Over the last eight years, Basia Bulat has come into her own. From her start as uber music fan and perhaps mildly reluctant would be performer in London, the Etobicoke born Bulat has blossomed into a wildly inventive and creative musical force with a voice that’s both delicate and powerful, graceful and dextrous. A truly engaging performer that has seen her in Hamilton playing solo at Daniel Lanois’ Greenbelt Harvest Picnic or at Hamilton Place’s Great Hall with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Bulat returns to Hamilton with her first collection of new songs in three years to play one of the more intimate venues that helped spark her musical career.
“I never thought of three years as such a long time but everyone’s been asking where I’ve been — I guess it’s nice to be missed,” smiles Bulat. “Some artists like the Beatles put out an album nearly every year but for me, it was important for me to feel confident with what I was putting out — something that felt true to me. I actually had a whole bunch of songs that I was working on and then I stopped and started over entirely. It doesn’t matter the time between records but more about feeling good about that record.
“I ended up writing songs that I wanted to be honest about the difficulties of losing somebody that is really close to you but I also wanted something that would lift me up so that’s kind of what this record is for me,” adds Bulat. “There are different kinds of stories and I don’t think a listener has to know all of the details. Everything you need to know is in the songs.”
For Tall Tall Shadow, Bulat changed midstream in song selection as well as changing her approach to recording. Her past two albums were made in Montreal’s analog–based Hotel 2 Tango studio but this time Bulat co–produced the album with Mark Lawson and (Arcade Fire’s) Tim Kingsbury with a more modern approach and in spaces like a legion hall in east Toronto.
“I knew I wanted to do something different, I tried on a lot of different hats,” explains Bulat. “I was really into the idea of using a location to record. We looked at a lot of places but when I walked into this legion that looked like a dance hall with the high ceilings and great windows, it looked like I was going to a prom in the ‘70s and I knew I had to record there. We recorded a lot of the bed tracks there in just over a week and did the rest in a variety of studios and churches. I had two records on tape done in one studio and to do the recordings this way — I’d never done it before and so it made the whole project exciting.
“I come from a more acoustic analog world but people grow and change and this is where the autoharp goes electric,” continues Bulat. “The first instrument I started on was piano and for this one I wrote a lot of songs on piano and the natural extension of that is going to the keyboard and synthesizer. It felt like a new language and I was excited by all the possibilities that grew from there. Anything that in the past where I might have been hesitant about or thought that maybe my voice doesn’t belong there ñ that’s where I want to go now.”
Stretching herself musically, Bulat doesn’t disappoint diehard fans of the subtle cadence that has fuelled her previous acoustic folk but with songs like “Promise Not To Think About Love” and the title track, Bulat engages new musical territory with great effect. With that said, having a song that might fit on an Arcade Fire album, doesn’t mean Bulat has lost her identity.
“I always wanted to make something that felt danceable,” laughs Bulat. “I think even if I make a record with synthesizers, it’s still going to sound like me. I’m inspired by my friends. I’m inspired by any musician who is always changing and taking risks. They’re not repeating themselves and that’s exciting. To be able to do that, I just feel real lucky to be making music in this world. I hope I never not get excited about music because at that point, it might be time to quit.”
Basia Bulat’s charm and exuberance are the qualities fans find endearing in her music and her live performance. While Tall Tall Shadow marks a hard year for the artist, Basia Bulat comes out smiling and engaging and this time, perhaps with a little more of a dance in her step.
“From my first show in Hamilton opening for Hayden years ago to performing with the Philharmonic at Supercrawl and at Hamilton Place and the Greenbelt Picnic where I got to sing backups for Emmylou Harris that was just so surreal, I’ve had some pretty special shows in Hamilton so it’s always exciting for me to visit,” says Bulat. “Hamilton is pretty awesome.”
“Right now, I’m touring all the time and ramping up for the summer festivals but it’s always good to remember where you came from and I like playing the smaller rooms and switching things up all the time,” adds Bulat. “Of course I’m playing a lot of the songs from my other two records but this is a chance to present them in a little more of a new way with my new songs. It keeps everything fresh — it keeps making music exciting. Time and time again, music has saved my life so I hope it keeps doing that. V
Basia Bulat plays this Saturday March 8 at the Casbah with Ash and Bloom.
Click on basiabulat.com