Basia Bulat”s modest start turns a world on its head

Sep 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

Without care, concern or even a plan to use her Carter Family brand of country folk to conquer the world, Basia Bulat is making indelible love songs on a small scale.

In fact, her whole career was initiated quite quietly. 

“When I first started, I was just taking some of my student loans and recording for fun with my friends,” she says. 

Two important caveats: Apparently in Canada, student loans are distributed a teeny bit differently than they are here in the States, and “friends” being indie super-producer Howard Bilerman, formerly of Arcade Fire. “It wasn’t something that I intended as a wide-scale serious release on a major label or anything like that,” she says of the fruits of that labor. 

Photo by Rob Nelson: Basia Bulat comes to the 930 Listening Room on Thursday, Sept. 11.
Photo by Rob Nelson: Basia Bulat comes to the 930 Listening Room on Thursday, Sept. 11.

Rough Trade picked up her stunning debut Oh, My Darling and sent it around the world. The unexpected critical and commercial success of the album — it’s been short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys — doesn’t change the buoyancy of its content, the utter honesty of which Bulat likens to a photo album.

“It’s reflective of the fact that it’s for the people that are endearing to me and dear to me,” she says. Her charming, if not rapturous incantations of love, loss, innocence, yearning and loyalty are told in an old-fashioned, organic arrangement of acoustic instruments. The songs’ sprightly propulsion fits nicely on the back porch while grand, sweeping choruses and swelling melodies imbue these chamber-musings with a cinematic flare that borders on epic. 

It also helps that Bulat takes inspiration from the literary world.

“Things come out the way they come out, and it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly they come from,” she says, meaning there’s no sense asking if that line or couplet is drawn from Dickinson, Yeats, Beckett, Faulkner or contemporary Canadian writers like Al Purdy or Thomas King. Even among the work of these giants, Bulat’s own prose holds its own. 

On Thursday, Bulat will add new material to her Louisville set. “I like playing new songs in concert just to test out how they work,” she says, “test out how they feel when I play them. I think it’s a good thing. See if they live.”

Otherwise, Bulat teases, the only way to hear new songs before the spring ’09 release of her follow-up is in concert. “As long as the next batch is better than the first batch, that’s all that matters,” she says. “And that’s a good goal to have: always striving to grow.” 

Shawn Telford, a Louisville native, is a freelance writer in Seattle. 

Basia Bulat w/ Neva Geoffrey

Thursday, Sept. 11

930 Listening Room

930 Mary St.


$8 (adv.), $10 (door); 7 p.m.