Kelly Hogan seems well adjusted - almost. She does in the context of I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, a new album brimming with eccentric, tormented songwriters. The late Vic Chesnutt wrote its most stark and memorable track, "Ways of This World." M. Ward added a Sinatra-themed sketch called "Daddy's Little Girl." Other contributors include surreal singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock and enigmatic Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt. Hogan ties it all together with her mighty voice.
She spoke with me from her home in Evansville, Wis., in advance of an Aug. 30 show at the East Side Club.
How are the new album's songs changing as you play them live?
[On] the last tour, we were opening for Neko Case.... When we were on, it was daylight; it was outside. If you go to play a song like M. Ward's "Daddy's Little Girl," which is very atmospheric, kind of a nighttime song...you kind of see where it goes, without it being so languid. I love to see what the song can take. I choose songs with really good infrastructure and muscle that you can pull in different directions.
One song that emulates the writer's performance style is "Ways of This World," which has just the kind of acoustic guitar part Vic Chesnutt would have played.
Vic always reminded me of Nina Simone in his delivery and singing. One thing that's hard when you're covering a Vic song is [that] it's so tempting to use Vic's pronunciation. The word "pronunciation" with him would be "pro-nun-cia-tioooon," you know. We consciously kept the kick-ass Vic-isms that we wanted on that song. His guitar playing was one of my favorite things, too.
Which song challenged you the most?
Well, back to "Daddy's Little Girl." I was in a studio that Frank Sinatra helped to build [EastWest Studios in L.A.], and I had to get right with Frank in my mind. Once I realized that the song was not saying "Frank Sinatra is the best thing that ever happened," that [the song is] just him talking about himself, then it was very interesting to me.