After cancelling the first four dates of her tour in Spain and France, due to the ashes of Eyjafjallajokull, the Luminaire (Kilburn, London) was the 1st stop of Basia Bulat’s European Tour, a tour that, after the UK, will take the Canadian folk Singer onto the roads of Europe across Germany, Sweden and Poland…
Twelve hours flight from Canada and a driving journey from Paris later, Basia finally made it to Kilburn with just an hour to spare before the show. Backed by the sole ukulele of Holly Jane Rancher, as opposed to a full band set up as originally planned, once again a change of plan due to the moods of the Icelandic volcano, Basia performed a lovely 1h30 set without a sign of weariness. As the venue was emptying slowly and the Autoharp was being packed back in its case, Basia gave FFS a bit of her time for an interview.
How was the gig tonight?
Yeah really enjoyed it, especially after those few days waiting, we finally made it….it’s always a pleasure to come to Europe to play and London especially…for some reason, I always get nervous before playing here….but as soon as the show starts, the public is always very responding and cheerful, I love playing here.
Your first album “Oh My darling” was recorded to keep “audible memories” of your time in London (Ontario) and Toronto few years ago. This first LP was very well received by the critics (Polaris Prize nomination in 2008). Were you surprised by this reception?
Very much so…I think you can never make anything with that kind of intention in mind…I was really humbled by this response, really honored by it…at the time I was playing music with my friends for the love of it and I just felt like keeping a trace of it and if people seem to be responding positively to the music that’s great.
Did you see it as a career then?
Music is something I’ve always done, as long as I can remember. I think I was 3 years old when I was having my first piano lesson and it’s been part of me ever since. I guess I just think of it as something like breathing or sleeping…just as a part of my life… you know you don’t get into music cause you’re bad at Maths or carpentry….I can’t go a day without playing something, an instrument of any kind…either a piano or a guitar and getting recognition for this first album really made me realise: “this is what I really love to do”….
Following on this acclaimed debut, did you feel any pressure when releasing your second Album “Heart of My Own”? Did you feel that people might be expecting something from you now?
In general, this is part of the process of growing up that people will expect things from you and your reaction to that is the only thing you have control of….this is certainly something that I have learnt with time, how things can affect me. Most of “Heart of my Own” was written while I was on the road for my first tour, I’m always writing while on tour, songs are coming all the time and inspiration comes from everywhere.
Is being on the road where you get most of your inspiration from?
People approach writing different ways, but for me, there’s not one process… it’s different for every song really and there’s a part of it that you don’t control. I guess it’s about reaching this place in your mind where you kind of let go a bit of self criticism, control, self doubt and become more open minded about any ideas that might come to you. It’s sometimes a place more difficult to reach when there are a lot of distractions; solitude and quietness help to allow your mind to this place.
In this way, I found the landscapes very fortifying and inspiring…the sheer generosity and warmth of the people I met along the way were also a source of inspiration for writing this album.
You play so many instruments, just tonight you witched from guitar, ukulele, autoharp to piano… Did you just pick these on the way?
Sort of but It’s more kind of “touche a tout” sort of thing…I’m not a virtuoso of any kind but when an instrument is in front of me, I just have to pick it up and have a go….
Did you actually study music?
My mum was a piano teacher and she was always very encouraging me and my brother towards music. I did piano lessons when I was a kid but I quit cause I didn’t have the discipline…I think I was too terrified of my teacher (who wasn’t my mum by the way…), it was a classic conservator and when you’d mess up on a note, this particular teacher would actually weep the cap pen at you….I guess you learn this way and it didn’t stop me from playing music.
There are no influences listed on your Myspace page. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Until I was about thirteen, I was listening pretty much to one oldies station……and that’s including everything “old”…from stacks to Motown, The kinks, The Beatles, Bob Dylan……I listened to a lot of Odetta…out of everyone I would say Odetta and Sam cooke have been two of my main inspirations.
What about current artists?
I listen to a lot of current music as well, it can be very varied …I think I just look for people who are unafraid of singing their own voice…Daniel Johnston, Joanna Newson, Robin Pecknol, Tony Dekker from Great Lake Swimmers, Sam Beam from Iron and Wine…they all are amazing artists….All these people have discovered themselves through their voice.
There has been an important revival of the folk scene for the past few years, especially in London; is this something you’re aware of?
I wasn’t aware that it was something growing to this extent and I never really thought of it as scene to be honest…in Canada, you just to meet artists who play a lot of different thing, you play music and tour together without necessarily thinking that you’re part of a particular scene…
Do you feel part of this scene?
Hmmm, I think there is something a bit futile in thinking of it as a “scene”, it would almost kind of put a limitation on the kind of music I might make or other artists might make but I guess there’s very little you can do about how things are being portrayed in the media or how people are going to perceive these things. As an artist, you just hope that your songs are strong enough to transcend any particular style or arrangements… To me, the word scene implies the idea of something static and unchanging. I feel, I hope I could move into different genres…who knows my third album might be a metal album…
You’re inspired by being on the road… Have you got anything in the pipeline?
Yeah I m sure something will come out of it but you need time for the songs to reveal themselves…
What was your dream last night?
I didn’t get to dream last night as I didn’t sleep, I was on the plane from Toronto and couldn’t get any sleep…
Oh yes… The first part of your tour was cancelled because of the volcano and you couldn’t fly to Europe… Did that make you angry at volcanoes?
Nooo! These are the things that are out of your control… the shows can always be rescheduled and it’s a good thing sometimes to remind yourself that you’re small compared to Mother Nature.
Interview: Ludovic Lacolonge