Growing Pain

5 July 2012 | 8:00 am | Steve Bell

“It was like I was hatching an ostrich egg. I’ve got turtle metabolism, but we finally got it out there.

If you've had even a fleeting interest in the Americana genre over the last decade, there's a good chance that you've heard the beautiful voice of US singer-songwriter Kelly Hogan. You might have heard her on a Neko Case record – or at a Neko Case show, the two are practically inseparable – or perhaps on an album by Drive-By Truckers, The Waco Brothers or Tortoise. She was a mainstay on the Chicago live scene for years and a go-to backing vocalist for Steve Albini, but was always working on other people's projects.

Finally Hogan decided to release another album of her own, and not one to do things by halves, she assembled an absolutely killer band – featuring the iconic Booker T Jones on keys, soul drumming legend James Gadson and Gabriel Roth (Sharon Jones) on bass – and then got some of the biggest names in the US indie circuit to supply the songs. Simple, really.

“What a relief!” she laughs of finally having I Like To Keep Myself In Pain completed. “It was like I was hatching an ostrich egg. I've got turtle metabolism, but we finally got it out there. I haven't been idle – I've been really busy – but what a crazy fantasy camp year. What a crazy project to be involved in.”

It's not Hogan's first album – it's her fourth, in fact – but it is her first in some 11 years. “My last record came out a few weeks after 9/11, and everybody was kinda sitting still, for good reason,” Hogan recalls. “It's hard to tour when you're a peanut-level musician anyway. It's not about whether you're going to lose money, it's how much money are you going to lose. I felt bad because I'd do these tours and I couldn't pay my band what I thought they deserved, so I thought, 'I'll stay close to home'. And Chicago is such an incredibly fertile place to play music. You can play every night of the week, and I did – I had all of these different projects and did all of this different recording. Then playing with Neko, her stuff just took off, so after 2006 we were crazy busy.

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“I was really busy but I was exploring, and to be able to make this record I was really glad that I'd been able to do what I didn't know was research – I was just living my life and just doing as many different types of music projects as I could. Then I had to walk in there on a Monday morning into this amazing legendary studio and play with Booker T Jones! And meet James Gadson and Gabriel Roth and then just count off a song and go for it. It was tough to do that without needing a diaper.”

At the instigation of Andy Kaulkin from Anti- Records, she approached some of America's best songwriters, and ended up with an album of songs penned by people such as Robyn Hitchcock, M Ward, Vic Chesnutt, The Handsome Family and Stephen Merritt. “He'd been thinking about all of the work I'd done in the last 11 years, and he said, 'You know what – let's talk to these people that you've worked with and see if they can give something back,'” Hogan marvels. “I didn't think that they owed me anything, but he told me to call in favours. I begged people to send me a song. Every stage of the project was fraught with terror, but it was like this crazy wave of positive responses. I have way more songs of course than I could fit on the record, so I hope to somehow record everything in some way one day.”