Basia Bulat talks influences behind new LP ‘The Garden’
Basia Bulat is releasing The Garden, a new album of orchestral reimaginings of songs from throughout her discography, due out Friday (2/25) digitally with a physical release to follow on March 25 via Secret City. Basia produced the album's sixteen tracks with Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Beirut) and they feature string arrangements from Owen Pallett, Paul Frith, and Zou Zou Robidoux, performed by violinists John Corban and Tomo Newton, violist Jen Thiessen, harpist Sarah Page, and Robidoux on cello. The lush, gorgeous arrangements flesh out the songs, bringing new life into them, and you can hear The Garden versions of "Fables" and the title track below.
Ahead of the album's release, we asked Basia about its influences, and she gave us a list that includes songs, albums, her garden, and more. Read her list, complete with commentary, below.
Basia canceled her February and March European and UK tour dates due to the pandemic, but she still has shows scheduled in April, including a few supporting Mt. Joy. See all of her upcoming dates below.
BASIA BULAT: 10 INFLUENCES BEHIND THE GARDEN
1. Bjork At the Chapel with the Brodsky Quartet
A friend gave me a burned CD bootleg of this concert when I was in high school and I still have it! Bjork has always been an inspiration to me as a singer and songwriter, and the energy of this live recording, almost burning through the speakers like all her albums do, is something that still thrills me years later.
2. Willie Nelson - Spotlight on Willie Nelson LP
One of the things that got me through the isolation of being pregnant during the pandemic was going through all my old folk and country LPs looking for weird or different versions of the same song but sung by the same artist. Some of my favourite artists cover the same standard a few times over their career, and some rework their own songs a few times too. I think of that as different than changing the arrangement for live performance, because a recorded version usually is seen by fans as ‘the’ version... so I've always loved that this isn't always the case for folk and country. Especially with the older records, I love how it feels like this unspoken rule that the song gets to have a life of its own and decide how and when it goes dormant/blooms, even within its own writer’s catalog.
Willie Nelson is the ultimate example of this kind of thing to me because so many people have covered him and had hits, he’s famous for his covers of standards, and he’s done new versions of his own tunes too - so I was digging into his back catalog a lot while making the album. He’s got several versions of “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” recorded in different eras and revisits other tunes on a few different records... this one version of Merle's “Today I Started Loving You Again" is so different from another version he did which came out years later...
I was really obsessed with this one while I was recording The Garden, like it fell through the cracks of time and space and landed in my apartment to tell me something.
3. My little backyard garden:
Spending a lot of time digging in the actual dirt at the same time as working on this album made me consider the whole practice of going back and re-recording the same song as a kind of gardening instinct... tending to multiple versions of the same tune over a lifetime, the same way classical musicians still get excited to play the same Bach pieces for decades, or how Walt Whitman kept revising Leaves of Grass...
4. Bela Bartok - Romanian Folk Dances
I played the Romanian Folk Dances in the orchestra class when I was a teenager, and I still remember the excitement of being part of this big group of musicians playing these beautiful and haunting melodies from Eastern Europe. I think I’ve tried to chase a bit of that feeling again my whole life, and I always come back to different interpretations of these pieces.
Some versions online:
5. João Gilberto: Amoroso LP
I was listening to this album a lot a few years ago and it came back into a very heavy rotation while I was pregnant and working on this album. I love the orchestral arrangements and while they are very different from what my album sounds like, just the feeling of the vocals being embraced by the orchestra, and the listener being swept away with the arrangements in a gentle tide … all of it was an inspiration for what was I was hoping to do with my recording session.
6. Lhasa - "Con Toda Palabra" song
Lhasa was an incredible singer and artist that I had the privilege to meet before she passed - I am very inspired by her work and her life. This song in particular and the way the vocals and strings play together was an inspiration for how I wanted to approach making The Garden. For everything to feel very physical, as if her vocal and the violins are spiraling around you as you’re listening.
7. Cat Power - "What The World Needs Now" cover
I’m a big fan of Cat Power and really love her covers albums. I’m so inspired by her fearlessness in her interpretations. The arrangement in this song is so playful and beautiful, and it's one I came back to a lot over the past couple years.
8. Marek Grechuta - "Dni ktorych nie znamy" song
This is a famous Polish singer and poet that my mother got me into as a teenager - I love his music and this song in particular is such a classic. This song is about how "the only thing that matters now are the days we don’t know yet." The spirit of those words and of how the strings play off of them was an influence on me as I’ve kept coming back to it.
9. George Harrison - Early Takes Volume 1 compilation
I fell in love with this compilation when it initially came out and I listened to it a lot as well when I was working on this album. The intimacy and warmth that glows through it, and I actually prefer a lot of these recordings to some of their ‘definitive’ versions/counterparts.
10. The Silk Road - NHK Documentary, 1980
I watched this documentary while I was pregnant and working on my album, and came back to it again during the first few weeks after my daughter was born. The soundtrack by Kitaro is ambient and new age, but the peaceful and enchanting feeling of going back in time as well as being outside of time that I had while watching it was such an inspiration.
BASIA BULAT: 2022 TOUR
04/03 – Toronto, ON @ History *
04/04 – Toronto, ON @ History *
04/05 – Ottawa, ON @ Bronson Centre *
04/06 – Montréal, QC @ Corona Theater *
04/13 – St. Davids, ON @ Ravine Vineyard
04/14 – Paris, ON @ DT Concert Series
*Supporting Mt. Joy