Neko Case grew up surrounded by more animals than people, and her love and respect for non-humans is reflected in both her life and her music—more so than ever on Middle Cyclone, which debuted at number three on the U.S. album sales chart in March.
“My parents were gone all the time and I was an only child, so it was me and dogs, cats, goats, whatever,” the big-voiced alternative country artist says of her youth. “And we often lived in the middle of nowhere, so I was just friends with them. I felt a lot of empathy for them and they for me.”
Nature and animal themes run throughout Middle Cyclone, Case’s sixth and most successful studio album. A prime example is lead single “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” in which she sings about caged animals getting revenge of their keepers. Earlier this year, Case and her label, Anti-Records, used the song as a fundraiser and donated to Best Friends Animal Society every time the song was posted on a blog or added to an iLike user’s online profile. The campaign raised approximately $4,000 in about six weeks.
Case also donated “Star Witness” to a two-disc compilation titled Giving Animals a Voice Through Music: Best Friends Animal Society 25th Anniversary Collection. Proceeds from album sales support the society’s campaign to stop puppy mills. Best Friends is close to Case’s heart, since her four dogs came from pounds and shelters.
“Somebody might think one thing about dogs but, when you give them a little bit of love, they just blossom and become something totally different,” the 38-year-old says. “They all have so much potential in them.
“Throwing them away is just the saddest thing ever. Dogs give a very specific kind of love that is really necessary. I think that we’re companion species with each other. I think humans need dogs and dogs need humans.”
Case’s previous dog, Lloyd, died of cancer and left a gaping hole in her life, which she filled with a Chow/Shepherd named Liza and three ex-racing Greyhounds: Swan-Y, Guy and Travis, who recently lost a leg to cancer but is still full of vim and vigor.
“I would have had more dogs when I had Lloyd, but he wanted to be the only dog, and I had to respect that,” Case explains. “My new crowd of dogs love having other dogs—they’re hilarious.”
Case, who’s a member of pop group The New Pornographers as well as a solo artist, is on the road touring in support of her albums for long stretches of time, but she says she has trusted friends who take care of the dogs in her absence.
“I don’t even know if they notice I’m gone. They get so much attention and they’re so loved. They get excited and love me when I come home, but they love everyone else, too. They’re not one-people dogs. I like that they feel comfortable enough to give themselves to other people to share.”