Singer-songwriter k.d. lang

Multiple Grammy winner talks about her new project with the Siss Boom Bang band, the critically acclaimed “Sing it Loud.”

Refusing to be labeled, k.d. lang has used her expressive voice to build an impressive music career across genres. She's won multiple Grammys and collaborated in studio and on stage with various artists, including Bonnie Raitt, Elton John and veteran crooner Tony Bennett. Her work has also been regularly featured in films. The Canada-born songstress came to the attention of major U.S. labels after independently releasing her debut on a Canadian label in '84. The rest, as they say, is history. Her new CD is the critically acclaimed "Sing it Loud."


Tavis: Pleased to welcome k.d. lang to this program. The four-time Grammy winner is out now with a critically acclaimed new CD. It’s called “Sing It Loud,” featuring her band Siss Boom Bang. Can I say that again? I just love that – Siss Boom Bang. (Laughter) From the new project, here is the video for the song “I Confess.”


Tavis: I can’t resist, k.d. lang, so I’ll say it one more time – Siss Boom Bang. (Laughs) How did you come up with that?

k.d. lang: (Laughs) It was a confluence of events that led to the name, yeah. We recorded the album on July 1st to 4th, so the whole Canadian Independence Day and American Independence Day, all the fireworks going on. When this group of individuals walked into the studio it felt like fireworks.

I played the record for my best friend. She listened for a few days, she called me and she goes, “It starts off like a k.d. lang record, really beautiful, and then siss boom bang, the band kicks in,” and I went, “There it is. There it is, right there.” (Laughter)

Tavis: You know it when you hear it.

lang: Yeah, totally.

Tavis: Is that typically how the process works for you when you’re working on a project? You know it’s right when you hear it?

lang: Yeah.

Tavis: You know what it is when you hear it?

lang: Yeah, pretty much, yeah. I can feel, I can feel whatever it is that I need to find, but it takes a while, and then when I find it, yeah.

Tavis: There you go. When your best friend says it starts out like a k.d. lang record, your best friend, of course, has her own perspective on that, but for those of us who have enjoyed your work over the years, you’ve done so many different things – Tony Bennett and Roy Orbison – you’ve done so many different things, how would you describe this one? How does this fit into the discography?

lang: This is a little bit of my sassier side, kind of cocky, a little bit of my country DNA coming out. Obviously, my voice shifts, my musical nomadic self kind of shifts a little bit, but this is kind of touching down on the earlier part of my career, the torch and twang period.

But I don’t know, it feels new. It feels new at the same time.

Tavis: I suspect that when you’re traveling or in the car somewhere, every now and again you hear “Constant Craving” come on the radio. When you hear that song all these years later, what do you think?

lang: (Laughs) I’m excited, number one. I’m a one-hit wonder, let’s face the fact.

Tavis: No, that’s not true.

lang: Yeah, I am, but that’s okay. It’s exciting. I remember, obviously, the time when it was a hit and all the flurry of activity that surrounded that record, and yeah, it was an intense period in my life?

Tavis: As a song, it holds up for you all these years later?

lang: Yeah, it does. It does, actually, yeah.

Tavis: That’s the important thing.

lang: Yeah, and the Siss Boom Bang do a killer version of it.

Tavis: Right, yeah. When you said a moment ago – you chuckled when you said it – that you’re a one-hit wonder and that’s okay, give me more. Tell me whether you were serious about that, and if you are serious about that, how you’ve come to reconcile that at this point in your career.

lang: I am a one-hit wonder. Well, I have one song that’s made it to radio. But I’ve – 27, 28 years into my career at this point and I still have an audience and I have the good fortune of talking to you. Things are good. I have a good record company.

Tavis: How do you navigate that journey? You say these things, and maybe it’s just my way of getting to know you, but you say these things and they flow off your lips with ease, and it’s like nothing troubles or bothers you, and you say, “I’m a one-hit wonder.” You say that so calmly. Then you say, “I’ve only had one song get on radio, but I’m okay with that.” How do you create a career when you only have one song, by your own admission, that’s made it to radio, whatever that means these days?

lang: Well, I don’t know how anyone else does it, but how I do it is that I follow my instincts. I make sure that when I make music, it’s something I feel good about and I try to make music a part of my life, not my entire life. Just try to approach it with integrity and happiness.

Tavis: Does that integrity start with the song lyric for you, or you mean something else by integrity in your music?

lang: No, I mean the motivation. Yeah, what motivates me to make music.

Tavis: And what does motivate you to make music?

lang: The fact that I’m a musician, yeah. I’ve often said it’s kind of like being a fruit tree, a lemon tree or an apple tree. I make apples, that’s what I do. So if I decided that I was going to make oranges and I was an apple tree, it wouldn’t work.

