Tracy Bonham got a lot of attention with her debut album, The Burdens of Being Upright, as released by Island Records. Featuring the hits “Mother Mother” and “The One,” Burdens not only sold over 500,000 copies in the United States alone and landed Bonham on MTV worldwide, but it yielded her two Grammy nominations. Bonham stuck around Island for another album, 2000’s Down Here, before going indie. The new few years found her working with Blue Man Group, playing on an Aerosmith album, and signing with Rounder Records.
This year’s Modern Burdens is a unique bridging of old and new for Tracy Bonham. While Modern Burdens features the songs of The Burdens of Being Upright, these all-new recordings take those mid-1990s songs in different directions. Joining Bonham on the album are Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, the New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder, Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley, Angie Hart, Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, Nicole Atkins, and Rachael Yamagata. The Inquisitr is proud to premiere “Mother Mother” from that collection.
In addition to the premiere, Bonham — who will be performing on October 17 at New York City’s Cutting Room — answered Q&A for the Inquisitr about the original Burdens collection, what new music lies ahead for her, and what keeps her going as an artist. More on Tracy Bonham can be found at www.tracybonham.com.
What inspired you to revisit the past with your new album? Was it ever the plan to record a collection of new songs instead?
Tracy Bonham: 20 years of being a recording artist is a big deal! I wanted to celebrate with my fans. Plus, I wanted to personally own a master recording of those songs because Island Records owns The Burdens of Being Upright in perpetuity! I do have another album on deck, but I needed to get Burdens out as close to the 20-year mark as possible.
How long did it take to make this album?
Tracy Bonham: John Wlaysewski — from the New York City band Late Cambrian — and I started pre-production in October of 2016. We could only meet once every few weeks because I was living in Woodstock and he was 100 miles south in Brooklyn. Given that, and my busy mom schedule, I was unable to block out chunks of time to record. So, while I was making mac and cheese and PBJs upstate, John was hugely-productive in his Brooklyn studio, sending me tracks via email.
When I relocated back to Brooklyn at the beginning of the year, it was much easier. I would take the city bus to his place maybe once or twice a week. We would work until I had to pick my son up from school at 2:40 p.m. So, realistically, it should have taken about seven years to finish. (laughs) But because John is such a motivated, hard worker with talent coming out of his ears, we got it done in about five months.
Were there any songs on Burdens that you initially didn’t care for, but now like more as a result of this new release?
Tracy Bonham: Absolutely, I really didn’t like my song “Bulldog” at all. After touring in 1996 I stopped playing it live. If anyone requested it, I would refuse to play it. It represented all the s**t that I was tired of talking about back then, like machismo, the male-dominated music business, and the male-dominated world. I would be so tired of this question: “What is it like being a woman in rock & roll?” which really meant “what is it like being a woman playing a man’s role in music?” I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. The other songs were mostly, specifically, about an ex-boyfriend, and other songs were about the transient nature of fame, or rather, the transient nature of my would-be fame. The recording of “Bulldog” for Modern Burdens happens to be one of my favorites. It has a new life. All of these songs have a new life.
— Tracy Bonham (@tracy_bonham) September 18, 2017
Is there anything you miss about the major label period of your life? Are you in touch with many people from back then?
Tracy Bonham: Even though it was short-lived, I enjoyed having a team. I miss that. I enjoyed not having to do everything. I, honestly, just want to make music. I really don’t want to be in the business of anything else — promotion, booking, funding, research, marketing — that is just not who I am. As amazing as it is to be a free agent these days, I do miss being able to just make music and not deal with the business.
You’re a classically-trained performer, yet you’ve had most of your success when playing rock music. Do you still feel a connection to classical music or even your Berklee background?
Tracy Bonham I will always have a connection to my classical education as well as my jazz studies at Berklee. I also carry around a great love for bluegrass and American roots music, fostered by one of my favorite teachers from Berklee, Matt Glaser. I love any and all music, really. The true foundation for my music education, however, is classical music and I am forever grateful for it. In fact, my love for classical music theory and ear training is finding its way into my newest endeavor — writing songs for “young music enthusiasts.” Think Schoolhouse Rock! but instead of catchy and fun songs about politics or English grammar, they are about the fundamentals of music. One more thing I will say about keeping a connection with classical music, I have a memory of playing in a symphony orchestra and being overcome with emotion. Being inside one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard, and being a part of a sum larger than myself, made me realize there is God in music.
Having started on a DIY path, then braved the heyday of the music industry’s peak and transitioned back into the DIY world with PledgeMusic, what do you think about the modern-day music industry as a whole? Is it dead, like Gene Simmons often alludes to? Or do you prefer to do things on your own terms?
Tracy Bonham: Gene Simmons is a dinosaur and he has no relevance in the modern music business. He came from a different era — and frankly, a different planet — and is trying to make comparisons where there is none. The only way new artists can get themselves heard is by doing it themselves. For an artist like me, it is the only thing going on. I have my core fans, and I hope that I can continue to grow that fanbase in numbers, but the core fans are keeping me going. I am devoted to them. I communicate with them all the time. There is beauty and there is freedom in that. Nobody is telling me to wait to release something, nobody is telling me it’s not a good idea to post myself sitting in my pajamas playing a new idea. The old paradigm where rock stars sat on top of their money piles, with security outside their hotel rooms, is over in my opinion. Unless you are Kanye.
— Tracy Bonham (@tracy_bonham) September 20, 2017
Work aside, what do you wish more people knew about Tracy Bonham?
Tracy Bonham: That I want to heal the world.
When you are not working, what do you like to do with your free time?
Tracy Bonham: Play with my son. Yoga. Soul Cycle. Meditate. Listen to Deepak Chopra. Read books. Watch Veep. Teach music.
So any music-related projects going on for you besides promoting this album?
Tracy Bonham: Yes, the next thing I will do is make a music video for my kids anthem called “We Are the Future.” The message of this song is relevant and profound and a video will hopefully give it a larger audience.
I also have more than a complete album’s worth of music for the new genre I am calling “music for young enthusiasts.” I am still looking for a title for the album. These are songs about the fundamentals of music. For instance, I have a song called “Feeling Pretty Major” about a girl who goes to the doctor because she feels “major” one day, and then sad the next “minor.” The doctor tells her it’s okay to feel “major” somedays and “minor” other days as it’s a part of being human.
I also have a song called “I Am a Movable Do,” which is sung by a cute character named Do, the first note in the solfeggio scale. I have a really silly song that is less educational called “Background Singers,” where the lead singer is singing from inside a locked closet and the background singers have center stage until they finally let her out and they all learn how to sing together. There is a song called “Beats to a Measure,” which has a sort of Randy Newman vibe that explains what a time signature is.
I am having a blast with this stuff. You know the saying “write what you know?” Well, that is exactly what I am doing. I am making these songs into a curriculum of sorts. It feels like the possibilities are endless. It’s all still in development, yet getting closer and closer to completion. It will be my next big endeavor after Modern Burdens.
Finally, Tracy, any last words for the kids?
Tracy Bonham: I just want to say, we must pull together now more than ever. We have some very bad influences around us, and it is creating a lot of distraction, away from love. I truly hope that we can come out of this and be better for it. But it is going to take a lot of focus and concentration to not get lost in the chaos. Love is the only answer. Stay connected to yourselves. Stay connected to love. Don’t become thrown off by all the noise and the messages of hate or, rather, fear. Stay on the path of love and you will be alright. No matter what.
[Featured Image by Jerry Graham]