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In the Garden: Basia Bulat

On Her Latest Album, The Garden



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


Basia Bulat by Richmond Lam

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.

Cover Art for "The Garden"

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.

sM | You were a stand-up bassist in high school. How much did the orchestral setting influence your musical thinking?

BB ──
It’s hard to find people who had the easiest time in high school, but some are lucky enough to have a refuge, and playing in ensembles was my refuge. That’s why I particularly took to Béla Bartók, a Hungarian composer, because that was the first time I felt a connection to music that everybody was listening to. There’s an element to the melodies, scales, and chords in the music my Polish grandmother played that embodied the feeling of being present and excited. I guess I’ve always been chasing that feeling a little bit in my own music, but this was a way to return and renew that feeling.

Basia Bulat by Kalya Ramu

sM | How has Montréal inspired you and changed over the last decade?

BB ──
Maybe it’s because I’m not from Montréal, but I always romanticised it. I romanticised the music and poetry. Whether you wanna call it the universe’s kismet, something in this city collaborated with the universe to give me a lot of my songs and recordings. I found the love of my life and had my baby girl here, so I really fell in love with the city. Maybe it’s the energy stored in the mountains or in the streets. It’s a bigger feeling that sometimes I’m still on the outside of, but I think I’m fascinated by that.

sM | One year into it, what’s surprised you the most about motherhood?

BB ──
The one thing that the books don’t prepare you for is how much everything you thought you dealt with in your past comes back for round two. It’s about coming to terms with yourself in terms of your parenting approach, or what your fears and hopes are. It’s like a secret level unlocked in the video game of, “Okay. Everything I do she sees and internalises instantly,” and that reflects back to myself. What are the things I wanted to teach myself or learn that I’m still evolving? Like a garden, it’s still evolving.

Basia Bulat by Richmond Lam

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.

sM | What are you listening to and who inspires you at the moment?

BB ──
Because my daughter’s almost one now, I’m returning to a lot of the music I listened to from when she was born. I was actually listening to Jimmy Cliff when she was born. He is someone that has always inspired me because he sings with so much joy and pain. He has so much defiance, strength, and tenderness in the same phrase. 

I’m listening to a kitschy genre of Polish music called “disco polo”. I’m interested in exploring this because I haven’t found any women singers of this era of disco pol0. I’m also listening to Etta James, the latest José González, a Turkish singer named Özdemir Erdoğan, Roger — this incredible singer and love-song writer — and to João Gilberto’s Amoroso.

sM | What’s your favourite Legal Vertigo song?

BB ──
(Laughs) Probably “Feeling Finite” from his previous album, Tragic Future Film Star! If I have to pick one of the new ones that he’s working on, it’d be “Sunsets”. The chorus goes: “Looking at sunsets is free, or at least it used to be until recently when they made time into money,” and it’s really good.


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