The Garden

Basia Bulat

The Garden

Basia Bulat’s 2020 album, Are You in Love?, had the misfortune of being released just as the world was entering COVID-19 lockdowns, which obviously halted her tours to promote it. But during the downtime, the Montreal indie-folk singer-songwriter was able to cross some significant items off her life-goals to-do list. The first was becoming a mother. The other was making The Garden—a classical-inspired makeover of past songs that she’d wanted to undertake ever since she performed a one-off show with Symphony Nova Scotia in 2010. Using Owen Pallett’s original arrangements for that concert as a starting point, Bulat went about reimagining 14 tracks from across her back catalog (supplemented by a couple of new interludes) for string quartet, with collaborators Paul Frith and Zou Zou Robidoux adapting her more recent material. Recorded in the midst of her pregnancy, The Garden didn’t just grant Bulat the opportunity to perform old songs in new ways; it also allowed her to reconnect with them on a deeper emotional level. “I wanted to pick songs where the meaning has shifted over time,” she tells Apple Music. “Any work of art has more in it than you may intend. I remember hearing Lou Reed say in an interview, ‘I don’t know what any of my songs are about,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s just saying that!’ But later on, I realized he was being totally honest. Songs kind of reveal different things to you over time. That’s why I called the album The Garden—because the songs are like these living beings that come up each season a little differently.” Here, Bulat talks about some of the record’s horticultural highlights. “The Garden” “I had originally written this song as a bit of a mantra to myself on a breakup album [2016’s Good Advice]. There was this idea of ‘I have lost everything,’ including a home that I loved with a garden I had spent a lot of time on. I really love gardening—it’s kind of how I’ve connected to my mom and my grandmother in a lot of ways, because they’re both such good gardeners. Everybody wants a home that they love and feel safe in, and when you go through the ending of a relationship and you lose that, it’s obviously very, very difficult. So, I had written this song in a moment of breakdown, but it felt really beautiful to be singing it again while expecting my first baby and realizing the song is actually a bit more of a breakthrough. Until you’re out of it, you don’t realize what’s the breakdown and what’s the breakthrough, and the song really became more of the latter for me.” “Heart of My Own” “I had written this song when I was really obsessed with a lot of folk and country recordings, and I really loved Owen’s original arrangement of this for Symphony Nova Scotia [in 2010], because he really tapped into my Eastern European roots. The reason why I love playing with string players is because I used to be in a chamber ensemble myself—in high school, the piece that I loved performing the most was called ‘Romanian Folk Dances’ by Béla Bartók, where he’s paying homage to these very old, traditional melodies. And so, this had a full-circle feeling of bringing me back to my inspirations—I am a folkie at heart, and I do love the feeling of songs carrying over time. I like to feel a little bit like a song-keeper.” “I Was a Daughter” “On my first album [2007’s Oh, My Darling], the intention was to document and have a memory of the moment in time I was in, with all of us playing in a room. And even lyrically, I was trying to document this feeling that I had about my childhood and my mother putting as many beautiful moments into our lives as she could, even though it was very challenging for her. She was essentially a single mom; my dad was this challenging figure in our lives, to put it very mildly. The lyrics talk about ‘the ones who survived this flood’—this idea of trying to make do with whatever is remaining and seeing that glitter in the dust. So, I just really wanted to honor my mom with that original recording and have this very uplifting and beautiful thing. But now that I have a daughter, I truly appreciate what she went through and how difficult that was, and I just feel so much gratitude. I’m crying thinking about it. I can only imagine all the different emotions that you'd be going through when you have a kid really young and you’re just trying to keep their world from falling apart, even though yours is.” “Tall Tall Shadow” “I didn’t notice this was the only song on here from [2013’s] Tall Tall Shadow until somebody pointed it out to me. That album was written in a time when one of my best friends had passed away very suddenly—she had been hit by a drunk driver, and it was just very, very traumatic. And maybe part of me was not ready to revisit a lot of those songs [for The Garden]. But the thing that I love about that record is the title song because it’s about this idea of living in your own truth and living in your own power, which she embodied as a person. She was a very vocal activist; she was a very inspirational person. That’s the kind of message that she was always trying to give to me, so I wanted to carry that through into this record, for sure. Paul really did what I would consider a Beatles-y arrangement, which I know she would have liked a lot.” “Windflowers”/“Lupins” "I always love when I hear an orchestra tuning up: I love all the in-between parts that usually don’t get shown and are considered not part of the show. To me, it always feels a bit like the passing of time, or a time warp, so I really wanted the players to just keep jamming and keep playing with harmonics and do more challenging runs across the board. We created these collages out of that, so that you could feel the flow of time a little bit.” “Love Is at the End of the World” “My previous album [Are You in Love?] didn’t get a big release [in March 2020] because of the way the world happened, and I certainly didn’t know how much this song would be relevant when I was writing it. I went through my pregnancy during the pandemic, and I wasn’t able to see any of my family in Toronto, so it was not the pregnancy I pictured. But the people that came through for me—the doctors and nurses—became like family to me. It really blew my mind how they showed up for me when they were already going through so much burnout. So, I saw [what I’m singing about in this song] on a personal level, and I felt like it was really important to include it. But I didn’t want to have it as the last song [as it was on Are You in Love?], because I want it to feel like the world’s still going on. There’s still more to come!” “Good Advice” “This song came to me at 3 in the morning, by myself, in my tiny apartment, when I realized the only person that I can really listen to is myself. When we make our decisions, sometimes we wonder, ‘Are we being delusional? Are we doing the right thing?’ And usually, when we remove all the clouds from our thinking, the answers do become clear. That’s something I’ve noticed that comes through in a lot of my songs: I’m almost subconsciously telling myself, ‘Just friggin’ listen to your own lyrics!’ So, this one hit home for me—I thought, ‘OK, I have actually come further than I realized.’ This song is the one that I also missed playing live the most, because I see people singing the line ‘Good advice/I’m running from it/I didn’t ask you/I didn’t want it’ back to me.”

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