KELLY HOGAN and WHITNEY ROSE at the Drake Underground (1150 Queen West), Saturday (December 1), 8 pm. $15.50-$18. RT, SS. See listing.
"I've always been a Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building kind of person," says singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan over the phone from Chicago. She's referring to the long tradition she's working in on her recent album, I Like To Keep Myself In Pain, on which she interprets an impressive collection of songs - many written specifically for her - by indie greats like Robyn Hitchcock, Stephin Merritt and Vic Chesnutt.
The Atlanta-born, rural-Wisconsin-based vocalist is perhaps best known as Neko Case's long-time backup singer, but she takes the lead on her Anti- debut, her first album in 11 years. Other song contributors include Jon Langford, John Wesley Harding, Catherine Irwin and M. Ward, and her incredible studio band featured Booker T. Jones, James Gadson and Gabriel Roth.
Hogan credits Anti-'s Andy Kaulkin with coming up with the album concept back in 2009. "He's a huge music fan. And when he learned more about me and what I do for Neko, which is not just singing - I help arrange the parts, too - he said, ‘You've worked with all these people, so let's call in some favours and ask for songs.' I said, ‘Really? We'll have to make, like, 47 cakes: Here's a cake, would you give me a song?'"
It took two years to pull together, in part because Case's Middle Cyclone "went berserk," putting Hogan on the road more than anticipated. "But I'm also a fatalist," she says. "So I believe it was fate that Andrew Bird was able to get me a song at the last moment." (He put music to We Can't Have Nice Things, co-written with lyricist Jack Pendarvis.)
Her song-learning and arrangement process includes "osmosis" during household chores, transcribing lyrics and playing around with time signatures and phrasings.
"And then you just have to try it live," she says. "Before we went into the studio, it was non-negotiable for me that I needed to perform the songs. So we booked the Hideout here in Chicago - where I used to work - for four Mondays in March, and we tried the songs different ways each week.
"Two that we recorded didn't make it," she says, "including a Wilco song called Open Mind. We'll play it at the show."