By Andrea Warner
Basia Bulat wasn’t looking to become the face of the autoharp when she released her debut disc in 2005. Made mostly for friends, the self-titled EP featured a variety of stringed instruments, but most people seemed to immediately latch onto her affection for the archaic, seldom-seem zither, thanks in large part to her tendency to pose with one in photographs. The EP caught the attention of legendary U.K. indie label Rough Trade, which, in 2007, released Bulat’s critically acclaimed (and Polaris-nominated) full-length album, Oh My Darling.
Three years later, Bulat’s just released her much-anticipated follow-up, Heart of My Own, another sweetly charming strum-fest that showcases the Ontario native’s strong vocals (reminiscent of Natalie Merchant), and also features subtle detours into rock and roots territory, with plenty of drums, banjo, and violin. And, of course, there’s still the autoharp, which is never far from any conversation about Bulat.
Bulat spoke to WE over the phone last week, while the 2010 Winter Games were still in full swing.
How’s your day going?
I was watching the Olympics. It was great.
Do you have a favourite event?
I’m a little bit partial to watching snowboarding and half-pipe events, just because I used to snowboard. I actually used to teach snowboarding. (Laughs) Yeah, little known fact. I haven’t been in three or four years — it’s shameful, really. It was in high school when I was teaching.
So, it was snowboard and then autoharp.
(Laughs) Yeah. It was a logical progression.
Were you surprised by how well your album was received in this world of Nickelback appreciation, considering it features a lot of ukulele and autoharp?
I wasn’t really surprised because of the instruments I was playing, because I was also playing guitar and piano. I think my first record — I don’t think you can plan for people or expect people to like your music. You just have to be really grateful if they do. It’s not necessarily something where I was going, “Oh, I’m so shocked.” I was just really humbled by it. And for it to mean something to people, that’s a really big thing; that’s not something I would take for granted. I’ve had people come up to me after a show and tell me Oh My Darling has helped them through a really tough time, or different songs have helped them through this or that, and so that’s incredibly moving for me, because that’s what music does for me. To be able to do that for someone else is really incredible.
What’s been the steepest learning curve for you between Oh My Darling and Heart of My Own?
Oh, there are so many learning curves! (Laughs) I don’t think I’ve had it harder than anyone else. I think I work really hard, and I know a lot of artists and musicians who do, and I think a lot of people — it’s also the kind of thing you go through in any career, in a lot of ways. You try to make sure that what you’re doing is being true to yourself and feeling confident in your work. There were certain things for me: for example, I hadn’t played solo until my record had come out. I had this opportunity and it was necessary that I played solo; I was opening for Wintersleep on the East Coast, and I had a band for me for all these gigs, but I had to play this one solo show in Newfoundland. I was terrified because it was 1,000 people! (Laughs) But it’s a testament to how kind and generous the people of Newfoundland are; they made it seem like we were all in a living room together — it was so much fun.
What are the biggest differences between creating music on the road versus a space you call your home?
I still kind of feel like I’m making songs for my friends and myself, so, in some ways, that hasn’t changed. I think a lot of touring — it’s not at home, but just writing songs and performing feels like I’m at home. (Laughs) If that makes any sense. I’m just always writing, so I’m really lucky that I just keep having ideas for songs. I’m the kind of writer that, as soon as an idea comes into my head, I have to try and find a way to get it out, regardless of wherever I am.
Basia Bulat plays St. James Hall (3214 W. 10th), 7 pm. Tickets $16 from TicketWeb.ca