Interview: Basia Bulat
There are plenty of reasons other than the Winter Olympics to set your sights on the second-largest country in the world right now. Canadian contributions to the indie music scene have always been healthy, but in the last decade they’ve become downright probiotic. Basia Bulat’s holistic presence was first felt two years ago when her debut, Oh, My Darling, dropped here in the United States. After two years of touring and writing, her sophomore effort, Heart Of My Own, is out. And it’s good.
When asked how the follow-up compares to the “audible memory” of her debut she talked about a lot more time both in the studio and working the songs out in performance.
“I had actually performed most of the [new] songs live before going into the studio to record them. I still think of albums as a ‘document’ of what’s happening in that moment, so in some ways that hasn’t changed.” But the poise and patient attention really has — at least to this listener. Where “Darling” was like watching a fearless child enjoy the joy of running, “Heart” is more about seeing the same kid show up a few years later for her first race. And kicking ass.
“I think with this album the fact that I had spent so much time performing probably contributes to the development of the sound. I also think that the lyrics on this album necessitated the performance itself to be stronger, more in control, although times giving way to being a bit out of control.”
I second that, but there’s still a distinction. On Darling, tunes with the most abandon like “In The Night” or “I Was A Daughter” had a personal feel, whereas on the new album the tracks most likely to drive an audience to its dancing feet are more universal. The sample tune “Gold Rush” from Basis’s website is a prime example. There’s still the childlike intimacy with the subjects, but the backdrop, the gold rush, adds history and weight — sort of like I’m sure it was beautiful to see Gretzky skate as a teenager, but it was moving to see him skate for Canada a few years later.
When asked about her process, the multi-instrumentalist played no favorites.
“[The instrument used to write songs] changes all the time, really! Sometimes I’ll start on the autoharp but finish a song of the piano, or vice-versa. There’s no particular favorite.” The constant it seems then is her voice. Her pipes produce a throaty but angelic mix, but she “didn’t set out to have my voice sound one way or another. I’m sure listening to Sam Cooke songs over and over as a kid, and then being completely obsessed with every Odetta album I own, and the fact that I love the Carter Family” all influenced the evolving result you hear today.
As to where she fits in the Canadian pantheon of independent music she still gives props first to London, Ontario.
“[It’s] a small but extremely close-knit and supportive community. So, I’m extremely grateful for that support early on. Now that I am touring I cross paths with musicians from all over. I’m also lucky that in Toronto, where I live now, there are lots of wonderful musicians like Great Lake Swimmers, Owen Pallett, and Katie Stelmanis.”
Basia is currently (or perhaps perennially) touring The Great White North and here in the States.