s contribution, “Ways of this World,” she added, “There was a lot of emotional choking up at my house when those songs were rolling in. I was so honored and humbled. I’m not worthy!”
Hogan is currently on the road with Case, whose summer tour rolls through Richmond on Friday night. Fans are used to seeing Hogan onstage, tracing Case’s voice with crystalline harmonies and punctuating the backbeat with slaps from her tambourine. This time around, though, Hogan will also be the opening act.
In an industry filled with bands whose members don’t always enjoy each other’s company, it’s nice to hear Hogan’s effusive praise of her touring partner.
“She is my idol in so many ways,” she enthused. “She kicks ass in the kitchen, loves dogs and underdogs everywhere, has mad organizational skills, a filthy sense of humor, and a vast knowledge of Iron Maiden lyrics—and that’s just the tip of the Neko iceberg.”
Rather than rely on Case’s help, Hogan assembled her own team for “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain,” which was recorded in five days. Once the “record” button had been pushed, the band worked fast and furiously, often nailing a song after a single take. Preparing each tune to be recorded took a bit more time.
“We were hammering out all kinds of different ideas for the songs,” Hogan said, “and sometimes we’d do it literally twenty times in a row, then eat lunch, and go back and do it twenty more times in a different key or time signature, or at a different tempo.”
The hard work paid off, especially on album highlights like John Wesley Harding’s “Sleeper Awake.”
“Wes’ demo of the song is very gentle, like ‘Sshhh, good morning, darling; time to wake up,’” Hogan explained, “but we flipped it upside down and gave it some Red Bull, and now it’s like, ‘GET UP! It’s 6 a.m.! The birds are singing! Let’s go for a 3-mile run! Woo!’”
Hogan even managed to sneak a few bars of reveille into the song’s backup vocals, a tribute to her Army dad, who used to jolt his daughter awake in similar fashion.
She may be a bandleader now, but that doesn’t mean she’s stopped paying attention to the background.
Who: Neko Case with Kelly Hogan
Where: The National, 708 E. Broad St., Richmond
When: Friday, July 13 at 8 p.m. Doors at 7 p.m.
Cost: $22.50 in advance / $25 at the door
Info: 804/612-1900; thenationalva.com
Andrew Leahey originally submitted this story in all caps. We’ll blame the Red Bull.