Seattle Weekly: You seem to find a lot of your songwriting inspiration in nature—the new album, Year of Meteors (Nonesuch), is full of nature imagery—and you just returned from a backpacking trip. How was it?
Laura Veirs: We went mostly in [Alaska's] Denali National Park, and it was totally beautiful. The first day we got there, it was a little bit cloudy around Mount McKinley, and then it completely cleared up. We had stunning views of the mountain, and we saw bears, up close.
How "up close" did you see bears?
It was kind of scary. We were camped in this riverbed, and we were going to bed; it was 9:30 and light out still, but dusky. And Pete, my partner, was like, "There's a bear coming toward us." And there was a mother bear with two cubs standing about 200 yards away. So we kind of freaked out, because we [had] training on what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to stand up and wave at them and yell.
I definitely wasn't planning to make bears a big part of this interview.
It's OK. They make an appearance on the [new] album, in "Galaxies," the second song. It's in the last verse: "Bears and boulders vibrate through the air."
Your previous album, 2004's Carbon Glacier, is named after a glacier on Mount Rainier. How did you draw on the local landscape for the new album?
I think of this as the "air" album. The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae, which was my album from 2001—I didn't recognize it at the time, but now I see it as the earth-oriented album, lots of songs about land and railroad tracks and sand and mountains. The next one, [2003's] Troubled by the Fire, is about fire. And the next one, Carbon Glacier, is more about water and ocean and ice and snow and rain. And this one's more about air.
But there are also water images, like on "Lake Swimming."
That was inspired by Lake Washington. I love to swim down there. It's my favorite thing to do in the summer, to dive off the docks and the boards. I'm working on a one-and-a-half front flip.
If you had to be something other than a musician, what would you be?
Currently, I would be an Iditarod dog musher. We did this sea-kayaking day [in Alaska], and the leader was this guy who has not won the Iditarod but done well twice on it, and he had all these stories about these crystalline nights where the dogs are going crazy, going superfast, and there's northern lights everywhere, and your snot is freezing from the cold, but you're just high on life. And stories like that just make me get really excited.
Laura Veirs plays Woodland Park Zoo, 601 N. 59th St., 206-651-00476, with Neko Case at 5 p.m. Sun., Aug. 28. Sold out.