Neko Case has been one of the most essential and compassionate voices in indie rock for the best part of 25 years now. Whether in her solo career or as part of Canadian pop rock band The New Pornographers, her effortlessly gorgeous and entreatingly emotive vocals are searingly compelling, but it’s the wit, warmth and frugality of her lyricism – as well as an indomitable ear for a pop hook – which are truly singular. Her new album, Hell-On, came out last Friday, and is again typified by Case’s elegant storytelling imbued with colourful imagery and vivid characterisation. I met up with her in April to discuss Hell-On, whose production was interrupted by a tragic house fire, the benefits of collaboration, and her favourite guitarists.

It’s been five years since The Worse Things Get, can you dive into what you’ve been doing since that record?

There was a lot of touring for that record, then I made a New Pornographers record and toured that and then that was pretty much that; then spent a good year, year-and-a-half maybe making this, I take my time! I need my time, you know, working in two full-time bands.

I really enjoyed that New Pornographers record!

It’s mostly Carl who came up with the melodies for my part, and I’d think of parts to harmonise or whatever. For the most part Carl knows what he wants and shapes it as it happens. He and John were way down in the submarine working on that for a long time.

Must be interesting working in that environment, completely different to working on your own solo stuff.

Absolutely, it’s so different. I think my particular solo band heads more in that direction [of the New Pornographers style] as it progresses, because I love the group singing. I love the big choruses, because playing live with that band is such a joyous feeling.

On the new record the credits are quite exciting; you mentioned Björn Yttling helped you get out of your comfort zone-

Out of my comfort zone and into his comfort zone, which I’m very excited to be in, it wasn’t like a desert island, there was plenty to learn and grow.

There’s also Beth Ditto and Doug Gilhard who jumped out at me as quite exciting; at what stage did you know you wanted to collaborate with these producers, and how did they shape your songwriting process?

Doug I knew I wanted to work with for a long time, we spoke about doing something collaboratively for a long time, and he’s very busy with Guided By Voices and all his bands and he’s a fucking ninja who can do so many disciplines. He’s a very in-demand person, but luckily I got him to play on this record and made the record better and more interesting, he’s just incredible. Beth’s a very interesting person, and not just for her music. I love what she does for ladies and how she makes ladies feel about themselves, an unapologetic joybringer, her voice is so huge. On the song ‘Winnie’, she plays the part of Winnie the woman I love, and she’s backed by all these female voices, a choir, and the song is about massive armada of ladies coming in and making everything okay. I think I was listening to Beth’s music and thinking about her plus size fashion and thinking “what the fuck doesn’t she do? She’s just a fucking badass”, and then it clicked that she would be perfect for the part of Winnie, and Rachel my manager knows her manager and we got lucky, and because she’s such a nice person.

‘Winnie’ I read is inspired by the Amazons?

One of them, pretty much every song somehow lands on those inspirations.

I’ve listened to Hell On a few times so haven’t properly digested it yet, but it sounds like a record about refocussing priorities; both personally and as a society. Did you go into the record wanting to make a cohesive album-length point or did you take each song individually?

Mostly a song-by-song basis, I don’t normally think about any big themes for a record until I’m normally two thirds of the way through, and this one definitely took me the longest. The record is basically finding out you’re Harry Potter; oh, I’m a magical wizard, well that makes things more interesting, but it’s still going to be a lot of work. There’s a lot of work to do, but we’re moving on. That’s why I had to make the record, because if I just told it like that then I’d sound like a loon.

The record caught me by surprise by how catchy and anthemic it is, there’s so many hooks, what was the motivation behind that style?

I wanted to see how big a chorus could get. You know, working with The New Pornographers we have some big choruses but I wanted to see how big our choruses could get. I thought it’d be really interesting to bring in Bjorn because he knows how to work big choruses, even if it’s a really lovely chorus. I wanted new sounds and new ideas and to work with somebody else, be unafraid of new. Most people I work with I’ve known for a long time, and when I do bring somebody in it’s normally been on my turf, so when you do bring someone in it challenges how you think. It was Bjorn’s comfort zone which was still pretty fucking comfy. I wanted to keep learning, I realised I’ve produced plenty of records over the years, and it doesn’t matter if I do it myself, or if I collaborate, it doesn’t make you less of a person. I’ve been asked if I’ll ever tour with just me and a guitar and I’m like “No!” I don’t want to be a solo performer, I want to be in a band, I wanted to be with other people making the music. I met Bjorn in America and had breakfast in some hotel and just got it on. He had different opinions from what I did and it was so interesting. He made the point that people really worry about transitions in songs – from the bridge to the chorus etc – and sometimes the hook should just be the whole song, and I was like “yes that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” ‘Bad Luck’ for example was worked on; I thought my original version of it was okay, but it didn’t hurt to have someone else look at it. I don’t know, it’s almost as if you’re not fully a musician until you see someone’s take on one of your songs, it’s pretty fascinating? I really enjoyed falling in line.

You touched on earlier the idea of women producers-

People don’t know we exist; it’s not so much we get shit on or maligned, it’s just we're treated like we don’t exist.

Well, over the past few years the best indie rock and singer-songwriter artists have mostly been women, I don’t think there can really be much debate about that, and I initially thought this was a movement or wave, but speaking to artists who comprise the scene they argue that it’s because there’s now more women behind the scenes now enabling these women artists to come to the fore, would you agree with that?

Absolutely. I remember a time in my life when men would come up to me and say “women can’t play,” “women can’t be in bands,” and actively mean it. I’d just be like “what the fuck are you talking about?” It’s ridiculous, we’re all just conditioned to these things. Women’s voices are really loud right now, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s a really lovely sound. But it’s also when women’s voices are loud, men’s voices can be louder too; it’s a beautiful thing with people helping each other understand.

What are you listening to at the minute?

I’m really into Funkadelic, I remember revisiting their production and loving just how fucked up it is, like the signature George Clinton noise and the reverb darting from one speaker to another and just fucking with your head, just someone fucking cracking themselves up; they can do it cause the musicianship is so fucking tight. Eddie Hazel is one of my all-time favourite guitarists and he just doesn’t get the credit he deserves. What a soulful, tender man; I know nothing about him personally except his guitar playing. Guitars are so overdone, but he’s one of the few people who really make me love the instrument. He’s Jimi Hendrix grade. Pop Staples is similar, but the opposite; understated, hearing the electronics, the sound, the air, you know. I love good guitar.

A lot of the artists I speak to cite yourself as an inspiration or groundbreaking artist for pioneering in this scene, how do you reflect on that legacy of the past twenty or so years?

Part of me is like “I can’t hear that!”, but if that’s true then my work here is done. Hearing women’s voices be so loud is like someone frosting a cake right now and I’m like “keep frosting you, and eat it, please!” So I guess my legacy whatever that is, is being excited by what’s happening right now. That’s the big thing.

Neko Case's Hell-On is out now.