Basia Bulat Carves New Paths With Good Advice

Photo by Anthony Seck
Photo by Anthony Seck

Making a career in music has provided Montreal’s Basia Bulat with a host of unique opportunities in the nine years since she released her debut effort, Oh, My Darling.

Not even 10 days ago, the artist had the distinct pleasure of performing at Switzerland’s prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, which this year alone, is hosting the likes of Van Morrison, ZZ Top, Santana, and, Herbie Hancock, among others.

Speaking with us a week before she was to jet overseas for her Montreux performance, the magnitude of being invited to participate at the festival was not lost on Bulat:

“It still sometimes feels like I’m getting away with something, but am bound to be found out at any moment,” she says, laughing. “Really though, it’s nothing short of amazing. It is surreal experiences like this that drives home how lucky I am that I get to make music for a living. I hope I never lose that perspective.”

While she pulls into Metro Moncton for a sold-out performance supporting City & Colour at Casino NB tonight, Bulat is accustomed to headlining her own shows.

Over the last decade, the indie-folk inspired Bulat has crafted an oeuvre of music that has earned her the respect and support of acclaimed artists such as The National, Nick Cave, and Arcade Fire.

Born in Toronto to Polish immigrants, Bulat grew up surrounded by music, thanks to her mother who taught piano to a number of area students. While she may have cut her teeth to the likes of Sam Cooke on the local oldies station, it was Stevie Nicks, Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny and Odetta that provided Bulat the inspiration to make music of her own.

Although some parents would be likely to bristle at the suggestion their child was going to pursue a career in music, Bulat insists her mother was nothing but supportive of her decision:

“My mother immigrated to Canada when Poland was still being dominated by the former Soviet Union. All she really wanted was for her children to have the opportunities that she didn’t have when she was growing up. That meant whether I wanted to be a dentist or a musician, she would have been there to support me, no matter what.”

Bulat’s says her mother’s support of her children was so unconditional that it even went to some rather unusual extremes.

“My brother got into punk music, and she took it on herself to research the best ways to help keep his hair intact for as long as possible. That’s the kind of person she is.”

While Bulat might have saved her mother a little work by opting to sport a more traditional hair style than her brother, her decision to embark on a path of making music was not something that she had necessarily set out to do in the earliest days of her career.

“I had been a part of all sorts of orchestras, choirs and stage bands growing up. At university, I had begun making music with friends and fell in love with the idea of cataloguing my musical adventures along the way.”

Just months after finishing her first collection of recordings, she received a call from an independent label that expressed interest in releasing her music.

Bulat hasn’t looked back since. Following her 2007 debut, Bulat released Heart Of My Own in 2010, followed by the Polaris Prize-nominated Tall Tall Shadow in 2013.

Her most recent effort is Good Advice, which was released this past February. After having recorded the bulk of her studio efforts in Montreal, Bulat acknowledges that she was looking to get out of her comfort zone for the making of her latest album.

The musician decamped to Louisville, Kentucky where she entered the recording studio with Producer Jim James, best-known as the leader of acclaimed indie rock band My Morning Jacket. The two had initially met while they were performing at the Austin City Limits Festival in 2011. Two years later, Bulat opened a series of shows for the singer, where she shares their friendship had been solidified.

“The goal in the making of this new album was definitely to do something I hadn’t done before. I wanted to remove myself from familiar spaces, and just get far away from everything and everyone I knew,” Bulat says.

“I had been in touch with Jim, and had sent him some songs with the hopes that he might be interested in working with me. What drew me to want to work with Jim is the distinct voice he seems to lend to every project he works upon.”

Birthed over three visits to Kentucky, Good Advice is unquestionably one of Bulat’s most pop-oriented offerings to date, an album that allowed her songwriting to radiate and truly come into its own.

“I’ve been asked how you get over the fears and trepidation of doing something different,” Bulat says. “The answer is that once you do it once, it isn’t difficult. It tends to be more a matter of getting out of your own way. You have to put it all out there when the tape starts rolling. The great thing about working with Jim as a producer was that he was there as a friend and as a producer. When you’re making a record with someone who understands you, you never have to worry about being made into something you’re not.”

What: Basia Bulat, special guest to City & Colour
When: Wednesday July 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
The show is sold out