Those eager for a follow-up to Basia Bulat's 2007 debut, Oh, My Darling, can rest easy: it's coming, probably sometime this fall. And while that's approximately a year later than planned, the singer's enthusiasm suggests that the wait's going to prove worthwhile. Reached on her cellphone while shopping in a Toronto bookstore, Bulat reports that the past two years have been a period of growth and change for her—and that she had to put her work in the studio on hold while enjoying the fruits of her early success.
“Things always take a little longer to cook than you plan,” she says, laughing. “And we had a few false starts, now that I think of it. When the first record kind of took off, I started travelling and touring a lot more. I got really, really busy, and the time I had off I wanted to spend with my family and people I love. Obviously, I love being in the studio, too, so it was sort of a balancing act.”
Bulat sounds positively giddy over the phone, in part because she's just scored a beautiful hardcover edition of William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses for a mere 10 bucks. But she's also had her feet on the ground long enough to finish sessions for that aforementioned sophomore effort, and she's happy to talk about some of the ingredients that went into the mix.
Unsurprisingly, travel has had an impact on her writing. “I've noticed that as soon as I start moving, that's when I start to get ideas for songs,” she says. “I was particularly inspired by a trip up to Dawson City and the Tombstone Mountains in the Yukon. It's really strange, but the quietest place I've ever been to is also where I got the most ideas for my songs. I was only there for about a week, and I'm dying to go back.”
Perhaps the biggest influence on the new disc, however, came through virtual travel rather than an actual journey. While attempting to unearth her own cultural heritage, Bulat stumbled upon the Folklyric label's Polish Village Music CD—a collection of 1920s and '30s recordings made by Eastern European immigrants to the U.S.—and it was love at first listen.
“That record features all these beautiful songs by the górala, who are sort of like the mountain people of Poland,” she explains. “They have these beautiful—sometimes really sad and forlorn and then sometimes really spirited and awesome—group-singing songs. Lots of stomping, whistling, out-of-tune fiddle-playing.”¦It's something that in the past couple of years I can't stop listening to, although it drives everyone around me nuts, because it's coming from a different tuning that isn't like what we'd typically listen to in pop music. It's meant to sound like that, but to our ears it's a little bit strange.”
Bulat's as-yet-untitled second full-length isn't going to venture all the way back to those Polish roots, but it will feature a lot of harmony singing. And this, she says, means that the folk-festival circuit is a wonderful place to test-drive her new tunes.
“What's really beautiful about singing together, no matter what kind of music, is that it builds community,” she explains. “That's a pretty powerful thing—and it's also what's kind of great about the daytime stuff that everyone does at folk festivals. When you're encouraged to play together with total strangers, it kind of gets people out of their shell a little bit.”
This doesn't mean that Bulat—who'll play a Stage 5 showcase at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday (July 18)—is necessarily going to be leading the Jericho Beach Park crowd in a rousing sing-along version of “Pijal Ojciec, Pije Ja” (“Father Drinks, So Do I”). But given her self-professed love of “shenanigans”, you just never know.