Basia Bulat knows there are a few different ways the phrase “up north” can be defined. To her, heading north doesn’t mean travelling to Saint-Michel, or Laval, or even to your cottage in the Laurentians.
“I always thought it was so funny people considered a few hours outside the city to be so far north,” she said, laughing. “This country is so much bigger than that and so much more expansive.”
Bulat has always had a fixation with the North, so when she was offered a spot in the Dawson City Music Festival in the Yukon two years ago, she jumped at the chance to go.
The musician had studied English in university and the literature lover in her is attracted to Dawson City’s history of creative work. But Bulat’s interest is based on more than just the written work.
“I think I’m really attracted to the idea of being very self-reliant, and to have a lot of independence and some solitude in such a beautiful space,” she explained, referring to the remoteness of the Yukon, and its inhabitants’ resourcefulness.
Her trip not only inspired many songs on her new album, Heart of My Own, but many of the photos for the album art were taken during one of her favourite days in the Yukon when her host drove her, her brother and two friends to the Tombstone Mountains for a picnic.
Bulat said her fascination with the North hasn’t been satiated yet.
“I’ve stayed friends with a few people up there and I want to go back. I still want to go all over the Northwest Territories and northern Quebec, northern Ontario &- they’re all places I really want to go. So it’s not really over.”
Most of the songs on her sophomore album, released in January, were written while she was on the road. So it makes sense that listening to the album feels like being on a journey, staring out the window on a road trip and watching the landscape go by.
But Bulat doesn’t like to talk about her writing process for fear of over-thinking it and making songwriting a conscious, rather than natural, activity. She also doesn’t think the location where she writes her songs has an impact on what they sound like.
“Looking at the album, there are a few songs that I wrote after I stopped touring. Are they any different [from the ones I wrote on the road]? I don’t know. I think I picked the songs that went on the record that told the best story together,” she explained.
That story is sometimes upbeat, sometimes melancholic. Bulat plays seven different instruments, but it is her voice that stands out. To prepare for the album she turned to a vocal coach. In “Sparrow” it’s soft and serene, accompanied only by a ukulele. In “If It Rains” it’s soulful and solemn, and in “Run” her voice is powerful and wrought with urgency.
Though there are no planned stops anywhere north of Edmonton on her current tour, she is looking forward to coming to Montreal, where she recorded both her debut, Oh My Darling, and Heart of My Own. So far, she’s played in New York, London and Paris, and she’s now making her way across Canada and the United States.
Bulat toured all over the world after her Polaris Prize-nominated Oh My Darling came out in 2007, but she doesn’t mind being on the road so often; the travels bring her to what she enjoys most.
“I mean, it’s a real gift to be able to perform, people are just so great. It’s just to fun be able to play,” said Bulat. “I’m in a spot where I’m really not tired of it at all, I’m really excited for it.”
Basia Bulat will be performing Feb. 12 at L’Astral.