An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Neko Case's New Album Rose From Literal Ashes

"Sometimes it's really difficult to explain what an emotion is," Neko Case says. "Art and music and poetry and things like that are a way to attempt that."
Emily Shur
Courtesy of the artist
"Sometimes it's really difficult to explain what an emotion is," Neko Case says. "Art and music and poetry and things like that are a way to attempt that."

Neko Case was already going through a period of rebirth, pursuing new sounds and collaborators for Hell-On, her first solo album in five years, when Mother Nature forced her to literally rise from the ashes. As she was recording the album in Sweden, the artist's home in Vermont burned down. Images of her incinerated house are the artwork of Hell-On's gatefold and booklet, but the cover depicts her adorned with a warrior helmet of cigarettes and her hair ablaze, as if to show she's conquered the fire and now wields its power.

Hell-On, Case's first self-produced work, came out June 1. The singer-songwriter talked to NPR's Scott Simon about the fire, making up her own superstitions for the album and relating to Bulgarian folk singers. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Interview Highlights

On her home in Vermont burning down

It was burning as I got the phone call. There wasn't anything I could do, obviously, except for panic and be freaked out. It wasn't a good time.

The song ["Bad Luck"] was written long before the actual event, but I had to sing it the morning of the fire. I thought for a long time it sounded really blah and very cold, but the backing vocals are so energetic, and they're a great counterpoint to the kind of shockness of the lead vocal. I thought about replacing it, and Lasse Mårtén, the mix engineer that I was working with, said, "Well, maybe that's just what somebody sounds like when their house burns down."

On bizarre superstitions

I was thinking about things that are considered bad luck, like walking under a ladder or something, and then the things you do to undo bad luck, where you throw salt over your shoulder. Just really bizarre things, so I wanted to invent some things.

On putting words to emotions

Poetry, music, art — you're making a language to explain things that your native language or any language you know isn't quite enough for you to explain something. Sometimes it's really difficult to explain what an emotion is. And so art and music and poetry and things like that are a way to attempt that and to feel you can stretch much longer than you're capable of.

On Bulgarian folk singing

My voice is very nasal, and until I found Bulgarian folk singing, I couldn't really put a finger on where it sat or where it belonged or what it was related to. Those folk records are all about drones and they're all about making strange harmonies. It's a really powerful feeling and a powerful sound. It's not always a super musical sound, but I do have a very nasal voice and it doesn't blend well with other people so I'm not the greatest harmony singer in the world, for example. And it's not a very pretty voice but it is a very loud voice.

Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.