Water and weather figure large in Basia Bulat's sophomore release, Heart of My Own. Mountain rains drench huddled lovers; dust storms dim the light of the sun; rushing waves lash a desolate shore. If you're sensitive to metaphor, it's hard not to fear that the 26-year-old singer has been enduring tempests of her own, and the record hints at this with lyrics that traffic in loneliness, obsession, and worry.
Sometimes, though, a storm is just a storm.
“On a very factual level, there was a lot of rain in the past year,” says Bulat, who sounds very happy to be having a day off in Chicago. “Wherever I went, it seemed to be raining.”
She laughs, and says that, perversely, the only place “where it wasn't pouring all the time” was right here in Rain City, where cloudless skies and record-breaking highs greeted her 2009 Vancouver Folk Music Festival showcase. Soon, though, Bulat turns serious, and admits that Heart of My Own isn't only about real-life rainstorms.
“On this record there's a lot of references to weather just because it is a really powerful force,” the London, Ontario–based songwriter explains. “It can be really destructive; it can have such an impact on you and your moods and the earth, but it's completely out of your control. And maybe I'm affected by it really strongly.”
In other words, she's not immune to moody moments—especially when she's on the road and the sun hasn't shone for days.
“When you're travelling, it opens your eyes up to so many beautiful things, but you can also see some really dark things,” she says. “And just the very fact of being away from everything you know and from the people you love, it can be challenging to continue to feel like yourself.”
So it was distance rather than despair that inspired Heart of My Own's darker moments; Bulat reports that she's still blissfully in love with her long-time boyfriend. And as both the title and the content of the new disc suggest, she's growing increasingly confident in her abilities as an artist. Heart builds on the sunny, folk-inflected pop of her 2007 debut, Oh, My Darling, but adds instrumental as well as emotional depth, often thanks to Bulat's brother Bobby, whose extroverted drumming brings an indie-rock edge to tracks such as “Go On” and “Walk You Down”.
“I'm really pleased with how the record sounds,” she says. “And I'm pleased that a lot of people seem to be really enjoying it, too, which makes it all kind of worthwhile.”
She's also pleased that she's going to get to return to the Yukon this summer. A week-long stay in Dawson City inspired several of the songs on Heart of My Own, and Bulat was especially struck by the beauty of the nearby Tombstone Mountains—even if her hiking adventures there were curtailed by inclement weather.
“But that's the thing about rain,” she says. “People think of it as being destructive—you know, like floods or torrential downpours. But it's also really nourishing. Like anything important, it's complex.”
Basia Bulat plays St. James Hall on Friday (March 5).