Neko Case: ‘A comfortable, good place to be’ near top of charts

Call her music alternative or Americana, Neko Case is among the most celebrated independent singer-songwriters of the moment.

In March, Case’s latest CD, “Middle Cyclone,” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard top 200, a huge showing for an independent release. Just before that, she was the subject of a major profile in The New York Times Magazine.

But an accompanying interactive online feature highlighted her long and peripatetic journey to musical success — starting in 1996, when Case was an art student in Vancouver, through a decade of solo work, recordings with the indie band the New Pornographers and sojourns in places such as Tacoma, Wash.; Chicago; and Tucson, Ariz. Right now, Case’s home is on the road. The biggest North American tour of her career has included stops at “The Tonight Show” with Conan O’Brien and the Bonnaroo Music Festival, with her own band featuring vocalist and Atlanta native Kelly Hogan.

We caught up with Case as she was about to embark on the third leg of the tour, which will bring her to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Sunday.

Q: With "Middle Cyclone," you've obviously moved to another realm, as far as sales, and press and notoriety. How did the tipping point come, and did you feel it coming?

A: It comes about if you have really good publicists. Press like that doesn't come out of nowhere. I hate to debunk the beautiful mythology of rock 'n' roll. But you work hard and you work with the right folks. Now, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard chart, that was pretty weird. Nobody predicted that. And that was for a whole week [laughs].

Q: And how are you handling all that?

A: Well, everything to me is still exactly the same. It's a comfortable, good place to be. It's my job. It's what I know how to do. There's nothing that changes if your record is at No. 3. There's more people at the shows, which is awesome. I love that. But there's not paparazzi outside the hotel or anything.

Q: Critics have praised "Middle Cyclone" as a step forward, in terms of the emotional range of the songs and the range of your singing. How do you see it?

A: When you make the album, you're too close to it to know. All I can do is try to do a better job than I did last time. I hope there's been some marked growth of some sort. It felt good. I felt happy when it was finished. And I enjoy performing the songs, so something good is happening.

Q: Of course, we all love Kelly Hogan here, but could you gush about her a bit for the hometown folks — what does she mean to you and your band?

A: Where do you want me to start? Besides being one of my very closest friends, she's the best singer I know. She is such a perfectionist, and she's just super talented. Nobody can harmonize like she can. I've been badgering her, along with everyone else in the world, to make another record. When she told me that she was in the band, which she announced to me a few years ago [laughs], it kind of took me aback. I was like, "You mean you want to be in this band all the time, when you're you?"

Q: Well, Kelly is a great singing partner, but how was it singing with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at Bonnaroo?

A: He's actually an incredibly good harmonizer, I found. When they asked us to do it, I was like, "Are you serious?" But that's when you know you've really made it, I guess, when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog wants to come onstage with you.