Tracy Bonham

Singer-Songwriter Discusses Her Pivotal New Album

In June, rock singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham released a pivotal album on a personal and career level. "Blink the Brightest," available on Zoe/Rounder Records, shows a new side of the Eugene, Oregon-born artist fans may not have seen on her previous recordings. The new Bonham is more reflective, more positive and seems to have found a new peace within herself and her music.

In addition to showing a softer side of the songwriter, "Blink" also shows Bonham's strength as an independent artist. The disc was completely funded out of her pocket, since she was let go from Island Records in 2001. Bonham took money she earned from selling her "Bee" EP on the road while touring as a guest vocalist with the Blue Man Group last year and put it towards recording her next project.

Although most remember Bonham from her 1996 Grammy-nominated release, "The Burdens of Being Upright" (Island) and the No. 1 rock single "Mother Mother," the independent music world has been just as kind to her. Bonham's past independent efforts prove she has the knack to do it on her own. Case in point, 1995's "The Liverpool Sessions" (Cherrydisc Records) won her Best New Artist, Best Female Vocalist and Best Indie Single at the notable Boston Music Awards. And her "Bee" EP sold an astounding 12 thousand copies - all on her own.

Chorus and Verse recently caught up with Bonham for a phone interview while she was on the road driving through Pennsylvania, on her way to Cleveland for a show. Here's what she had to say about "Blink the Brightest":

"Blink the Brightest" recently hit stores. How do you feel about it?

I'm very excited. I've gone through a lot of changes from the moment I started writing for it. I'm really proud of it because I funded it myself with the money I made selling CDs on the road. I didn't have any help from record labels or anything and I personally think it is the best thing I've ever done! So, I'm really happy.

What motivated you to go about everything independently and fund it yourself? What fueled that fire?

It was circumstantial, but then ended up being something I really wanted to do. I was let go by my record label (Island Records) back in December of 2001. A lot of other things happened in my life that forced me to go inward and reinvent myself. One of them was taking back the reigns and remembering why I play music. I got too attached to the music business, in general, and I needed to go out and play music just because I like playing music. It started from there. It was so organic the way everything happened.

How did you raise the money for "Blink the Brightest"?

In 2003, I was invited to come out with the Blue Man Group to perform in the touring rock show they had for about eight months. Not only was I the guest artist, [but] I also got to open the evening with my music. I made this EP of five songs and pressed about 500 thinking I would only need that and it ended up being a personal success for me. Without any help I sold 12,000 of those EPs. It was really nice.

Were you thinking "hmm ... I can do this on my own?"

Yeah. It's nice to delete the middleman. Other times he's necessary, but at that moment I had so much help from the Blue Man Group that I could do it on my own.

Tell me about what inspired your songwriting for "Blink the Brightest."

It was a combination of events. Before I was let go by my label some things happened to me: my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy; I got a divorce and September 11th happened. I was living right across the river of the Brooklyn Bridge side. All of those things made me look at life differently. And also, look at the way I made music differently. I [was] ready for a change - ready to stop whining and look deeper within, find that there's actually hope, things to express in a way that makes us all come together in something positive.

Tell me about what inspired the album's first single, "Something Beautiful."

I think it's about looking for beauty in my life. I have room for that now, whereas before I was a little unconscious to [it]. I guess my priorities were wrong. It took those horrible events all in a row to wake me up and go "life is too short to look at the negative." I wrote that song over a period of time. The lyrics changed over a year, but it was mainly about that - about following your heart - which I haven't really done in my life. I'm always too heavy about things. I think I've learned in the past five years to listen to my heart more than I ever have.

How would you say your sound has evolved? Do you feel that as you've grown as a person that it's reflective in your music?

I think it's reflective in the changes in my life. I used to not be able to communicate so well, especially when it came to conflict. I'm still not great at it, but I've gotten a lot better. My music used to be my tool for expressing that side. If I had trouble communicating with an ex-boyfriend or ... with my mom - I used my music to express that. But, as I got older, and hopefully a little wiser, I learned that talking to people and confronting was not quite as scary. It left room for "positive-ity" in my music. I think it reflects it instrumentally, as well. It doesn't have to be so edgy. It's safe to say [that] I've learned to look for more beauty and that's something I want to explore even more in my life.

What would you say you're finding beauty in now?

The little things; just the moment. I've been learning how to live in the moment more. I meditate now and do yoga, which I've never done before. I was always worried about the future and now I'm learning to look around me, see what's going on around me right now. Like right now I'm looking out at these beautiful mountains in Pennsylvania, it's gorgeous. It's nice to have that - it's kind of a gift.

It sounds like you're at a great place with yourself and with life.

Yes, much better, much better over here.

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Kristi Singer

Kristi Singer is a Contributing Writer for Chorus and Verse.