GOOD spoke to the singer-songwriter about politics, Arizona's "weird racists," and why she still loves Tucson.
With several critically acclaimed solo albums to her name, and several more made with her bandmates in the New Pornographers, Neko Case is one of the most consistently beloved musicians working in independent American music today. And while her songwriting talents are formidable, for some of us, they’re only part of her appeal.
For those in the know, almost equally as impressive as Case’s musical career are the causes she’s used her fame to advance. Whether she’s turning on new feminists, or volunteering to walk abandoned greyhounds, Case seems to be more down to earth than practically every one of her contemporaries. This month, she’s even raffling off her 1967 Mercury Cougar—the car on the cover of her 2009 album, Middle Cyclone—in order to benefit 826 National, an organization dedicated to children’s literacy.
Though Case is now a resident of Vermont—“I really needed to get back to the wilderness,” she says—for years she lived in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and where debates are swirling around Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, SB 1070.
GOOD spoke to Case about why she still loves Arizona (where she still owns a home), how she worked to change the state when she was there fulltime, and why she’s a registered Republican.
GOOD: You moved around a lot as a kid but never to Arizona. What finally brought you to Tucson?
Neko Case: I met Craig Schumacher [of Tucson’s Wavelab recording studio] and Calexico on the road, and we all became close through playing shows together. And then I ended up recording a bunch of my records in Tucson at Wavelab. I’d go there from Chicago and realized that every time I was in Tucson I was so relaxed.
When you’re off tour for such short amounts of time, it’s really nice to not have to spend an hour driving to the grocery store after digging your car out from under feet of snow. When you’re at home, your time is really precious. So I wanted to spend my time somewhere that was easier. And I chose Tucson for that reason. It was a great place to work; it made me feel very relaxed, and it’s also very beautiful.
GOOD: A lot of people think of small towns like Tucson as cultural wastelands. Were you surprised when that wasn’t the case?
Case: Not at all, because that’s the only side I’d ever seen of Tucson before I moved there. All my friends from Tucson were people who were recording songs and making things, so I fully expected to find a big creative community—and I did.
GOOD: Do you think you can give credit to Arizona for helping to shape your music?
Case: I don’t think it necessarily has to do with Tucson, but it does definitely have to do with Wavelab. And because Wavelab happens to be in Tucson, it can’t help but be infused with this sort of desert sound. I think it’s a very romantic thing, the desert; it’s all about quiet open spaces. I’ve always loved that.
GOOD: What do you think about Arizona’s most recent troubles?
Case: Arizona has kind of gotten a bad rap lately, and it’s sad because I don’t think it has anything to do with most of the residents. There’s a lot of really progressive people in Tucson and throughout Arizona. That said, since I moved there there’s definitely been an increase in hostility toward Hispanic people coming over the border and quote-unquote taking jobs. It’s totally ridiculous, especially considering that Hispanic culture had been part of Arizona for hundreds of years before whites came over.
GOOD: The immigration stuff has gotten a bit out of hand, huh?
Case: Absolutely. And I’m always sort of amazed that the Hispanic community isn’t way more pissed, because I think I would be way more pissed were I them. I’m actually hoping that that’s the case and that the truth just hasn’t made its way out to the mainstream media. It’s really bad.
GOOD: How do you think Arizona can get back on the right path?
Case: I am a big believer in people taking things into their own hands, living life how they’d like to live it, and treating people with respect. And there’s a lot of all of that stuff going on in Arizona. One of the things that was great when I lived there was my neighborhood association. Everybody talked to each other and looked out for each other, and there was a crime patrol. That organization made a lot of things happen. In order to help Arizona, Arizonans need to start locally, work together, and stop putting up with weird racists.
GOOD: Did you ever vote in Arizona?
Case: I did. I got really involved in voting and local politics, and I made sure to stay up to date on all of it. And even though I really don’t care about Democrats or Republicans—I don’t have faith in either one—I actually made sure to register as a Republican in Arizona.
GOOD: Are you serious? Why?
Case: Totally. It might sound a little crazy, but after the flawed elections in 2000 and 2004, I wanted to make sure my vote was going to be counted, and I really didn’t trust the Republicans to not steal or destroy Democratic ballots.
That being said, I’m not really a Democrat, either. I’m not a part of any of that stuff. It doesn’t seem to be helping.
GOOD: Despite all their problems, do you still like Tucson and Arizona?
Case: Absolutely, because while you’ve got a lot of that hatred, at the same time, Arizona has got such an amazing mix of cultures. And those cultures don’t seem like they’re separate. They seem like they’ve all grown up together. The reality of Tucson is completely different from what the news shows you. There is a very small faction of people that are really extreme who make us all look incredibly bad.
Case's Mercury Cougar-Rama Muscle Car 'Splosion raffle ends at 5:00 p.m. PST on March 17.