The first thing you'll notice about Basia Bulat is that she's gorgeous–but don't hold it against her.
In this age of cosmetically enhanced superstars, beauty has become suspect, especially in the indie world. So when someone shows you a CD cover depicting a young woman with corn-silk hair, big blue eyes, and a white-peach complexion, it's understandable that you might cynically conclude that the music industry has finally cloned the perfect alterna-pop princess.
Not so, however. In my quest to find out more about Bulat, I stumbled upon a YouTube clip of her appearance at this summer's LOLA Festival, in London, Ontario. And, based on her performance of "Before I Knew", the ukulele-spiced kickoff track from her debut CD, Oh My Darling, Bulat's the real thing. After all, you can manufacture good looks, but it's much harder to counterfeit a good time.
"That was a really great show, because pretty much everyone we knew was able to come up and sing and sort of dance around," says the Toronto-raised singer-guitarist. "It was just really fun. I mean, I try and bring as many friends along as I can, but it's not too often that we get everyone we know who can play a song to come up and play, so that was cool."
As we speak, Bulat's in a tour van, en route to a show in Windsor, Ontario. After that, she'll head west, accompanied by Holly Coish on uke and vocals, pianist Mike Javorski, violist Allison Stewart, and her brother Bobby Bulat on drums. She'll also be sharing the stage with her old friends the Great Lake Swimmers, as well as Owen Pallett's violin-driven Final Fantasy, so chances are good that she'll be able to duplicate some of that LOLA show's giddy sense of play.
"I'm sure that we'll get up to some shenanigans," she says, adding that she really enjoys taking an anything-goes approach to live performance. "I haven't really thought about it in an academic way, but I definitely know from my own personal experience that it's fun to experiment with other people and see what they can bring to your songs–and what you can bring to their songs."
It's unlikely, however, that Bulat's on-stage high jinks will devolve into artistic self-indulgence. The 24-year-old singer claims that she led a relatively sheltered life during her formative years; apparently, the Bulat family radio was permanently tuned to an oldies station, so she grew up blissfully unaware of black metal, gangsta rap, and screamo. The result is that her songs tend to be catchy, sunny, and concise.
"It's really hard for me to write a song that's longer than two-and-a-half minutes," she says, laughing. "I tend to gravitate towards shorter pop songs with little hooks here and there. I'm not sure if it'll always be that way, but I definitely appreciate a well-written song–and handclaps!"
Come to think of it, who doesn't?
Basia Bulat opens for the Great Lake Swimmers and Final Fantasy at Richard's on Richards on Saturday (October 20).