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Standard Interviews: Basia Bulat
Standard Interviews is a daily series that showcases the creative individuals that are making Toronto a better and more vibrant place to live.

Tell us who you are and what you do for a living?

Well, I’m a musician (laughs)… I don’t know how to describe myself at this point, and I shy away from questions like that because I think it’s hard for anyone to define who they are.

How did you get into music? Specifically, how did you learn to play so many different instruments?

I grew up in was a very musical house; there were always instruments in our house.

My mom is classically trained musician. When she moved to Canada, she started teaching piano and classical guitar, and, growing up, my brother played a lot of percussion instruments.

So I wouldn’t say it’s a fascination. I feel like it’s par for the course to be curious: if you’re a songwriter or an artist, you’re always looking for different ways to express yourself.

I also don’t think I can play everything, though I’m definitely drawn to certain kinds of instruments and sounds. But I try to leave myself open to what might happen and I try to not shut off myself to any kind of possibilities.

I’ve always lived for music. I still do.

Is there a theme or preoccupation that ties together your work?

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on my latest record: some people see it as a continuation of my previous work, and some people see it as a totally new and different direction. I think it’s interesting that people have such widely different opinions of my work.

But I personally don’t think about that stuff too much. I make the music that I make and I try not to repeat myself. I’m always going to sound like I’ve sounded in the past, and any record I make is going to sound like one of my records.

That said, is there a theme that you like to explore with each new record?

I’ve always written from a personal space and about the things I care about.

With this record, though, I was a bit more open to writing material about a person I’ve lost.

That’s what this record is about.

At the same time, I’m loathe to say what each song is actually about. People can find different things in the music that I create and, as long as people can find something of themselves in my work, then that’s all I can ask for as a musician. That’s also what excites me about music.

There is a lot of music that I love where I don’t understand what the lyrics are saying, but I find a way to identify with it and connect with it.

Has it been difficult to reconcile where this record came from with where it has taken you?

This is not something that I will get over, and it’s not something that will ever be finished for me.

I made this record to remember.

People sometimes say that making music is cathartic. Catharsis implies an end to something. Of course, what I feel is not something that will never end. The song “Never Let Me Go” is coming from that place. My friendship and love for that person is always going to be there.

Is there a local neighbourhood that has inspired your music? If so, what is it about that neighbourhood that you find inspiring?

I grew up in Lakeshore. I spent most of my childhood being by the water everyday, and I feel like my childhood is always going to be with me. Growing up by the lake has been influential in ways that I’m probably not even aware of (laughs).

What do you miss about Toronto when you’re on tour?

The restaurants… though there are also a lot of great restaurants on tour. I think we’re very spoiled when it comes to great restaurants in Toronto. We have a great restaurant scene—if I can use the word scene that way.

Of course, I also miss my friends and my family.

What have you been listening to recently?

I was just listening to John Cale’s album Fear. I’m also listening to the latest Wye Oak record, and I’ve been listening to a lot of U.S. Girls. She actually recently moved to Toronto. Well, not that recently…

Do you know Slim Twig?

He sounds familiar, but I can’t place him right away.

He’s a musician from Toronto and U.S. Girls is the stage name of his wife Meg. She lives in Toronto now and is one of my favourite local musician.

You have to look up the song 28 Days.

What’s next for you personally and professionally?

I’m going to start working on a new record. I also get a chance to play Massey Hall soon, which is a dream come true for me. I’m excited and just a bit nervous for that.

The one thing that has been a nagging feeling both in my heart and my brain is that I never finished my masters degree in English. I promised myself I would do that in 2014. I have to finish it soon (laughs).

What can we expect from the Massey Hall performance?

I’m trying to put together something special and different from my regular show. I’m working on it right now. There will be new songs and old songs, and, well, maybe a brand new song, too.

I hope you’re not going to write a song during your soundcheck and try to teach it to your band just before the show.

(Laughs) I will not do that to them. No, I will not.

Photo of Basia Bulat courtesy of Caroline Desilets 

This interview has been edited and condensed.
Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.

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