In the Garden Pt.3: Basia Bulat
On Her Latest Album, The Garden
BY SHERENE ALMJAWER | May 6, 2022
The Canadian folk artist talks Montréal, motherhood, and finding new music in old lyrics.
Basia Bulat - by Richmond Lam
For over 15 years, Canadian folk singer-songwriter Basia Bulat has imbued her music with expressive lyricism and a uniquely strung voice capable of flooring an audience of any size. Her musicality is informed by various influences, from classical — having played the upright bass in her high school’s ensemble — to Polish disco. Since the release of her self-titled, independent EP in 2005, Bulas has gathered an international fanbase equally devoted to her first songs on ukulele as they are to the songs on her latest album, which are accompanied by a string orchestration. This album, The Garden, is a reimagining of some of the most celebrated songs from the artist’s discography, projected through the looking glass of the artist’s stylistic evolution. It also marks her first project since having a baby a year ago with her husband, who is also a musician (under the moniker Legal Vertigo). Bulat joins smART Magazine from Montréal to talk about how The Garden welcomes many versions of spring and celebrates a city that’s inspired her music.
sM | How did you arrive at the idea to recreate the songs on The Garden for string instrumentation?
BB — I was a bit isolated over the past couple years and had a lot of old jazz, folk, and country compilation vinyls that I was listening to. I was struck by how a lot of my favourite artists had a tendency to revisit songs and play with them. For some of these songs, we have larger orchestral arrangements to create the feeling that I love about chamber ensembles, quartet, and classical music, where each instrument has their own part and they all play together in conversation.
A lot of these songs had strings, but as the accoutrement; now, we give the strings the heart of the song to carry on the message. In a song like “Infamous”, the strings are the rocket fuel to send the song into space. With the version of the songs in The Garden, it’s like we’re looking down on Earth, or onto our past selves. I love both arrangements, but in terms of that time warp feeling that we all had in 2020, and because I was pregnant, I was conscious of changes. I am the same, but also different. It was a really fun way to explore all of that.
Basia Bulat - by Kalya Ramu
sM | Speaking of gardens, do you have a favourite one?
BB — The garden I spent the most time in is my mother’s. She and my grandmother taught me everything I know in that garden. My grandmother taught me how to make flower crowns out of clovers in the grass. She’s a real green thumb. Her and my mother lived in an apartment building in Poland and, in their village at the time, there were community plots. There was beauty and survival in her methods of gardening and nothing was wasted. There was a kind of impulse to come back every day to check on everything, to be very dedicated to details. So, that’s the one I spent the most time in and the one that I love, probably, the most as well. As a kid, I planted trees with my brother there. We bought a live Christmas tree one year, and now it’s 30 feet high. There are a lot of memories in that garden.