"I’m old-fashioned so I still pick the track order based on Side A/Side B of a vinyl LP" How I made... with Basia Bulat
Following the release of her album Are You In Love? just over a month ago, we put a few questions in front of Basia Bulatabout the making of it.
What started the process of making this new album?
Before I started recording the album I had written to my friend Jim (who produced my album) about how I wanted to write songs about compassion. I didn’t know what that would sound like or what kind of songs they would be, just that I wanted to use that feeling as my guide.
Which was the first song you wrote for Are You In Love??
It’s really hard to say, they were all kind of written around the same time, like seeds that were all started around the same time but they grow at different rates!
Do you have the songs written fully beforehand, or do you work on them in the studio?
It’s a little bit of both - and it depends on the album. For this album some of the songs were written before, and a lot of them fully took their shape in the studio in Joshua Tree.
How do you construct your songs? Do the lyrics or music come first?
That also depends on the song! Some songs kind of spring up fully formed, they can just sort of appear in front of me. Other songs will float around in my brain in different pieces, different melodies or lyrics swim around until I can make sense of them and stitch them together into the being they were always trying to be.
I really like ‘Hall Of Mirrors’, what can you tell me about that song?
'Hall of Mirrors' is one of the songs that wrote itself in about an hour in the early morning while I was in the desert. It’s kind of a folk song about falling in love in the era of social media. It can be hard to tell if you’ve found an oasis or if you’re seeing a mirage, but it’s always mysterious and beautiful, right?
And ