At first, k.d. lang seems so easy-breezy. She saunters into the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop with the radiant inner glow of a yoga master, or, at the very least, of someone who’s just had their rec room feng-shui’d. The pop chanteuse smiles warmly at some aging hipsters who seem to recognize her, and she blushes when the enchanted waiter, obviously a fan, refills her iced-tea glass one too many times.
Life is good for k.d., it seems. So calm, so contented, so… ”completely panic-stricken,” she says. Ah, reality. It’s 10 days before lang sets off on her first major tour in three years, and she’s pretty much dreading what lies ahead: bumpy all-night bus rides, backstage jitters, hobnobbing with local radio personalities. ”I’m like this,” lang says, screeching her fingernails against an imaginary blackboard. ”I wake up in the middle of the night and sweat. I’m so used to being in my own bed, making my own food, showering in my own shower, playing the way I want to play.”
You can’t really blame lang for being apprehensive. Invincible Summer, which Warner Bros. released June 20, is her first album of original music since 1995’s All You Can Eat. In the years since, lang has basically kept herself out of the spotlight and opted instead for nesting time in the privacy of her house in L.A., where she moved from a farm outside Vancouver several years ago. For much of that period, lang’s biggest decisions revolved around whether to swim in her pool, take the dog for a walk, or cruise her custom-made Harley through the hills of Malibu. ”I pretty much did whatever I wanted,” she says with a sigh, sounding like a woman who’s just been informed that casual Fridays have been canceled.
But there are deeper concerns, too. While lang’s vocal versatility may have played straight into the unplugged sensibilities of the ’90s (yielding her double-platinum commercial peak, 1992’s Ingenue), she shares in the anxiety of a generation of boomer-friendly artists in danger of being swept away by the rap and teen-pop deluge. ”I’m 38 now,” she says. ”The music world’s changed. I don’t really look like Britney.”
Then again, bucking the mainstream has always been part of lang’s appeal. Ever since she emerged from the prairies of Alberta, Canada, 15 years ago, looking — and sounding — like the androgynous, spiky-haired offspring of David Bowie and Patsy Cline, lang has made an art of shaking things up. Whether camping up country music with a torchy twang, turning rock classics into cabaret songs (like she did with Steve Miller’s ”The Joker” on 1997’s covers album Drag), or simply playing up her status as patron saint of the nonsmoking, non-meat-eating lesbian elite, lang has blazed a path rarely traveled in the world of pop culture, and done so with great success. ”I don’t know if it would be as shocking today if a lesbian, vegetarian country singer came on the music scene,” she says. ”But that’s probably partly because I already did it.”
Not that a decade and a half of experience is helping to calm her nerves any. Sipping her fourth glass of tea, k.d. is as anxious as if Invincible Summer were her debut effort. ”I don’t know if the record flops how I’m gonna react,” she says. ”I also don’t know if the record takes off, what I’ll do.”