An acclaimed singer/songwriter with one of the most powerful voices of her era, Neko Case was rooted in both traditional Nashville country and the DIY ethos of hardcore punk. Beautiful and charismatic enough to be voted the sexiest woman in indie rock in a men's magazine's online poll, Case rejected the modern country-diva archetype in favor of a "what you see is what you get" honesty that could be alternately flinty and emotionally unfettered.
Neko Richelle Case was born in Alexandria, Virginia on September 8, 1970. After her parents divorced when Case was five, her mother married an archeologist. The family spent several years moving between archeological digs, then settled in Tacoma, Washington. After leaving home at the age of 15, Case became involved in the burgeoning Seattle-Tacoma punk scene, playing drums in a variety of local bands and working in an area nightclub. In her early 20s, Case moved to Vancouver, British Columbia on a student visa, attending the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. While in Vancouver, she joined a local indie pop trio, Cub; although she played drums in the band's debut album Betti-Cola (1993), she left the group prior to its release to form her own band, Maow. Like Cub an all-female trio specializing in deliberately childlike minimalist pop songs, Maow featured Case on drums, Tobey Black on guitar and Corrina Hammond on bass, with all three members sharing in vocals and songwriting. After their debut EP I Ruv Me Too, the trio changed the spelling of their name to Maow and released their sole full-length album, The Unforgiving Sounds of Maow (1996) before splitting up as Vancouver's "cuddlecore" scene wound down.
Maow's LP included covers of songs by Wanda Jackson and Nancy Sinatra, prefiguring the sharp turn into alt-country Case would take with her solo career. Fronting an ever-shifting lineup of fellow Vancouverites collectively known as Neko Case and her Boyfriends, Case made her solo debut with The Virginian (1997), a countrified album consisting of six originals and a half-dozen covers including songs by the Everly Brothers, Queen and Scott Walker. The album showcased a new and much more powerful vocal style from Case, and attracted uniformly solid reviews. Upon graduating from art school, Case's visa expired and she moved back home to Washington in 1998, but not before recording vocals on several songs written by her friend Carl Newman for a proposed album by a studio-only Vancouver supergroup Newman had dubbed The New Pornographers. Upon the release of Mass Romantic (2000), Case's vocals on lead single "Letter From An Occupant" became one of the critically-acclaimed album's most talked-about aspects. The album's success raised the profile of Case's second solo album, Furnace Room Lullaby (2000). As the New Pornographers shifted into being a proper band, Case continued to record and tour with them between her own albums.
Dropping the Boyfriends band name, Case's third solo album Blacklisted (2002) was her most successful to date. A live album, The Tigers Have Spoken (2004), consisted of new Case originals and her usual eclectic covers, and was even more successful, but Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006) was Case's critical breakout album, receiving her most positive reviews to date. Its follow-up Middle Cyclone (2009) added mainstream sales to Case's by-now-expected critical and cult success, debuting at number three on the Billboard 200 chart. Largely recorded at her farm in rural Vermont, where Case had settled after living in Seattle, Chicago, Arizona and other places, the album mirrored Case's newfound sense of place; its closing track was a 30-minute field recording of frogs and insects near a pond on the property. After a fifth album with the New Pornographers, Together (2010), Case was hit with the loss of her parents and grandmother in quick succession. The upheaval of that experience colored her most openly autobiographical album to date, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013), a powerful meditation on love and loss that was Case's first entirely self-penned album.