K.D. LANG STILL GOING STRONG
First Canada tour in 13 years
k.d. lang laughs when you ask her about touring Canada in winter.
“Oh my God, yes. I was in a van. We took out the back seat and put some foam down so people could sleep,” lang said, recalling the early days when she was just a 23-yearold cowpunk. “We went across Canada. I don’t know if it was the first time, but one of the times we were in Sudbury, (Ont.), and there was an ice storm and we parked to get gas. The grade of the gas station and the icy road was so that the van started sliding towards the pump. I was like, ‘Oh Lord, we’re going to be toast.’ I thought there was going to be a huge explosion.”
Sure, now the famous singer — who calls both Calgary and Portland, Ore., home these days — can see the humour in thousands of bumpy kilometres holed up in a crummy, cold van. Time indeed heals all wounds and offers, if you’re lucky, some perspective.
“I was ready to deal with whatever came my way after that — including trying to eat vegetarian back in the early ’80s in winter in Canada. It was a lot of peanuts and bananas. Yup, that’s what I got,” lang said over the phone from her Portland home.
Talk of touring Canada is front and centre with the Grammy Award-winning singer as she is on the eve of her first tour of her homeland in 13 years. The Ingenue Redux Canadian Tour begins in Victoria on Saturday, then hits Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre for two nights on Wednesday and Thursday. It then makes its way across the country before wrapping in Hamilton on Sept. 19.
“It’s been a long time since I have gone coast to coast, which I am super excited about,” lang said. “I can’t think of a better place to tour at this time in the world. I called my manager and said: ‘I really want to tour this year, but I only want to tour Australia and Canada.’”
Those choices have a lot to do with the state of the world these days. She lives half of her life in the U.S. and says her friends and acquaintances are fearful that their rights are in danger as a Trump government has threatened huge rollbacks in LGBTQ rights.
“It’s a very chaotic, confusing time for people,” lang said.
That Trumpian reality has really readied lang for a good dose of Canada.
“To me, I think there is an
openness here both geographically and morally, and heart(wise) and emotionally,” said lang, a member of the Order of Canada. “I think we are a pretty open people, even though we tend to be kind of selfeffacing and insular … To me it’s really great for an entire culture to have that sort of essence. It is astonishing.”
Aside from the obvious logistical merits, starting a cross-Canada tour in B.C. makes even more sense for the Consort, Alta., native as Vancouver, in particular, was a catalyst in her career trajectory.
“My goodness, between the Savoy and the Railway, wow,” lang said when asked about the Railway Club back in the day. “The Railway, that was really such a launching pad for me. That really was such a great club. I was there maybe for a week at a time, so it really allowed me to get in there and really work out with the band and try different things.
“I can remember hanging off that crazy plastic horse and trying different styles from punk to country and, of course, Janet Forsyth, who ran both of the clubs, became one of my best friends to this day, so it has a great amount of memory and such a high place in my heart.”
Speaking of memories, what about a lang memoir? All the cool pop stars are doing them these days.
“They asked me to, but, nah. Somebody can do it posthumously. My life is not that interesting,” lang said.
The new tour is designed around the 25th anniversary of lang ’s huge second album, Ingenue. The multiplatinum 1992 album included the massive hits Constant Craving and Miss Chatelaine. The album was remastered and reissued on vinyl and in a box set in July.
“My mom always says to me, ‘It goes faster as you get older,’ and it seems to be true,” lang said. “Yeah, 25 years. It’s going to be interesting. We are going to do the record in its entirety in sequence at the beginning of the show. I don’t know what to expect from myself. I don’t know if I am going to feel transported back to the emotions of those songs or if I’m going to have a new relationship or a little bit of both.
“I’m really excited and I think and I’m hoping that some of the audience will have a relationship with that record. From what I hear from people, they do. It’s a marker in their lives as well. I hope it’s enjoyable for everyone."
While Ingenue is the centrepiece of the show, lang fans will get other favourites as well. One of those songs is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. That song and lang became synonymous after lang delivered an awe-inspiring version of it live at the Juno Awards in Winnipeg in 2005. Cohen died in November 2016 and lang has only sung the song once since his passing.
“It’s certainly going to be different in Canada to sing that song now,” lang said. “I think everyone who has sung it and I think Leonard, from what I understood from what he said over the years, felt the song really had transcended anyone’s involvement.
“It really belongs to the pop cultural consciousness of the last 20 years and it’s not Leonard’s song, it’s not my song, it belongs to all of us. So that makes it easier, because it belongs to everybody.”
A hit with a cover is familiar territory for lang. She unleashed her powerful vocals on Roy Orbison’s and Joe Melson’s Crying years earlier and brought new life to the song Orbison first released as a single in 1961.
“First I have to be totally enamoured with the song,” lang said about song choice. “I have to really love the song and it has to make sense if I am doing it for a record. I always like to have some conceptual parameters. But with Hymns of the 49th Parallel it was obviously the Canadian thing, but it was also songs that had really had an impact on me.”
She also is memorable for great duet performances, including Orbison and Tony Bennett. Today, lang looks back on those collaborations with gratitude and a little bit of awe.
“I’ve had a lot of good luck with great teachers,” lang said. “There are moments you are so absorbed in the way (Tony) phrases, the way he smiles at the audience. I just try to soak it up, because I know this is a great master of the American songbook and I just try to absorb as much as possible. You have to be a good student and pay attention.”
People have been paying attention to lang for over 30 years.
“I’m getting less and less antsy,” lang said. “The older I get the less I need to work, but I think there is something to having an occupation — you know, use it or lose it. Having a voice and not using it seems kind of sad to me, or kind of irresponsible to not go exercise it.”
With over three decades in the business behind her and numerous awards collected and some controversies managed, does the singer look back often or spend time thinking about the what-ifs in life?
“I’m definitely happy with my choices. I have no regrets,” lang said. “I was living my life and giving it my everything. You can’t really complain about that.”
In fact, lang doesn’t have any complaints right now. She says her voice is strong and ready and she’s going to have a great time coming home for the summer. She’s seen this Canadian road movie before and knows what to expect and how to navigate the journey. With that in mind, does she have any advice for a young artist who might be busy stuffing a big piece of foam into the back of van as we speak?
“Just enjoy your adventures,” lang said. “Try to stay healthy and take care of yourself. I think one of the most important things I ever learned was all the travel, all the exhaustion, all the s----- hotel rooms, all the s----- food, it better be worth it when you walk on stage. You better be present and you better give everything you can for that hour and a half or two hours or three hours, whatever you are performing, because that’s what it is all about.”
I’m hoping that some of the audience will have a relationship with that record. From what I hear from people, they do.
k.d. lang is touring Canada for the first time in 13 years, starting with stops in Victoria and Vancouver.
k.d. lang, seen in 1985, says she’s matured over three decades in music. “I’m getting less and less antsy,” she says.