Moments into our interview, Neko Case is talking about the end of time. "I think it's actually hopeful," she says, "knowing that we're not the disgusting ending to everything. The world will go on without us, and it will be glorious.
"I don't have a lot of nice things to say about humanity today," she says.
It's a fitting introduction to an artist whose latest album cover has her clad in a helmet of cigarettes while a supervolcano erupts out of her shoulder. Case's seventh record, Hell-On, is gothic, mythological and mysterious; its eleven tracks take on complex themes such as history and misogyny, as well as the search for camaraderie in the face of calamity.
During the making of Hell-On, Case faced her own personal calamity, losing her Vermont home to a devastating fire while she was recording in Sweden - an event she's still dealing with over a year later. "It's not rebuilt, it's just kind of in a state of, 'can it be rebuilt?'" she says. "I haven't even been home enough to really go through the stuff that was taken out of the building that was left, to see if it's any good. It's still kind of just a big amoeba that I live in."
The fire had a strong influence on the record – a sense of impending doom lingers throughout, but there's also a sense of hope; an acknowledgement of the power of rebuilding new worlds. Case says she has a natural tendency towards escapism in her songwriting – finding "new places to inhabit".
"I like to look at history that way, and nature that way a lot, because the scientific way, and the fact-based way, is awesome, but it's also rather boring," she says. "I like to time travel and do other things that are considered magical, or not real or based in nature.
"Nature is so amazing already, we just kind of take it for granted – it does all those things that we try to invent with science fiction already, so I like to try to expand on that."
While Case may not have a lot of hope for humanity, she says translating her album into a live show has reminded her of our ability to create transcendent beauty. "I think it's the high point of what human beings can do," she says. "We're amazed by things animals can do, and that's the thing that human beings can do as a group of animals that is truly spectacular and gorgeous.
"Cheetahs can run really fast, and we love to watch footage of that, or watch nature shows for that reason, but if humans were going to be on a nature show, I think harmonising together and making one big sound would be definitely our superpower."
It's a superpower Kiwis can witness at her Auckland Arts Festival show next week – her first in New Zealand since 2010. "I have a full band, so we'll be pedal to the metal," she says. "Lots of singing."
Who: Neko Case performs as part of the Auckland Arts Festival
When: This Monday
Where: Spiegeltent, Aotea Square