Haley Bonar on motherhood, new music, and her bad reputation
Even over the phone, Haley Bonar has an infectious energy. She's slightly frazzled, incurably positive. She's just dropped her one-year-old daughter, Clementine, off at daycare, and huffs in a cheerfully harried voice about her soon-to-be-released 7", featuring two brand new songs, "Bad Reputation" and "Down Sunny Roads."
If the 7" is a taste of the songwriting Bonar has been engaged in of late, fans can be assured that the pending full-length album (which, according to Bonar, is aimed for completion and release in late spring or early summer) will be some of the artist's most accomplished -- and subtly dark -- work yet. "Bad Reputation," in particular, has a razor-blade edge to it, with its electric guitar and Bonar's bold-faced honesty.
We caught up with Bonar on life, motherhood, and the release show for the 7" at the Varsity this evening.
Gimme Noise: Tell me about "Bad Reputation" and "Down Sunny Roads." Why these two songs? What's important to you about them?
Haley Bonar: Well, I guess I've been kinda plugged away at writing new stuff, and those are the two songs that I was most happy with. The reason why I decided to put them out now is because I'm impatient and I don't want to wait until I have an entire album written [laughs]. And they can light the fire under my butt to get things done, and not to mention I've wanted to a 7" since I was a teenager but they are literally more expensive to do than a record... and I got them in and I was like, "Oh, my God, they sound so good!" It's just a special little thing for me, and hopefully for people who listen to my music.
GN: Rad. I love the line in "Bad Reputation" that goes: "I wish I could date my former self/She'd be a fun girlfriend." What's the biggest difference between the current you and your former self?
HB: I'm 29, and I started doing this when I was 18 -- playing music, that is -- and in your 20s, you have this free ticket to be an asshole, and hopefully by the time you're thirty, you're somewhat of an adult. I had Clementine, my daughter, a year ago, and that was completely unexpected, and it changed my life in a big way -- in the best way. Now I'm pretty much a full-time mother, and when I have time -- when I take her to a babysitter -- to work on my music and catch up on emails, it's really precious time. When I was 25 and partying all the time, I was like, "I don't have to work on songs today, I don't feel like writing songs."
And that line [above] is kind of like, now I'm grown up... It's kind of like a grieving thing for your own innocence. Now you're essentially responsible for growing a human being, and at the time [I was writing], I was kind of frustrated. I couldn't go out -- I can't go out and do all the stuff I used to do, and I used to be so fun, and it was that kind of fake sentiment.
GN: Got it. So, motherhood. How has it changed your views on... well, everything, but specifically, how has it impacted your creative process?
HB: I have carved out... it started at four, then eight, now fifteen hours a week where I take [Clementine] to a nanny, because you literally just don't have time to do anything normal like shower, let alone [have] a career, and especially an artist's career, which is the most unsure job anyone could have, but lucky for me, this kid is cute. She's a really amazing baby, and she's so sweet and smart, and I do everything because of her -- including that time I have to myself. I use it very constructively, and I write songs way more than I did before I had a baby -- which sounds insane -- and I'm so inspired by it, because there's so much joy and so much pain and so much everything that goes into that first year. Everyone that has a kid goes through that, and it's not anything new, but you kind of grieve yourself a little bit, and you have to get over that, and you become the most strong and powerful and confident version of yourself, because you are essentially caring for this other person. Yeah, motherhood is amazing.
GN: How has [motherhood] changed your music? Or, do you feel like your music has changed, basically, since Golder?
HB: Yeah, I think it started changing right after Golder, which has kind of been a pattern of mine. I like to try to change. I don't want to keep releasing the same record over and over. I had gone through some pretty big life changes anyway, even before Clementine, and I released that record and started my other band Gramma's Boyfriend, which is wild and free and loud and what I secretly wanted to do for a really long time. Not that my new [solo] stuff sounds like Gramma's Boyfriend, but it definitely has a lot more balls. It's way more in-your-face, and that's why I wanted to put "Down Sunny Roads" as a B-side. It's super pure and super sweet, and like a love letter, basically, to my child, and the other stuff I've been writing is definitely way more dark. It's loud. I've been writing on the baritone guitar a lot, it's different. It's still changing. It's me, but it's different from my old stuff.
GN: How are you feeling about releasing new music and touring with it? What will that look and feel like to you, with Clementine?
HB: I have no idea, because I haven't really recorded the rest of the record yet. I feel like I can't really go there yet... I need to think about whatever is right in front of me. I have a lot of family and support, and Clementine's father is here. We'll be able to figure it out.
GN: You've mentioned a few times in various interviews that you dislike being "pigeonholed" and characterized as a "female artist" versus just an "artist." Is part of that what inspired you to create Gramma's Boyfriend?
HB: The Gramma's Boyfriend thing started before I was pregnant, and when we started that band it was completely unintentional, like, "Whoops!" We did a bunch of embarrassing shows and we just had a great time, and then we accidentally wrote a bunch of songs. Honestly, the most shit I've received about that band is from the punk rock community. It was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can't play with our group of people, you can't play in our venues." Which is so bizarre to me. I thought it would be the other way around, but the people talking shit about us... like I'm supposed to be a folk singer, the Current plays me, I can't be in a band like that, and that kind of pigeonholing is lame and unfair.
But I don't ever want to come across as not being proud that I am a woman, because I am, and we have a lot more of a struggle to make it than men do, and that's not just music and art--that's everywhere. That being said, it's annoying when people are like, "You sound like this," and I'm like, "My anatomy is the only thing I have in common with Tracy Chapman and Tori Amos." They're great artists, but why do people do that? That bugs me, but not as much anymore. It's just kind of a cop out.
GN: What's the show on Thursday going to look like?
HB: We'll play a bunch of the new stuff on the show for the first time on Thursday, so that makes me really excited. About half or more than half of the record is written, including these songs which people can hear for the first time [on Thursday].
Haley Bonar will be releasing the "Bad Reputation" 7" this Thursday, November 1, at the Varsity Theater with openers Van Stee and Buffalo Moon. 7 p.m. doors. $15. 18+.
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