Basia Bulat’s new album builds from an academic interest in the written craft of Emily Dickenson and the Brönte sisters, but also reaches to the soaring vistas of the Yukon for inspiration.
“History is full of people who are critics as well as creators. I’m probably not very good at either, but am I trying to learn and get better,” said Bulat. “I love poetry and pop songs that have the ability to say so many things in such a short space. (It amazes me when) a writer can use a few lines to open up worlds.”
Written during a leave of absence from her Master’s thesis in English, Heart of My Own reflects a love of literature that began when Bulat’s mother gave her eight-year-old daughter a copy of Jane Eyre. Her favourite Emily Dickenson poems echo the rhythm of a church choir — a kind of written cadence also reflected in classic Motown, which draws on gospel singing.
Bulat’s interest in craft also comes out through the careful thought she put into sequencing the album. The album takes on a dramatic arc built around two sides (side A ends with Sparrow) that communicate a dynamic range of sound through ebbs and flows of arrangements and energy.
“(I wanted each song) to signal what would happen next — to draw that out,” she said. “(For example) the last line of the first song is, ‘Let them know the burden of your blues.’ Then song two is a fun song. I really like to be able to play that way with words, and hope that came across.”
Bulat’s songs — which veer from rollicking stompers like If Only You to the stripped-down coffeeshop folk of Sugar and Spice — are also inspired by her reaction to the Canadian north.
On her first visit to the Yukon, she was equally struck by the silence of the landscape and the tight-knit community. Far from home, Bulat and her brother (who has played drums for her for more than a decade) felt right at home. “I had a limited experience in the Yukon — we were only there a week — but people opened their homes to us, and were so open and giving, it was amazing,” she said.
“They treated us like family, which is amazing when you are so far from your own family.”