KD Lang: 'In the end, I knew it would all come back to the music. And it did'

She has been a lesbian icon, party animal, and paparazzi favourite. But now, she tells Fiona Sturges, she's happy just to be singing

No one seems to notice kd lang as she walks across the lobby of her London hotel. Plainly dressed, without make-up, and with a hairstyle that fully embraces the "just out of bed" look, she is a long way from current notions of how a pop star should appear. A low profile is, she tells me, exactly what she had hoped for at this stage in her career. "It's the culmination of what feels like a long journey. And besides, I'm nearly 50. I'm past being photographed falling out of bars."

It wasn't always thus. Nearly twenty years ago, when she had just turned 30 and had reached her commercial peak with the multi-million-selling, Grammy-winning album Ingénue, her life was a whirlwind of Hollywood parties, premieres, awards ceremonies and fashion shows. After announcing her homosexuality to Rolling Stone magazine, she became the de facto ambassador for the gay community and the coolest lesbian in town. Among her most vocal champions were the comedian and actress Sandra Bernhard, who was frequently photographed on her arm, and Madonna, who announced: "Elvis is alive, and she's beautiful."

Then there was the famous photo shoot for Vanity Fair that had her sprawled in a barber's chair, with supermodel Cindy Crawford sitting astride her in a swimsuit and giving her a wet shave. Asked by a male journalist what was going through her mind at the time, lang replied: "Pretty much what would have been going through yours in the same circumstance, I imagine."

Still based in Los Angeles, lang has now left the celebrity circus behind, though she has no regrets about her place in it. "Oh, I had a ball," she says. "But ultimately I realised, in terms of real estate, that the top of the mountain wasn't where I wanted to live. I actually prefer the plains and the valleys. I love what I do and where I am right now. I mean, I'm still here, making records and talking to you and travelling and playing concerts. It's a good life."

lang is now in a long-term relationship – she met her girlfriend, Jamie, at a Buddhist centre 10 years ago – and lives in a sparsely furnished cabin-style house in the Hollywood Hills that once belonged to Rock Hudson. When she's not recording or touring or on her annual Buddhist pilgrimage to India, lang is likely to be found immersing herself in domestic duties ("I love cleaning. I'm a very good housewife"), painting landscapes and looking after her elderly dog.

Today she is in London on a promotional tour for her new album, Sing It Loud, recorded with her newly assembled band, the Siss Boom Bang. It's an elegant, understated LP that contains nods to the singer's country-pop roots and brims with warmth and contentment. lang has long refuted the idea that her songs are autobiographical, but when I remark on the album's upbeat mood, she concedes: "Well, yes, I'm in a very good space at the moment. But also [the co-producer] Joe Pisapia and I sat down before we started writing it and made a very clear manifesto that this record would be unpretentious, soulful, and very positive and uplifting. With this record I really visualised where I was going to be playing it. I wanted it to be the perfect folk-festival record where we could stand on stage on a nice summer evening and just play beautiful songs."

The album was recorded in Nashville, where lang, once touted as the new Patsy Cline, began her career in the mid-Eighties. She remarks that what was always a conservative city seems finally to be evolving.

"Bible publishing, real estate and insurance are the top earners there, along with music, so it's never been the most progressive town. But now in east Nashville there's this pocket of alternative musicians – Jack White lives there, Ben Folds and Gillian Welch. There's an interesting music scene now. It's a bit like LA, where I live. It's got this reputation as one thing, but when you get down on to street level there's a lot of very creative people doing a lot of great stuff."

Mining her own seam of creativity hasn't always been easy for lang. Though she has enjoyed steady sales for 15 years, she has never come close to repeating the extraordinary success of Ingénue. Between 2002 and 2008 she suffered from writer's block, a situation she has previously blamed on the atmosphere in America after 9/11. Today, however, she offers a different explanation.

"If I'm being honest, it was because I had become a student of Buddhism. When you experience the true philosophy of Buddhism for the first time, it kind of changes your perspective. You do a lot of reconstructing of your ideals, and it's an exhausting, consuming process. So for that period I found it a lot easier to do interpretive records. [Buddhism] has clarified and given me some legitimate tools to deal with daily issues and moral issues. The thing about it is there's no external factor, so you are responsible for everything. So it kind of puts everything back to you. It tears your ego down, which I think is good."

She has, she says, been chastened by this new lifestyle where, on her trips to India, she'll find herself "in the back of a coach in the middle seat for like an 18-hour stretch, and in monasteries where you sleep on the floor on a sack, in a place with no running water and no toilets. Seeing the depth of poverty, and seeing people's limitless capacity for spirituality in that situation, and the void of spirituality back home, it takes some adjustment. It's certainly made me appreciate the luxury that the music business provides, and the privileged lifestyle."

The youngest of four children, lang was born in Consort, Alberta, a prairie town with a population of 650. The kd stands for Kathryn Dawn, names which she discarded long before she became famous. At the age of five, lang was certain about two things: one was that she had a singing voice that made everyone around her sit up and listen; the other was that she was sexually attracted to women.

"Being gay felt very natural – out of four kids, three of us were gay – so I never felt weird about it. I think my father [who died in 2007] was a bit gay, though he never knew it. And my mother was very liberal, despite being a devout Christian. So having that realisation wasn't painful for me in the way that it can be. At the time I really celebrated it."

Her early musical education came via her siblings, who each studied classical music and practised every day after school. Later she discovered Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Kate Bush. lang puts the purity of her singing voice down to the wide, open skies and huge prairie that featured in her childhood.

"It's just a theory really, but I have always thought that your physical surroundings can shape your voice and personality. Minimal is the word I'd use to describe how I live and dress, and it's also how I sing. I'm not a big fan of overemoting."

In a strange way, she says, living in a small town prepared her for fame and its after-effects.

"It's just people and animals and trees everywhere. Wherever you go, it's all the same. Being in LA, and being known by strangers, was really just the same as living in my home-town. It's no big deal."

No longer the poster girl for lesbianism, she is pleased to note that, "people now see me as a singer first, and a gay woman second. I knew that if I stayed the course, and patiently answered all the questions, then sooner or later it would come back to the music. And it did."

Now, of course, lang has another cause to espouse, this time in the form of Buddhism. It is, she says, "a full-time job" during the months when she's not playing music on the road. "I help out at the Buddhist centre and we run a shelter, but my role is mostly as an ambassador."

Does this mean music will soon take a back seat? "Well, I wouldn't go that far," she smiles. "I'm a singer and as long as I can sing – which, thank God, is something that I still seem to be able to do – I'd like to carry on making records. I know I'd be happy doing other things – whether working in a restaurant or just staying home and cooking and looking after the house.

"But I'm good at making music, so I think I'll do that for now."

'Sing It Loud' is out now on Nonesuch. Single "The Water's Edge" is released on 20 June.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering