k.d. lang has sung with the best–Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Loretta Lynn–not bad for a girl from Consort, Alberta, population 739.

Growing up in a small farming community, listening to Anne Murray records, Kathryn Dawn Lang took classical piano lessons, eventually switching to vocal lessons. These days lang, known for her smooth, stunning voice and stylistic range as well as for her trademark lowercased name, is in the midst of an international tour to promote her latest CD, Watershed.

The first album of original music lang has released in eight years, Watershed contains 11 self-produced new songs, many of which are first takes. lang says this allowed her songs to “stem from the creative process rather than the craftsman process.”

lang acknowledges that her Buddhist practice influenced Watershed–a reflective collection of songs centred on relationships. While she was always aligned with Buddhist philosophy, she says that practising Buddhism allows her to express “the reflective internalization of my perceptions and my idea of self and how that influences my relationships.”

This spiritual consciousness is reflected in how lang lives while on the road. By the time she completes her current tour, she will have visited Scotland, France, Canada, the United States, and Australia. While many performers are tempted by the excesses of life on tour, lang says, “I live an almost monastic lifestyle on the road. I spend a lot of time alone, not really engaging, doing practice and meditation.”

Constant Craving–for Natural Living

While touring lang makes sure she eats healthy food. “It’s almost like urban forage trying to find a health food store,” she says. lang, who is 46, has been a vegetarian since she was 19. She learned about natural healing and vegetarianism at the Community Co-op in Edmonton, Alberta.

Today lang says her health regimen encompasses principles of naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and Shiatsu massage. She also does rope yoga–exercises that concentrate on the lower body, including the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs–to increase core strength and release emotional anxiety.

lang swims, runs on the treadmill, and performs some basic weightlifting. She also enjoys walking her two dogs, a chocolate lab and a lab-Shepherd cross. She confesses to missing them while being on the road, although she knows they’re being well cared for by her
partner at home.

Home, for lang, is Los Angeles. She’s lived there off and on for the last 16 years. She admits that moving to the US was difficult from an emotional perspective because of “Canadians’ strong sense of pride and the kind of prejudice they seem to have against the States.” Despite her work commitments, though, lang is able to visit her family in Alberta on a regular basis.

Forty-Ninth Parallel a Manmade Border

After living in L.A. for so long, lang has come to accept that “there’s a part of me that will always be Canadian, that has a very strong nationalistic centre, and there’s another part of me that transcends all that–borders are manmade.”

When it comes to her music, lang has transcended many borders. From her early days with the Reclines, a Patsy Cline tribute band, to her multimillion-selling pop single “Constant Craving,” her album Ingénue, the album A Wonderful World with Tony Bennett, and finally to her tribute to Canadian songwriters, Hymns of the 49th Parallel, lang has never hesitated to follow her muse. She insists that her ability to change styles has contributed to her musical success.

“If I made music for the sake of selling to my demographic or made something that was formulaic and stagnant, that would kill me,” lang says. “It would be detrimental to my music and probably to my listeners, so the liberty that I’ve given myself over the years to follow my muse, no matter what the cost in terms of the success in my sales, has been my ultimate priority.”

(Former) Cowgirl with a Cause

lang’s musical integrity is matched by her concern for three major issues–HIV/AIDS, animal welfare, and Buddhism. While she admits that fame allows one to draw attention to worthy causes and issues, she firmly believes that celebrities must keep their motivation in check. “What’s important is that you have a personal connection to the cause and that you feel a sense of passion,” she says. “I think that when things get askew is when people are using the media attention for their own personal benefit.”

In 2007 lang joined forces with Annie Lennox and 22 other female singers on a song called “SING,” which was released to raise awareness of AIDS transmission to unborn children in Africa. Some of the other singers involved in this project were Madonna, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, and Sarah McLachlan.

While lang’s horizons have expanded since her childhood, her life has come full circle: from listening to Anne Murray’s recordings as a girl to becoming an accomplished artist herself who, in 2007, recorded “A Love Song” with Anne Murray for Murray’s latest CD, Anne Murray Duets: Friends and Legends. Like Murray, lang hypnotizes her listeners with her velvety voice.

lang acknowledges the tremendous influence Murray’s voice has had on her own style. “It kind of sends me back in time to be around Anne. She was really one of the very first people who influenced me. I revert back to that young girl in Consort listening to those records. She’s one of the great Canadian vocalists.”

If she could accomplish only one more thing, lang says, without hesitation, “I would choose a life of happiness, which would include career longevity. I would sing until I was 80 or 90 or however long I live.” One thing her fans can be sure of is that lang will always follow her muse, wherever it may lead her.

About the Author

Ellen Niemer is a New Westminster, BC, writer and editor.