Hurts So Good 

Kelly Hogan sings with friendly ghosts in her solo efforts.

click to enlarge After spending years as a backup singer for artists such as M. Ward and Neko Case, Kelly Hogan is stepping out solo.
  • After spending years as a backup singer for artists such as M. Ward and Neko Case, Kelly Hogan is stepping out solo.

"My sweat mustache has a sweat mustache," Kelly Hogan says from her sweltering Wisconsin digs. Over the whirr of box fans, the Atlanta native explains that multiple moves north to escape the heat have failed. She'll feel right at home when she plays in Richmond with Neko Case on July 13.

Hogan's robust musical career includes playing things as varied as underground indie, kids' music and timeless Americana. Her acclaimed latest, "I Like to Keep Myself in Pain" (Anti- Records) finds the singer interpreting a handful of songs written by an impressive roster of artists, using velvety, soul-soaked vocals to make them instant classics.

Style: The songs on this album are written by a host of notable songwriters, including Vic Chesnutt and M. Ward. How did you land them?

Hogan: I made a long list of people I'd sung and played with and sent out all these emails. I tried to keep it to people with a personal connection. Some songs didn't make it in on time, but I'd like to get around to recording them.

Your next album should be something creepy like "Songs from Strangers."

I know! Actually, the tiny campfire in the back of my mind is trying to write some songs for my next record. I need to put up or shut up. I always say my songwriter penis is verrry tiny.

You recorded this album in the EastWest Studios in Hollywood. That's a pretty historical joint.

Yeah. Bill Putnam, who created Universal Recording in Chicago, was eventually convinced by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to open up a studio out West. The story is that those guys got tired of going to Chicago in the winter. It's an amazing place with crazy stories. Elvis, Ray Charles, and the Beach Boys all recorded there.

Could you feel the legendary vibes?

Talk about ghosts and the feeling of spirits, man. They felt benevolent though, like they were rooting for us. It's like a church. I'm getting goose bumps right now talking about it.

Were you ever freaked out by the ghosts?

The only time I got scared was when I was singing the M. Ward song "Daddy's Little Girl," where I'm singing from Frank Sinatra's point of view. I was basically in his house, given his role in the studio. He sang "My Way" there. I was like, "I gotta get right with Frank or I'm going to have some serious haunting." I hope his ghost likes it.

You'll be opening up the show and singing with Neko Case in Richmond. When did you ladies become friends?

Back during my days as a publicist at Bloodshot Records, a writer in Toronto ended up sending me a tear sheet of a Whiskeytown interview and also included one he had done with Neko. He said based on some conversations that we had, he thought I'd really like her. She was at [the CMJ Music Marathon] the next week and so was I. We hit it off right away. The rest is history.

You two might be the most entertaining people on Twitter.

We're a mess, man. I didn't want to be on Twitter, but Neko set up an account for me. It's been fun. Guys don't think ladies talk that way, but we do. I like to watch my followers drop when I talk about menopause.

The only track you penned on this album is "Golden," and it's written for Neko. Tell me about that.

I wrote it some time ago. I had been touring longer than her and we would talk and she'd say, "We'll never get boyfriends who understand what we do." I was like, "Girl, I know it's hard. It sucks." It's just a wish for her and for anyone really who can't stop doing what their soul tells you to do. Even when you've got a cabinet full of Ramen.

What was her reaction when she heard it?

She bawled her eyes out. Booyah! [laughs] S

Kelly Hogan will perform with Neko Case on July 13 at the National, 708 E. Broad St. Tickets $22.50-$25. For information, go to thenationalva.com.

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