How We Met: KD Lang & Jeri Heiden

'My career was founded on taking care of "difficult" artists. KD's not difficult, just complex'
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The Independent Online

D Lang, 46, is a Canadian four-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner

Our first outing together was surreal. Jeri had just been assigned to me by Warner Bros as my art director on Angel with a Lariat, so she came down to Nashville to talk about the album cover. I was about 21 and I thought all people from record companies were like government workers.

I can't remember why, but somehow we ended up in Memphis, visiting Graceland. We were walking round all those weird Elvis memorabilia shops behind this mother and her blind child and the kid kept asking, "What's in this shop, mommy?" and she'd reply, "Elvis soap-on-a-ropes... more Elvis soap-on-a-ropes," and stuff. It was just bizarre.

We went for a meal at a really mediocre diner chain. I'm a vegetarian and there was nothing for me on the menu, so I asked if they could make a cucumber sandwich. The waitress couldn't figure out what I meant, so I asked her for a BLT with cucumber instead of the bacon. Half an hour later she came back with a sandwich full of grilled cucumber. It was all so kooky that it really broke the ice between myself and Jeri.

I used to be very stubborn and over-confident about my own art expertise, but I knew from the start that Jeri was a true artist and that her motivations were pure. She can take one of my ideas and make it 1,000 times better. If she tells me to use a certain colour or a certain photograph, I'll listen – and that's pretty rare for me.

A lot of my friends are artists but with Jeri there's something more; her approach to graphics is almost scientific. She's a Virgo so she's really clear-minded and calm. Very steady. I have so many ideas running through my head and she helps me make sense of them.

Our friendship has developed in waves. It does tend to centre around work. We might not see each other for a while, but art is our bond. That's what's important – you don't have to see someone all the time but when you do it's consistent and despite all the changes in the meantime, you still have that common understanding.

What I find so appealing about Jeri is that she has no ego despite being so talented – she was vice-president of Warner Bros creative department when she was still in her twenties. She is a pretty good singer, too.

I trust Jeri completely. I've known her for more than 25 years, but we've developed a deeper understanding lately. I got tired of the photo-shoot frenzy that happens around an album launch so we started doing shoots with just her and me. It created a new dynamic in our friendship. There's just something about being so comfortable with someone; I can allow myself to be vulnerable without feeling it.

Jeri Heiden, 48, is a graphic designer who has created album artwork for KD Lang, Madonna and Seal. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband

I was intrigued before I had even met KD. She had recently been signed by my company and already dismissed one art director because she "didn't get her". So my boss said they were going to send me to Nashville to "deal with" this artist. I was supposed to be her escort to all these silly industry events and figure out what it was she wanted. The second night, we were at an awards ceremony and she looked at me, grabbed a bottle of wine from the table and asked, "Do you want to get out of here?" So we got in her pick-up truck, me in my velvet dress, and went driving around the streets of Nashville. We ended up back at the hotel, where we stayed up all night talking.

The next day she wanted to blow off another industry thing and said, "Let's get on a plane and go to Graceland." We had the best time. I remember there was this ridiculous meal – it was the first time I'd ever come face to face with the plight of a vegetarian in the south.

We had a lot of laughs – KD is so much fun to be with, such an iconoclast – and that weekend helped me understand what she was about. She wasn't interested in doing the whole Nashville machine and making all those appearances. She just wanted to go and talk about art and get to know me so she could be confident in my ability to visualise her music.

In our working relationship, KD is the instigator and I'm the problem-solver. She sends out these flares, which are my signal to start interpreting those clues and get inside her head to figure out what we are going to create. It's like a puzzle.

When we're just hanging out socially, it's more straightforward. We eat, drink, play Scrabble, walk our dogs, talk, eat some more – I've had some of the best meals of my life in KD's kitchen.

I still get choked up at her concerts when she pulls out an extraordinary performance, which she always does. With anyone else it might be strange to see them after that in their public persona, but with KD there's no difference. She strives to be consistently herself.

My career has been founded on being someone who could take care of "difficult" artists. KD's not difficult, just complex. I feel blessed that she trusts me enough to open up and tell me what she thinks and feels. It makes me really happy.

KD Lang's latest album, 'Watershed', is out tomorrow on Nonesuch