By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Watch out, ladies: k.d. lang is in town, and she’s here to stay.
A veteran of the music industry for nearly 30 years, lang has been a queer icon since coming out in 1992. Since then, she has risen to international stardom and worked with some of the biggest names in music. After several years’ hiatus, lang came back with a new band, the Siss Boom Bang — and a new home in the Rose City.
In an exclusive first interview since relocating to Portland, lang talked with PQ about her excitement for living the Portland lifestyle, the transition into single life after divorcing her partner, and the Buddhist faith through which she’s found peace in all areas of her life.
PQ: So, k.d., I understand that you’re coming to Portland on July 1 to play at the Oregon Zoo. This isn’t the first time you’ve played at this series. What keeps you coming back for this one?
k.d. lang: Well, it’s my second time, and last year was such a blast and so successful that they asked us back. We’re happy to do it!
PQ: Apparently you had such a good time that you decided to move to Portland.
KDL: I always felt very comfortable in and excited by Portland, and I felt the pull over many years of visiting there. It just came to be time, and an opportunity came up to move up there — so I did!
PQ: What are your favorite things about the city so far?
KDL: Well, I’ve only been in town for about eight days, so I haven’t spent much time in it yet. [Laughs] I just love the vibrancy of it, how many amazingly creative people there are. I love that you can walk everywhere, I love the culinary and music scenes. It’s a very alive city, yet so small. It’s a very exciting city, and I’m very excited to spend more time there.
PQ: Thinking about vibrancy, your most recent album, “Sing It Loud,” is such a vibrant album that shows more of your country roots than a lot of your other recent work has. What do you think precipitated this look back for you?
KDL: I always just go with my instincts, and it felt like the right thing to do. I met [bandmate] Joe Pisapia in Nashville, and I started to go down there to work with him. My instincts, and the environment in which we were working in Nashville, influenced it a lot. So, I guess it stemmed from natural occurrences.
PQ: You’ve been part of the queer zeitgeist for decades. How have you seen the larger gay community change during that time?
KDL: It’s amazing, the impact that the last 25 years have had upon the social landscape, not just within the LGBTQ community, but also the general acceptance we’ve found outside — how we’ve infiltrated popular culture, how we’re represented in the media, and more and more accepted and considered as a culture. We’re now part of discussions, taken into consideration in terms of things from advertising to elections. We’re now a culture that is considered a viable part of the fabric of the world and the culture, the civilization.
PQ: What do you think are the next steps for queer people, both as individuals and as a community?
KDL: You know, I’m a practicing Buddhist, and for me the thing I think that the LGBTQ community would benefit most from would be to, while dealing with ignorance, come from a compassionate point of view. Not being aggressive, not being divisive. I know that we face oppression, and I know that we suffer a lot of ignorance and bias, but for me the best way to deal with that is to understand that evolution is a slow process, and to take the higher road.
PQ: I’m curious — how do you find that your Buddhist practice plays out in your art?
KDL: It’s inseparable. It’s part of everything I do, and meshing the two was interesting at the beginning because it was hard to make sense of making something so … well, you can think of [music] as frivolous or useless. I came to understand that the two [my practice and my creativity] were inseparable, and that music really is a wonderful offering.
PQ: Forgive me if this is a sensitive question, but I understand that you ended your domestic partnership [with Jamie Price] last December. How has the transition to single life been for you?
KDL: Oh, just fine! Jamie and I are very strong — we’re sangha sisters — and we’re still doing very well. After 10 years, we just decided it was time for me to move out of L.A. I’ve been working ever since I became single, so I haven’t really been out there “workin’ the scene” at all. I’m not the kind to get hooked up again, you know?
PQ: Are you excited about getting up here and “workin’ the scene” in Portland?
KDL: No, not really! [Laughs] I think Portland is the last place I want to go for “the scene!”
PQ: You’re not alone in that; I think many Portlanders find the same thing.
KDL: I’m just enjoying the single lifestyle after being in a relationship for 10 years, really.
PQ: You’ve collaborated with some astoundingly talented musicians over the course of your career. Whom else do you dream of collaborating with?
KDL: I think about whom I’ve collaborated with in my lifetime, and it’s been so random and spontaneous, not premeditated. I think it’s best to leave it that way and let the universe surprise me. I mean, if you had asked me this question 30 years ago, never in a million years would I have said Roy Orbison, or Tony Bennett, or even Jane Siberry, and those have been huge, major impacts upon my career and my life. I’ll just leave it up to the universe to put me in the right direction.
PQ: Do you have anything coming to mind in terms of new projects? What does your creative process look like in preparation for that?
KDL: I get off the road in October, and I’ll spend some time in Portland, go up to Canada for a bit and see my mom, head down to Nashville and hang out with Joe. I’ll see what happens.
PQ: So this next work could be your Portland album?
KDL: [Laughs] Yes, I’m sure Portland is going to have a big influence on this one. Whatever that looks like!
PQ: What makes you proud about the gay community these days?
KDL: The diversity in the community itself is really exciting to me. There have been so many subdivides within our culture, and I think it’s good that we have less of that — they weaken us. To embrace everyone, even the Log Cabin Republicans, helps us to understand that we’re a broad and diverse culture, and to look at the commonalities between us rather than the differences. It makes us stronger.
PQ: What sort of advice do you have for queer musicians here in Portland?
KDL: First of all, I think I’d become confident and comfortable with whom I am, whether that’s being really flamboyant, or really serious and focused on your music. Wherever you think in terms of yourself, get to know yourself and who you are, and don’t try to change. Just be natural and confident.
Read more about the Oregon Zoo Concert Series — featuring, in addition to k.d. lang, the likes of Melissa Etheridge and the B-52s — here.