Tavis: That’d be a problem, yeah. (Laughter) Has the process for you – I don’t mean the music business, I’m talking about the songwriting process, the process of getting out what’s in you, artistically, has that process for you changed over the years?

lang: Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely changed. Again, it boils down to motivation. I think over the years I have learned to not be so concerned with the end product, but being more present and more enthused about the process, and really just letting the music move through me.

I think there’s something when you eliminate the intellect from the process, where it just starts being more natural and flowing. It’s not so arduous. It’s just – I don’t know, it’s just more natural.

Tavis: So now you have me thoroughly confused.

lang: Okay.

Tavis: So I’m going to ask you to juxtapose these two things for me and square it for me.

lang: Okay.

Tavis: So a few minutes ago you said you had a great record company; you love your record company.

lang: Yeah.

Tavis: That’s a beautiful thing to hear, because a whole lot of artists hate their record company and they want to get out of their contracts, and I see them on this show every week. So that’s a good thing to hear, that you love your record company. Then you said to me that you are more into the process these days at this point in your career and not so much concerned about the end product. That doesn’t always fit. The record company is most concerned about the end product.

So tell me how it is that you are in this happy space, where you put stuff out that doesn’t necessarily go to radio, but you’re cool with it, the record company is cool with it and you love the process. That’s a beautiful thing, but how do you make al that work?

lang: You try to – well, I don’t know, I try to make sure that my live show is – I give 110 percent, that when I record I give 110 percent. I don’t know, I’m lucky, number one. I’m lucky that I have a record label that’s interested in the artistic nature of the music, and packaging and delivery of the work. Nonesuch Records, it’s an amazing roster. I don’t know, I just try to put out good – I put out quality stuff, I guess. I don’t know.

Tavis: This is a question beyond just your music, and I love asking this of real artists like yourself. Over the years I’ve had a chance to talk to a few of them. For you, though, for k.d. lang, what makes a good song? When you say a quality record, what’s for you – what makes a good song?

lang: Well, it’s a combination of obviously the melody and the lyrical content, so to me, a good, substantial content and lyric is ultimate, that you can – and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean it’s clever or deep, but it has to be true. It has to be delivering something that has the pith of truth to me. It has to be something you can really say – it can be abstract and clever, but it has to have truth to it.

And melody – I think melody is really, really important, because –

Tavis: Melody is almost nonexistent these days.

lang: Yeah, I know.

Tavis: It’s hard to find melody these days.

lang: It is. It is hard to find melody. It’s all very groove-oriented, but that will change, obviously. I think music is cyclical or a pendulum or whatever. It just moves. We focus on groove, we focus on melody, it goes back and forth.

Tavis: So how much do you love this band, Siss Boom Bang?

lang: I love them so much it’s a little – I feel like a gushing teenage girl around them, actually, yeah. (Laughter) Or maybe one of the boys, I don’t know. It’s kind of like right in the middle. (Laughter)

Tavis: My producer, Chris, got a chance to see you recently. I have not had the honor, and I’m going to change this before too long, but I have not had the honor of seeing you live on stage. What’s that like? What’s a k.d. lang show like?

lang: It depends on what record is. This record is a lot different than “Hymns of the 49th Parallel,” for example, which I was doing with symphonies, but I don’t know. I don’t really know what it’s like. I’ve never been in the audience. (Laughter) It just kind of pray that it’s whatever the individual listener wants it to be, that I give them what they’re looking for.

Tavis: I’ve heard she puts on a great show. You should check her out sometime.

lang: I’ll try. (Laughter)

Tavis: Sit in the audience one night. She’s really good, I hear. Last but not least, today – and I’m not – I don’t know how open you are about this or why you chose to go this route; I’m curious, though – so today was the first time – actually, last night, in going through my research for our conversation today – that I learned what that “k.d.” stands for.

lang: Oh.

Tavis: All the years I’ve been hearing you on the radio and seeing you around on TV here and there, I just thought it was k.d. lang, and it occurred to me, duh, that K and D actually stand for something. So I went looking last night and I found it. Why did you go with the k.d.? How’d that start? How’d that happen?

lang: Well, first, what my parents and what my hometown called me was Kathy, and I don’t really think that I look like a Kathy. (Laughter) I just wanted something a little more androgynous, I think. Something more direct.

Tavis: All right, k.d. it is.

lang: k.d., there it was.

Tavis: There it is.

lang: There it is.

Tavis: k.d. lang, ladies and gentlemen, with a new project, the Siss Boom Bang band. It’s called “Sing It Loud.” k.d., good to have you on this program and I’m honored to talk to you.

lang: Thank you.

Tavis: My pleasure.

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Last modified: May 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm