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When introducing Haley Bonar, critics and publicists are quick to note two things: her age and her gender. At 25, Bonar has already proven herself a prolific and talented songwriter, but her intrigue extends far beyond the fact that she is young and female.
Onstage, Bonar is delicate and serious, sometimes bordering on endearingly meek. In photographs, she often wears a contemplative frown, her beauty emanating from behind a wall of introspective stillness. But in her day-to-day life, Bonar comes alive with an unassuming confidence, her brow wrinkling and relaxing to reveal every change of mood. She makes frequent jokes, mostly about herself, and speaks animatedly using a different voice and expression for every story.
The dichotomy of Bonar's two personas is striking. "She has many comedic voices and characters many people may never know about," says Mike Michel, frontman of the Bill Mike Band and Bonar's guitarist. "That's a cool thing. She creates very serious music and is very charming live, but when she is comfortable with you she can make you fucking laugh real hard."
"She's a goofball," says Morrissey. "She does have a somber vibe, she wears a frown a lot of the time, but that's not indicative of what she's feeling. She takes the weight of the world onto her shoulders, but underneath all of that, there's this light—a fun-loving, immensely talented, beautiful, strong person."
Whatever downfalls she has survived in her past, Big Star is the soundtrack to Haley Bonar coming out on top. She has surrounded herself with an array of highly talented musicians, including high-profile local jazz drummer Dave King (who has played on three of her albums) and indie phenom Andrew Bird, who invited Bonar to sing on his last record. Big Star was mixed by Tchad Blake (who has worked with everyone from Elvis Costello to Tom Waits and is now working on the forthcoming Halloween, Alaska album), an opportunity that Bonar describes as "an honor" and a highlight of her music career. Bonar's CD-release show comes in the middle of a tour opening for Canadian folk rocker Hayden.
If Bonar's live presence is any indication, her touring will only lead to an increasingly large fan base. In concert, Bonar has mastered the art of setting the mood, often causing entire rooms of rowdy barflies to fall silent. She has constructed what Mike Michel describes as "hyper-introspective music that invites people to reflect on their own personal lives. It's live music therapy. Lots of people's eyes are closed. It's very healing music." Deeply introspective and personal yet widely accessible, Bonar's music allows listeners to interject their own feelings between the lines of her lyrics, to take the songs home and own them as life rafts and guiding lights in their own struggles.
Whether Haley Bonar will ever become a Big Star is unsure, and in many ways, unimportant. But with the way she has positioned herself for takeoff, there's a good chance that at the very least she is in for a damn good summer.
HALEY BONAR performs a CD-release show with Mystery Palace and Jeremy Messersmith on THURSDAY, JUNE 12, at the VARSITY THEATER; 612.604.0222