Normally, early autumn would not be the ideal time for Neko Case to hit the road. That’s because it’s harvest time back home in northern Vermont, where the torchy twang-pop singer grows produce on her historic 100-acre farm — including heirloom tomatoes prized by chefs in the region.
“I’m a decent farmer,” Case half-bragged. “I’m good to my plants. I really do care for them like babies.”
In an e-mail exchange last week during some downtime between the two weekends of the Austin City Limits Festival — her second ACL gig Sunday was canceled because of rain — Case explained why she’s not at home hanging with her babies this month. She returns to Minneapolis for a two-night stand at First Avenue on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I was too busy with a record to properly plant this year,” she said.
The record itself took a long time to harvest — and even just to say its name: “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.” As you might guess, it grew out of a grab bag of personal strife.
Over a three-year stretch, the singer, 42, lost both of her parents as well as the grandmother who played a motherly role in her life. Case has spoken repeatedly in the past about her parents’ troubles and the fact that she lived on her own at age 15.
Her publicist warned that Case was no longer answering questions about her battle with depression in the aftermath of those deaths, which she reflects on throughout the new album. She addresses the matter rather eloquently, though, in the press materials for the album.
“I fought hard against the feeling of grief all my life,” she was quoted, “but about three years ago I finally had to give in and mourn the dead. I had to look inward more than I wanted. It was sobering, and I often felt like I was blurring the lines of mental illness.”
Among the new songs — which are more personal than any on her previous six solo albums — is the haunting “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” a mostly a capella song in which Case sings the words she witnessed a mother yell at her daughter at a bus stop (“Get the [expletive] away from me / Why don’t you ever shut up?”).
That song and some of the darker tunes on the new album, however, offer a message of resilience and determination. Asked how she musters up those qualities in her own life, Case said they come from “never being a kid.”
“I always had to take care of myself, which I would not recommend to anyone,” she said.
Just as she has lent her talent to others in recent years — including her bandmates in the all-star aggregation the New Pornographers, and Jakob Dylan for his last solo album/tour — Case has found plenty of support from noteworthy musicians. One is her longtime co-vocalist Kelly Hogan, who joined Case last May on the Minnesota Public Radio show “Wits.” Another is her new guitarist, Eric Bachmann, who fronted the scrappy guitar-blasting bands Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers.
“He is such a kindred spirit, and his guitar and piano are so tasteful, but not ‘safe,’ ” Case said of Bachmann, poking a little fun at her own musical image. “He helps keep any notion of ‘adult contemporary’ from getting on our band. Like how garlic works on vampires.”
She sounded equally fond of the Twin Cities. She spent a couple days here in May around her “Wits” appearance, popping up in the crowd at the Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul to check out the Girls Got Rhythm Festival. “It was just a really fun time,” she said.
Thus, she was happy to schedule two nights at First Ave vs. a one-show stop at the State Theatre, as she did on her 2009 tour.
“It’s just fun to play First Avenue, plus we wanted a reason to stick around and experience some Minneapolis in a way you can’t when you just blow in for a day,” she said.
Here’s hoping she can get her hands on some of the local tomato harvest, since she missed out back home.