Writing songs, says k.d. lang, is like having children. Not that it takes nine months for her musical ideas to gestate -- at that rate, making albums would take years. But there is a sense, she says, that once she introduces a song to the world, it slowly takes on an existence of its own.
"Especially when you take them onto the stage," she explains, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Chicago. "Because then they evolve into something completely different than they are on record.
"They grow up. They evolve. Some songs that I have difficulty getting in the studio become the best songs to sing onstage. 'Outside Myself' is a good example. That was very difficult to sing in the studio -- the melody is quite complex, starting very low and then reaching very high.
"But that's great for stage. My voice is more in shape on the road, and you just have more incentive and adrenalin on stage. Or at least I do. 'Outside Myself' has really blossomed as a live song."
It's an ongoing process, though. "A song's not really done for years," she says. "It's like a responsibility, like children. As soon as you create one, you have to look after it for a long time."
She speaks from experience, too, for lang has been making music for the better part of a decade. Her first album, "A Truly Western Experience," was released in Canada in 1984, establishing her as a camp-crazed country revisionist. "Angel With a Lariat," her 1987 American debut, refined that approach ++ considerably, playing down the funny stuff in favor of respectfully idiosyncratic performances like her seriously swinging version of the Lynn Anderson hit, "Rose Garden."
But it wasn't until she paid homage to Patsy Cline with "Shadowland" in 1988 that lang truly caught America's ear. Working with Cline's own producer, Owen Bradley, lang lit into the Cline catalog with the passionate devotion of a dedicated fan, and the power and purity of her performances earned her many admirers in Nashville.
Unfortunately, being admired in Nashville is not the same thing as being accepted, and though her next album, "Absolute Torch and Twang," offered a far-full range of emotional expression, lang was unable to make much headway with country radio. Granted, some of that may have had to do with her outspoken support of animal rights -- not eating beef tends to tick cowboys off -- but mostly it was because she, like Nancy Griffith and Lyle Lovett, was seen as being a bit too outre for mainstream country music.
Even then, lang understood her status within Nashville, saying that "Lyle and I are sort of hanging on for dear life, and trying to be accepted in Nashville." But when her new album, "Ingenue," opted for a sound that was more torch than twang, many took it as a sign that she was turning her back on the country establishment.
Not so, she says. "I'm a little disturbed by the fact that I have given the indication that I'm negative toward the country establishment," she complains. "I'm not, really. I knew that it was going to be a challenge. As I put it at the time, it was a user-friendly relationship, where they didn't want to subscribe to my beliefs and I didn't want to be completely accepted.
"When it comes right down to it, it's simply that my passion for involvement in the country industry has subsided. My love for the music is still there, but not enough to pursue my career in that direction."
Instead, she'd rather follow her own course, however unpredictable it might seem. "I don't think I'm a typical pop fan," she admits. "I don't listen to typical pop. I like odd things and classic things. I like easy listening and jazz. I like Nancy Sinatra and I like Mahalia Jackson. Or Percy Faith and Charlie Mingus. Really opposing things."
Ideally, then, music should transcend the limitations of genre. "At least that's the approach that I've tried to take," she says. "I just try to follow my instincts, and if I'm passionate about one type of music because of my past involvement in one specific genre, it shouldn't restrain my attraction toward another type of music."
So does she feel a sense of vindication in the fact that "Ingenue," her least stylized album to date, has also been her most successful? Nope. As it turns out, what she mostly feels is amazed.
"I don't think I was expecting it, no," she says. "To be really honest with you, I made this record for myself; I thought of no formats. I really felt, 'Well, it might sink, it might swim, I don't know, but this is what's coming out of me.' And I just let it go. To have it accepted is more than I expected."
When: 8 p.m. Monday.
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Tickets: Sold out.
Call: (410) 783-8000 for information.