Like its 2016 predecessor Good Advice, Basia Bulat’s Are You in Love? was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It also strikes a similarly luminous balance between ’60s girl-group classicism and experimental, synth-tweaked futurism. But the philosophies underpinning each record are dramatically different. As Bulat tells Apple Music, Good Advice was about “going through a breakup—you go out with your friends and have a dance party, and we just happened to record our dance party.” By contrast, Are You in Love? finds the Montreal singer-songwriter in the throes of new romance (she married bandmate Andrew Woods in 2019), but also grappling with the death of her father. “On Good Advice, I was using music as a form of therapy. But this time around, I felt like I couldn’t use music like that. I just really had to focus on life and be in it and go through it, and then come back to the music after. And I realized all these songs I was writing were asking different questions about love and relationships, and I’m working through all those questions up to the last song.” Recorded mostly in Joshua Tree, California, Are You in Love?’s ebullient first act and more wistful second act reflect Bulat’s experience making the album, where ideas workshopped outdoors in the afternoon would be laid to tape amid the splendorous, mystical ambiance of the desert at night. “We’d take a moment to watch the sunset for an hour, like it was our daily TV,” she says. “And then you’d notice all these different birds and animals crawling around at night, and the flowers open up and there’s a different scent in the air—that’s when the recording really gets going.” Here, Bulat guides us track by track through the album’s dusk-to-dawn journey.
Are You in Love? “So many people have picked up on the theatrical quality of this song—it's almost like a soliloquy. I was approaching it from the perspective of a character in some play, addressing an audience who knew better than me what I was really feeling or what the end of the story is really going to be. It's this idea of: how do you know you're in love? Is it this dramatic feeling, or is it something you might feel all the time, like the way you might wear a necklace from your mother? And it's also about how stupid we all get when we fall in love—it feels so dramatic that we act like idiots and do such crazy things.”
Electric Roses “This is one of two songs on the record I wrote with Meg Remy [of U.S. Girls]. I was inspired by a singer named Cecilia from Spain from the ’70s—she was this super-underappreciated feminist songwriter who passed away really young and tragically—as well as this Polish poet I really love named Wisława Szymborska. They both talk about femininity in really interesting ways. The lyrics are exploring these different ways we are expected to be—how much you try to contort yourself into an image that maybe was given to you from childhood, and does it feel truthful to you? There’s all these different expectations you put on yourself, and it’s a really joyful, electrically charged feeling when you realize you can keep all your ‘thorns.’”
Your Girl “Around the time of writing this song, I was listening to a lot of Jonathan Richman and Christine McVie—like, all her Fleetwood Mac hits—and it's funny how much that came through in the production! I always feel like Jonathan Richman gets to my childhood self when I'm listening to him, and I was hoping to get some of that, especially with the backing vocals at the end—there's a bit of a Modern Lovers thing going on.”
Light Years “I started this song as this, like, space bop, and then I retried it again with just solo voice and acoustic guitar, and then we tried recording both in the desert because I thought, 'This will be the ultimate desert space bop!' We do have a really good uptempo version of it, but it didn't have the same feeling of being stranded on the moon somewhere.”
Homesick “It's a little bit of a love letter to living in Montreal, but also about being in the desert, which is very far from where I grew up in Toronto and is, like, the opposite of everything I've known. We'd meet people in California who'd say, ‘Oh, you all have it so much better in Canada.’ And yeah, in some ways, it really is. But it's not utopia—it was built on the back of a lot of darker history and a lot of things that need to change. So then you come home and you're like, 'Okay, I need to keep my eyes more open.'”
Hall of Mirrors “This is kind of a 'love in the age of the internet' song. Whether or not you contain multitudes, it's so easy to let other people's opinion of you define yourself if you're not careful. I've noticed so many of my friends falling into these traps: ‘Oh, this looks like a really fun time, let's go into this funhouse’—and then they can't get out!”
I Believe It Now “We used a lot of the sound around us in Joshua Tree, as well as whatever we were making in the studio. So there were a lot of ambient sounds and different bits and pieces I was collaging together, and this happened to be my favorite one that actually ended up fitting. It just had a very being-in-the-present-moment feeling, with all these different sounds swirling around at the same time.”
No Control “I wasn't sure whether to put this on the record, and it was Meg who said, ‘You have to put this on the record, because you won't be honest with yourself if you don't put it on there.’ No one wants to admit they don't have control!”
Pale Blue “This is the other song I co-wrote with Meg—it's a message of support for anybody who's trying to process their trauma from different kinds of abuse. It specifically came from a moment that I had trying to help somebody in my neighborhood—she wasn't in a place where she wanted to talk, so it was like, 'Just know that I'm here for you.' It's almost like my version of Dolly Parton's 'Light of a Clear Blue Morning.' It's very different sonically, of course, but it's that idea of ‘dawn is coming again—the sky is pale blue, but it's going to be bright soon.’”
Already Forgiven “I've struggled with this idea of forgiveness and what it means to me. It can be really difficult, because you can't control when you get there. And also, how do I finally get to the place where I can let go of certain ideas I've held about myself? We worked on this song in the desert, and it was actually recorded during a windstorm that kind of helped me finish the lyrics. We ended up weaving the sound of the wind through the guitar pedals and all sorts of different electronics. The wind took on its own life and melody.”
The Last Time “I wanted this to keep going on twice as long. It’s a bit of a cheeky love song that I wrote to my husband, because we didn't really want to be serious. We just kept saying, 'All right, this is the last time!'”
Fables “We initially recorded this as if it were a rock song, but we gradually realized it was absolutely not the right direction. It had to have a sense of stillness, like more of the ambient sounds we were working on at the time—that alien quality—because it's a song about certain narratives that you might have told yourself about yourself, about what you should be, and maybe they don’t work for you anymore. It doesn't mean that you have to give up on love; you just have to change.”
Love Is at the End of the World “I wrote Jim this email a few years ago, and I said, 'There are so many shifts happening in the world right now, it feels very uncertain and there's so much fear—I really want to write a song about compassion.’ And he was like, 'That's a great idea,' but it was harder than I realized. Until I went through all these life changes, I didn't realize how much I needed this song for myself. I wrote it first as a message of positivity or optimism in a time that felt like chaos, and then when I went through my own personal time of chaos and grief, I realized it was a promise that I had made to myself to always choose love over fear and despair. It started out as like a George Harrison folk-song meditation that turned into a declaration. And it's the only song on the album that has no question in it—it's the bookend answer to the album title.”
Are You in Love?
Hall of Mirrors
I Believe it Now
The Last Time
Love is at the End of the World
13 SONGS, 43 MINUTES
MARCH 27, 2020
℗ 2019 BASIA BULAT UNDER EXCLUSIVE LICENSE TO SECRET CITY RECORDS INC.