February 2018: Cover Story - The Musical Genius that is K.D. Lang


There's not many that can say they’ll leave a mark on the music scene. For K.D. Lang, that mark is long and deep. Lang, who is currently on tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of her breakout album, Ingenue, has been in the business for over 30 years, working with some of the greatest musicians of all time. Her love of music, and where it would lead her in her career, was destined, discovering her gift at a young age. “I’m the youngest of four kids in my family who studied classical piano. It’s been in my family culture very deeply for my whole life, so it started at a very young age. It was innate. I think that I've always known [I wanted to do music as a career] since studying classical music at the age of 5. It was always there.”

A humble performer, Lang appreciates her fans and fellow musicians who see her as an inspiration. For her, the blessing is that she has the opportunity to do what many in the world still strive to accomplish. She is lucky enough to have her passion be her work. “I’ve had a career that has lasted 30-35 years. It's probably an indication that I’m doing something right and I feel very blessed and honored that I have a job that I love.” That career saw Lang in the presence of many seasoned performers, whose voices and talents meshed well with the talented singer. “There’s been so many,” Lang shared. “I’ve had so many great experiences with my collaborations with Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, and Owen Bradley. The collaborations are always the most exciting. Even my collaborations with longtime partner, Ben Mink, who wrote Ingenue with me. Those relationships and that trust - that sort of creative banter that happens between collaborators, is really the thing that I find the most rewarding.”

As a young adult, I remember Lang’s collaboration with the late, great, Roy Orbison, and how their voices were meant to be sung together. Although Lang was familiar with Orbison, his musical genre was not one that instantly captured her. She understood the talent that stood before her and was honored for the opportunity. “It was incredible. It was mind-blowing. I wasn’t a huge fan of Roy Orbison when I started working with him only because it wasn’t necessarily what I gravitated towards,” admitted Lang. “But when I started working with him and heard his voice next to mine - the physical presence of his voice - his human spirit was so gentle, so still, so peaceful and yet, this voice came booming out of him. It was an indelible mark on my soul, musically and personally. Roy was just an incredible person and it really speaks for itself - the music.”

The moment in Lang’s career that changed everything was the creation of her album, Ingénue. A collaboration between her and musician and songwriter, Ben Mink. A musical masterpiece in the eyes of fans and many critics, Lang bares it all, giving her listeners a glimpse into her soul, creating songs that seem to punch the listener with jaw-dropping storylines with each lyric that seems to tell you exactly how you were feeling at that very moment. The development of the album was a combination of what both Lang and Mink wanted to hear at the time. “It was just a moment in time when Ben Mink and I were writing a record and stripping it away from country to get into the influences that were more prominent in both of our lives, which was Eastern European for him [Mink] and sort of more Joni Mitchell influenced and slightly more jazz and cabaret for me. It was a concentrated period of time and Ingénue was the result.”

Even after the duo finished the album and loved what they had, the idea that they had a hit on their hands was not the first thought in the songwriter’s head. “I had a lot of moments, but it was opposite. "I thought I was going to get creamed because the record was quite introverted and very slow. My popularity was at a pretty high level at that time. So, I thought to put out a record that was very insular, introverted, and introspective, was kind of a risk. But, it was the truth, and I think people saw that. They saw that it was emotionally vulnerable and reacted to it.” Lang was not prepared for the reaction the album would generate. “I don’t think I had the capability to fully understand or dissect what was happening. It was extremely convoluted, exhilarating, and devastating. It propelled me to make more music, but it also propelled me to shut down, because my life had been exposed so much. I was going in a lot of directions all at the same time. It still affects me to this day.”

Since the release of Ingenue, the music scene has changed dramatically, moving from strong songwriting and focusing on catchy beats and glossy artists. Lang had her take on the industry and the direction it was going. “I think music is fascinating. I think kids are incredibly talented. I hear stuff that I kick myself. I can’t believe people are that creative and I couldn’t think of that. I also think there’s a lot of crap out there. I think it was the same as it ever was. There’s amazing and there’s crap. But I wouldn’t want to be a kid today because I think it is super competitive.”

Lang will be playing the hits of Ingenue at The Lensic Theater in Santa Fe on March 9th. But don’t expect a night of storytelling. She holds to the idea that when it comes to what a song means it’s left up to the listener. “I don’t do a lot of talking. We play the record in its entirety in sequence. I feel that every individual that has a relationship to the record - has their own narrative - and I don’t want to interrupt that.” Along with her music, Lang has become a strong LGBTQ icon, becoming an inspiration to youth. For Lang, it’s about the work and not the accolades. “It’s one of those things. It's hard for me to have perspective on any impact I might have had. Although I certainly have deep appreciation, honor, and pride that I've impacted the LGBTQ community and the straight community in a positive way.”

With currently no upcoming projects on the horizon, Lang says she's “just living my life,” taking it one day at a time and waiting to see what the universe will provide. But she took time to reflect on the career that has provided her with so many beautiful moments and honestly shared what she would like her legacy to be. “It really doesn’t matter once I’m dead. Just that people enjoyed my music. I guess my personal legacy is that I became a better person all the time. But that’s yet to be determined.”

As one of her fans, I think both those legacies will be fulfilled.

K. D. Lang "Ingénue Redux 25th Anniversary tour” in Santa Fe will be at The Lensic Theater on Friday, March 9th. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.ampconcerts.org/event/300346/kd-lang

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