by Patrick Ogle
Her first record, Oh My Darling, was put together with no expectation it would be released. She says it is about adolescence and friendship. It features songwriting that any seasoned pro would envy.
“I put it together as a document for myself. The second I am focusing on different things, trying to maintain a sense of self and figure that out in the context of being a performer.” she says.
And Bulat writes wonderful music. Her second effort, Heart of My Own, proves the first was no fluke.
“Every single song I write comes about in a different way. Usually they are finished in my head before I write them down.” says Bulat.
She doesn’t, however, micromanage. She gives and takes with the people she works with when it comes to arranging music.
“In terms of arrangement I know how I want the song to feel. In terms of a drum beat being on one tom or another, or the high being opened or closed? I don’t micromanage that much,” she says.”The only way a song has life is if it can stand up to different arrangements and even different time signatures. Although some songs need a certain arrangement.”
But when is a song no longer that song anymore?
“When Cat Power covers Satisfaction is it still Satisfaction?” Bulat questions.
Well, it is, sort of still Satisfaction (I am sure Mick and company still get royalties!)
This leads to the first Basia Bulat slap down and it springs from a statement about how not just anybody can write a song. She disagrees vehemently (well, vehemently for a Canadian in that she brings it up) with this notion.
“People have become scared of that part of them. Everybody can sing. People have become scared. What I like about autoharp is anyone can play. It was meant for group singing, It is a leveler of sorts,” says Bulat. “What I like about folk music, the kind I listen to, kind you hear on Harry Smith Anthologies; they were not professionals, just people telling their stories. You hear people being themselves, Elizabeth Cotton singing about her life, singing about a freight train.”
Touring The World
Bulat has, obviously, played at a wide variety of venues but is there any particular sort of place that stands out?
“Every venue has its charm. What I like about touring is it is never routine. Every show is going to be different. It makes you a stronger player. You are playing music because you love playing music not because of some impossible goal.” she says.
Playing an outdoor show recently a “small” hitch developed. Some artists would have indignantly declined to continue. Bulat isn’t that sort of performer.
“It was quite beautiful and then the power on stage went out. People came up to the stage and everyone was singing along. It was great,” says Bulat. “If anybody is the kind of person who storms off stage they are going to have trouble with day to day stuff. You can’t storm off the state because life happens.”
One thing that makes any artist’s life easier on the road is bringing their own sound person and Bulat brings him up right away. Chris Bell is that sound person who tours with Bulat. No one ever mentions the sound guy. And the sound guy (or gal) can make your night great or horrible.
“He is phenomenal, We’ve worked together for a long time.” she says.
To Bulat live performance is what music is all about. It is something that inspires in a way recordings usually cannot.
“What’s always exciting about live performance—going to see shows as a kid—I was inspired by two things,” says Bulat. “I was inspired by the music they’d played and written but also the kind of people they are on stage. I was attracted to people who are honest, a kind of bravery I look up to. That isn’t one kind of personality.”
Sometimes these performers are extroverts. Sometimes they have horrible stage fright but there is something that binds these disparate personalities together.
“When something goes wrong on stage they care more about the audience.” says Bulat.
That really is a performer.
“It is all about the audience. I love to song for people. I am not going to perform and pretend they are not there,” says Bulat. “Playing by myself I need to get into a space where I can give an honest performance. “
Solo Performance Versus With A Band
“I used to be scared to play solo. I played with a big band starting out. I was scared but I really like it as well. It helped me as a player, especially with piano playing,” she says. “It is easy to hide behind a band. Solo you have to have your parts down. It makes me feel good that I can do it and don’t psych myself out.”
This isn’t to say she DOESN’T like playing with a band. It would cause family friction if she did. Her brother, Bobby, is her drummer. She considers all the musicians she plays with “incredibly good friends.”
Technology And The Folkstress
“I feel like I am at the equivalent of the printing press. I confess I am not able to tell where it is going. I hope I will be around to see it.” she says.
Bulat does searches online and finds people playing her songs.
“It is the most amazing thing.” she says.
And she doesn’t understand why it would bother anyone whose music gets similar treatment because “that’s what music is.”
“The Context of a song is beyond the control of people composing the music. I write in the pop song form,” says Bulat. “I cannot help it; it is the medium that appeals to me. I can’t write anything longer than 4 minutes.”
She listens, and has listened to other types of music-- Bartok for instance.
“That music stuck with me my whole life. We have no control over what a person living years later is going to feel about it.” she says. “There is no way for us to know. Our reaction is just a reaction, not a true judgment of the value.”
So get out your mics, fire up your Youtube account. Basia Bulat wants you to sing for her.