Bif Naked Unplugs

Vancouver singer-songwriter Bif Naked is the very personification of the word tough.

Bif (real name Beth Torbert), 41, became a Canadian icon over the course of the past two decades thanks to the seemingly endless rotation of videos for singles including “Spaceman,” “I Love Myself Today” and “Lucky.” Her albums sold in droves while her eccentric persona earned her a loyal following of fans.

To say that the past five years of her life have been transitory would be a major understatement.

In January 2008, Bif was diagnosed with breast cancer, a stunning diagnosis for many of her fans who had come to know the artist as the very epitome of health: a staunch vegan and a person who regularly exercised.

Did she let cancer slow her down? No. In the midst of 17 rounds of chemotherapy, Naked decided to make a record (2009’s The Promise) and was given a clean bill of health soon afterwards. Knowing Bif’s determination, winning her battle with breast cancer was not a surprise to many.

Bif Naked is slated to take the stage at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre this coming Friday night. The show will be acoustic-based, featuring Bif accompanied by only a guitarist, giving her best-loved hits a new sound. She says that while fans might not be accustomed to seeing her perform acoustically, it’s the concert format that she has pursued for many of her shows over the course of the past two years.

“Throughout my career, I have always done acoustic shows but the bulk of the touring I have done over the past two years have been acoustic-based tours,” Naked said from her Vancouver home base.

“I’ve beat breast cancer, experienced kidney failure and had a heart operation during my 40 years on this planet so far. I still play rock shows but I’m at the point in my career where I don’t feel like always jumping around on stage doing high kicks,” she said, laughing.

While she doesn’t disavow the rambunctious rock’n’roll that she built her name upon, she says the acoustic format is primarily where her head is at these days. As such, it should be no surprise that she has an acoustic-based, 14-track record scheduled for release this coming December. The record will feature her hits in acoustic format alongside four or five new songs, including first single, “So Happy I Could Die.”

“The first single really is a joyful song and is a very light-hearted one at that. It’s not like head-banging music at all. It’s something that both my mother and my eight-year-old niece would enjoy,” she said.

Asked if she is at all concerned with turning her loyal fans against her with a potentially softer sound, Bif insists that the thought hasn’t crossed her mind.

“I believe that a lot of my fans, people who are fans of my records, know that I have always been an eclectic artist. I’m very fortunate that I have gotten away with doing what I’ve wanted to do. In my opinion, a good song is a good song.”

Bif says that with the benefit of hindsight, she can look back on her vocal delivery on The Promise and laugh a little knowing her vocals, attitude and more were being coloured by the fact that she was also fighting for her life. She says that her forthcoming record is a proud reflection of where she is both personally and professionally.

“I admit the first single might be a tad ironic but I do believe that when someone tries to better their life, hindsight of the situation becomes glaringly obvious when you look back on it. At the time I was fighting cancer, I wasn’t fearful of having been in that life or death situation until almost three years later. How can I not be grateful for things having gone as they have gone?”

With the release of a new record right around the corner, Bif has something else to look forward to: she shares that she has been writing her autobiography over much of the past two years. Though the release date is still to be confirmed, Bif says the process of writing a story about her life has been an immense undertaking.

“I had a very different kind of childhood. There are a lot of untold stories that are being revealed in the book so the past little while has consisted of my parents and I holding roundtable discussions where we are talking about these stories and facts. It has been pretty intense to do that while also making a record.”

Although some might be inclined to believe that Bif has a little too much on her plate, she will be the first to step up to take on more. She divulges that she tries to pop in to volunteer organizations such as the SPCA to lend her support in addition to some encouraging words.

She says that these acts of kindness stem from her experience of having endured cancer treatment. If there is some joy to be shared, Bif will be the first to jump into headfirst.

“While I was going through chemotherapy, I started volunteering as a peer-to-peer support option for other chemo patients. The people I talked to were both fearful and embarrassed of their condition. People tend to isolate themselves when they are in cancer care and I think a big reason behind that is because our society is so focused on health and wealth. It’s not right,” she says.

“I’m like the lady in the elevator who won’t shut up. If I can do something to encourage or stimulate dialogue between people, I am going to do it.”

Article published in the October 15, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript