The 1995 edition of k.d. lang is markedly different from that of a few years ago. Interviewed in 1992 for the release of her last album, "Ingenue," the singer seemed guarded and withdrawn--and understandably so. In the midst of a storm of controversy unleashed by her decision to speak openly about her gay sexual orientation and by her criticism of the beef industry as part of her work as an animal rights activist, she experienced for the first time one of the more unpleasant aspects of being famous.
She was living in Los Angeles at the time, and that too seemed to be getting to her. Of her decision to return to her native Canada, she says, "I'd had enough education about the world so I went home"--home being a farm in Vancouver she shares with her sister and several dogs, goats and horses.
During an interview at a Hollywood hotel to discuss her new album, "All You Can Eat" (released today), lang, 33, looks every inch the farm girl she now is. An austere beauty with short hair and the rosy complexion of one who spends lots of time outdoors, she seems considerably happier than she was three years ago. In town to shoot a video for the single "If I Were You," and to assemble a band for a tour that kicks off in January, she responds amiably and openly to a far-flung list of questions.
Question: At what point did you leave your girlhood behind and become a woman?
Answer: When I was 12 and my father left. When that happened I suddenly had to grow up and be a companion to my mother, and his leaving left me with a severe case of disappointment and made me distrustful of life. Those things continue to surface in my life too--my expectations of people tend to be high and loyalty is important to me. My friends are people I've known a long time and although I know famous people, I don't have famous friends. It's rare to make a friend in show business because you're basing your friendship on something extremely superficial--the fact that you're both famous.
Q: What's the most significant change you've observed in yourself over the last few years?
A: Wow, I've gone through a million changes. On the personal side there's been love and heartache, and on the business side there's been success and its reverse. I feel secure that I'll always get to make records, but the music business is unpredictable and I'm very square. Every day I see new bands on television that leave me wondering how I'm gonna keep up. I'm a singer who doesn't depend on trends and I have to sing music that fits my voice, which is best suited to the styles of the '40s or '50s. I can't sing rock 'n' roll, for instance, because it requires an attitude I don't have.
Q: What do you do on this record that you've never done before?
A: "Ingenue" was a jazz-based album, but this one is rooted in funk and R&B.; I've been listening to stuff like Parliament and hip-hop, some of which is great--the conglomeration of samples and tonalities can be amazing. But as with any formulated musical style, I get tired of if fast and I don't like the focus on money and sex that dominates rap. I think that's a step backwards for that culture--but this isn't something I want to shoot my mouth off about.
Q: Have you regretted it in the past when you've spoken out on controversial issues?
A: I don't regret it but after 10 years of doing interviews I've learned what can be dangerous. The PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] thing is really my belief and being a lesbian is really who I am, but as for speaking out about black culture, I don't know anything about it--and how could I? I didn't even see a black person until I was 17.
Q: Have you ever been moved to tears by a song you were singing?
A: Yes. I cried on "If I Were You" and on "Infinite and Unforeseen," two songs on the new album. Every day I interpret my songs differently and the longer they're with me the more I find in them, but if the magic isn't there you can't fake it. Once I was singing "One Night With You" and was just belting it--I ended it on my knees screaming. After I finished, a guy up front said, "Now do something with some feeling," and though I was offended at the time, now I know what he meant. I hear lots of singers on the radio who are technically great but have zero soul.
Q: Your early work was infused with a wackiness that's no longer there; did you consciously eliminate that from your music?
A: Early in my country career, I was almost considered a novelty act, but that wackiness was a result of the fact I was so hyper about getting going that I was ready to burst. I'd been in this small town and I was just ready! But when I realized people weren't paying attention to my voice I became determined to prove myself as a singer and the wackiness started to subside. My interest in extreme approaches to performing is still there, but it's a fine line between contriving something and not holding yourself back when you feel like doing something offbeat.
Q: What aspect of the future as you envision it do you find most alarming?
A: Nothing alarms me. Yes, I'm disappointed with human nature and with our rape of the Earth, but I have a strong belief in God and have faith that if man becomes extinct it's because that needs to happen.
Q: You say you believe in God; could you describe him?
A: First, it's not a him or a her. God is energy and to me praying is just thinking. I considered myself a Buddhist until I went to Japan and saw that it was as limited as any other religion. But as with any religion, you have to transcend what humans have done and how they've misinterpreted spirituality.
Q: What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome in your life?
A: If life is one huge roller coaster ride you can't say which was the biggest hill because it depends on momentum and where you're at. It's all about balance.
Q: Have you ever seriously lost your balance?
A: Yeah, I think I did after "Ingenue" came out and brought a new level of success to my life. When you're an artist, which is what I aspire to be, and you involve yourself in celebrity-oriented things it sucks the life out of you. I was doing things like going to movie premieres. Why? To get your picture taken for Us magazine? I found myself worrying about what I was going to wear to functions that had nothing to do with my life! I guess I had to experience all that once, but now that I've done it I have no interest in doing it again.