TORONTO -- k.d. lang has never been one to bow down to convention.
The free-spirited performer is known for charting her own course when it comes to her music, her politics, even the way she spells her name.
If anything, a brief dalliance with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in the early '90s -- when lang rubbed shoulders with a crowd that included Madonna and some of the world's top supermodels -- only seemed to deepen the independent spirit of this Alberta-raised lesbian vegan.
"I've always thought of myself as an alternative artist and I don't really think that's changed," lang said recently as she prepared to release "Watershed," her first disc of new material in eight years.
"To me, it's really sort of a reflection on my relationship with my lover, myself, my music, my other relationships, my art. It's really a self-reflective, self-examining record."
These days, lang says she lives a simple life with her partner and dogs in California and has little time for the celebrity excess that pervades the entertainment scene.
She's focused on doing things on her terms, especially when it comes to her own genre-bending music.
"Watershed," which lands next week, offers up quietly powerful melodies that drift along on an unorthodox meld of country twang, banjo jangle, expansive strings and of course, her always masterful voice. Lang describes it as a mix of all the styles she's tackled before.
Dressed casually in a bulky black sweater and black jeans, the singer lounged on a hotel couch while admitting to experimenting with a noticeably delicate vocal style this time out.
"It's something that I feel is the direction of my own vocal evolution," she said.
"It's a style that I'm working on -- a subtle, a more emotive style rather than using sort of ornamentation and volume. I'm trying to compress emotion into a simpler delivery."
The powerhouse vocalist is known for belting it out with remarkable control on such well-loved hits as 1992's "Constant Craving," the Roy Orbison duet "Crying," and the Leonard Cohen cover, "Hallelujah."
Earlier recordings reflected a more buoyant approach to performing, she noted.
"I had a lot more exuberance and energy at that time so it was natural expression of where I was at, both physically and mentally.
"(It was) very unrestrained and very excited. Unbridled and excited to be out in the world making music, making noise."
Over the course of a career spanning some 20 years, lang has deftly moved through a variety of musical styles, at times singing the part of a traditional cowgirl, passionate torch singer or seasoned pop star.
Now, lang describes herself as "basically a minimalist, both aesthetically and musically."
"Watershed," features songs written over a six-year period, amounting to "a very slow-paced diary", lang said.
Confessional lyrics tell of "frozen lovers," and living "on the cusp of compromise."
"My very nature is to criticize and cut myself down to size," she sings on "Flame of the Uninspired."
Many of the album's tracks were recorded on the very first takes, said lang, who produced her own disc for the first time.
"It was really important to me to maintain the creative essence of the songwriting period," she explained.
"The production was really about maintaining and protecting those performances and it was actually designed to be empty and full at the same time."
Lang performs in Toronto on Feb. 21, and continues on to a string of largely-U.S. dates that include a three-night stand at New York's Lincoln Center.
A cross-Canada tour begins in Ottawa on May 24, with tickets going on sale Feb. 23.
Anywho, anybody interested in picking it up?