kd Lang – Longevity in music

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With a career that spans an amazing 25 years, Alberta-born KD Lang shows no signs of slowing down. The release of her most recent album Watershed (her tenth studio record) will bring her to the Moncton Coliseum for a show on Friday April 17.

Having released her debut in 1984, Lang’s first few records saw the artist recording with boundless energy and flirting with various styles including honky-tonk, classic country and rockabilly before turning towards more adult-contemporary music in the 90’s.

With eight Juno Awards to her credit, her first Juno was awarded to her in 1985 for “Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year”.

Although her career was steadily building momentum with each release, it would be 1992’s Ingénue that would finally help Lang join the ranks of international success. Her single Constant Craving helped propel the record up to the Number 18 spot on the Billboard Charts while the song would also put a Grammy award on her mantle for Best Female Pop Performance.

Lang is actually a four-time Grammy Award recipient; aside from the aforementioned award, she received one of the prestigious trophies for her collaboration with Roy Orbison on his classic track Crying while in 1989, she would be awarded the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Her most recent Grammy win stems from her 2003 collaboration with jazz vocal legend Tony Bennett.

When I had the opportunity to speak with Lang, she was checking in from Los Angeles. Although Lang has made her home in the States for years now, she still maintains a home in Canada as well as her Canadian citizenship. Lang opens the interview with a joke:

“I’m bi-citizen!” she laughs.

With her dual-citizenship, Lang has the unique viewpoints of an American living in the US as well as that of a Canadian having the opportunity to observe how things are unfolding in the US:

“A lot of people have placed a lot of hope in President Obama,” Lang starts. “People know that his election is actually bringing hope for humanity in general. His election definitely represents progress for us but the atmosphere here now [referring to the US] is getting increasingly depressed. Even though the current recession is global, it was initiated here. But there is a positive spin to it: I think this has forced a lot of people to reset their priorities and ultimately get reconnected with what’s truly important to them.”

Even with such a long and distinguished career, Watershed marked a first for KD Lang as it is the first record where she has assumed the role of record producer while continuing to have a hand in writing each of the eleven songs on the record. Although previous records such as 1997’s “Drag” have focused on one particular concept, Lang shies away from cornering herself into one specific concept or sound on her latest effort. If anything, listeners are getting a little bit of everything that they could expect from the artist including country, jazz and the adult-contemporary sound which has brought her the fame and fortune she so sorely deserves.

Indeed, the music business of the 21st century differs greatly from that in which Lang threw herself into in the 80’s. When Lang was starting to make inroads within the industry, video was king and would be the dominant format by which artists were made and broken over the next two decades. But with record label purse strings getting tighter and tighter by the minute and with many music channels choosing to broadcast reality TV and other non-music video programming, Lang doesn’t lament the video format going the way of the dodo:

“I actually stopped doing videos with my All You Can Eat record in 1995. Videos are so outrageously expensive to make and as the artist, you’re expected to shoulder 50% of the cost of the video. The return just isn’t worth it for an artist like me. I think my fans are going to appreciate a full-length show like my Live In London DVD [which Lang recorded with the BBC Orchestra] instead of seeing snippets of me on TV.”

KD.jpgAnd while many artists are fleeing major labels in search of their own piece of the music pie, Lang has remained with Warner Music and it’s subsidiaries since her 1987 album Angel With A Lariat. Her 2004 record Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Lang’s tribute to Canadian singer-songwriters such as Neil Young and Ron Sexsmith) was her first for the Nonesuch label, a company which keeps Lang under the Warner Music umbrella. The label is certainly becoming “the place to be” amongst many musicians, with artists as diverse as Wilco, Emmylou Harris, The Black Keys and Randy Newman calling the label home. Although Warner Music owns Nonesuch, Lang clarifies that it is run as an independent arm, separate from the Warner hierarchy.

“Moving to Nonesuch was a big shift for me artistically,” Lang explains. “The label is based entirely on music and art; I really couldn’t ask for a better place for my music. I think the feeling behind that has a lot to do with Bob Hurwitz, who is running the label. He’s a music guy, not a money guy and while I know the bottom line matters so that the label remains profitable, it’s such a legitimate place to be as a musician. Nonesuch has zero interest in pairing their artists up with hit makers and tinkering with getting the right mix of a song on the final cut of the record. The label’s passion is obvious and it’s a refreshing place to be.”

Not one to shy away from technology, Lang is positively enthusiastic about the current state of the music business:

“I have never seen the music world so vibrant and so exciting,” the excitement palpable in her voice. “Myspace, Facebook and all these various internet radio stations and having access to all this new music is completely stimulating and empowering. I’m finding and discovering artists and musicians for myself now instead of being told what to buy.”

With so many bands and musicians getting their fifteen minutes of fame but little else from their career, it is certainly refreshing that artists like KD Lang can count upon career longevity based upon talent and not having to rely upon gimmicks and marketing to leave their lasting impression upon the world.

KD Lang will be appearing in concert on Friday April 17 at the Moncton Coliseum. Opening the show will be Haligonian Meaghan Smith. Tickets for the show are available by phone at (506) 857-4100 or online at http://tickets.moncton.ca. Floor tickets are $79.00 each while seating in the bowl goes for $69.00 a piece. Both ticket prices include taxes and all service fees.

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