A few days after the release of her second album, Heart of My Own, Basia Bulat has just one day of downtime at home in Toronto between shows in New York and Europe and her Canadian tour. It's a lifestyle she's accustomed to now: "I wrote most of the songs while travelling," she says. "I've been on tour for the better part of two years."
Bulat's touring schedule brought her to the Yukon for the Dawson City Music Festival one summer. Few Canadians get a chance to venture so far north---the distance and expense in getting there are prohibitive. "It's great I was able to go for my music," Bulat says. She found the landscape and the experience "fortifying" and was struck by the quiet up there.
"It's really far from anywhere I can call home. The light is incredible," she says. Bulat found a clarity within the landscape and silence.
"All my life I wanted to go as far north as possible. I don't know why I love it so much---it's always been a fascination for me," she says. Dawson City doesn't see much darkness in the summer months. "We arrived at 11:30pm, got off the plane and it was broad daylight. It was really insane." She says, "Most of us are used to living in cities with a lot more at our disposal...Dawson City is a full-service city, so it was kind of easing me into the idea of being up north. I'd like to go further north, to stay out longer."
During the recording of her first album Oh My Darling, Bulat lost her voice and was forced to use her rough, early takes of songs; with more time and money, Heart of My Own enjoyed a more leisurely recording.
"Playing live so much had an effect on the album---there's a performative element to the songs," Bulat says. She worked with a number of different musicians, providing everything from percussion to brass to banjo, and recording some songs solo. She wrote the songs for her first album with an eye to what would be fun to play with other musicians at her home; now, Bulat's working more towards writing "songs that work no matter what the context.
"In a way, you're always writing for your friends and family. I'm trying to think about what makes a song work, whatever the arrangement."
Last time Bulat played Halifax, at the 2008 Pop Explosion, she told us she was about to see one of her long-time idols, American folk singer Odetta, who passed away shortly afterwards. Bulat did make the show, and had a chance to meet her afterwards. "I was so emo," she raves. "I was in tears when I met her, getting to tell her how much her music meant to me...she said, 'You've just got to sing with your own voice.'" The meeting coloured Bulat's album; she went into the studio to begin recording shortly after, and meeting Odetta "made me really excited about everything," she says wistfully.