"Life-altering things happen to me in Denver for some reason," says Grammy-winning chanteuse k.d. lang, talking about her past visits to Colorado. The platinum-selling vocalist, born Kathryn Dawn Lang, says she was in the Mile High City when news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks broke. "I remember I was walking around downtown Denver and my cell phone rang. I recall exactly what the day was like and everything about it."
Raised in a small community in the Canadian province of Alberta, the 56-year-old singer, who performs at the Paramount Theatre this Sunday in honor of the 25th anniversary of her hit album Ingenue, is no stranger to cowtowns. Lang cut her teeth on country music, which is popular in her part of the Great White North.
"I started off singing country," says lang, who first gained wide acclaim for a Grammy-winning duet of "Crying," with Roy Orbison in 1987 and then followed up with a compelling version of the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman-penned "Sin City" with Dwight Yoakam in 1989. "I grew up in a town of 650 people in the middle of the prairie, where there's a lot of ranching and farming. The country mindset is definitely there — especially in Alberta. It's a very Western type of culture, similar to Texas. There's a lot of of oil and lots of farming and lots of ranching. So that mindset and that genre of music is prevalent, although it was not something that I felt akin to or even appreciated as a youngster. I came to it through the love of Patsy Cline's music in my early twenties."
Using country music as a springboard, lang went on to explore her passion for cabaret-style crooning, which found traction on her 1993 tour de force, Ingenue.
"Joni Mitchell was probably my biggest influence, as well as Leonard Cohen," lang explains. "The great Canadian songwriters really had an impact on me. And then I discovered cabaret and got into people like Peggy Lee, Ella [Fitzgerald] and Billie [Holiday]. I've kind of been circling around the singers for a good many years. I guess I'd say my roots are in the great vocalists and songwriters."
The double-platinum Ingenue resonated emphatically with listeners in the U.S., Canada and abroad. Lang's Denver performance is part of a nineteen-city U.S. run and follows the first part of her Ingenue Redux Tour, which featured dates last year throughout Canada and Australia. The performances include lang and her backing band reprising the full Ingenue album from the onset of the show and filling out the rest of the evenings with more of her original material and a few carefully chosen covers, such as "Helpless," by fellow Canadian-born songwriter Neil Young.
"We play the entirety of the album right off the top and fill it in from there," she says. "My band is a mix of players who I've been with for a long time plus a few new additions. We have seven people total in the band. I have four new members and three players that I've played with for a long time, including the original bass player on Ingenue, David Piltch."
Prior to the interview, lang was recuperating from a chest cold, which compromised her ability to talk for a few days. She says her voice is always a top priority.
"It was touch-and-go for a minute, and I was cutting it a little close to the tour start," says lang, a daily Buddhist practitioner. "I shut down and didn't talk to anyone, so I'm all right now. I've been taking care of my voice since I was 21. It's been the lead indicator in all the choices I make in life. I like to sleep a lot, I drink a lot of water and I've never smoked cigarettes. I don't drink a lot, and I certainly don't drink when I'm on the road. I've also been a vegetarian for a long time. I don't do a lot of talking when I'm on the road. And I don't ever get into a situation where I'm over-singing and hurting my voice. I chose longevity in terms of my throat."
The singer has distinguished herself not just as an artist, but also as someone not afraid to speak out on social issues. In 1990, the vegetarian, who was raised by her mother from the age of twelve, found herself at odds with the meat industry after launching a "meat stinks" animal-rights campaign. When asked about women's rights, she draws on her Buddhist philosophy.
"It's pretty clear on where I stand on women's issues," she says. "I think it's a good thing to uncover any sort of injustice that happens in society, but I think that we also need to expand our perspectives and look at society as a whole in terms of what is happening. The issue is men, but it goes beyond men. We're all responsible for the way society acts. From a Buddhist perspective, it's a larger can of worms."
Lang is enthusiastic about her return to the Centennial State.
"I've been to Denver many, many, many times," she says. "I love it there. I'm really looking forward to seeing the fine folks of Colorado."
k.d. lang, North American Ingenue Redux Tour, 8 p.m. Sunday, March 11, Paramount Theatre, $49.50-$100.
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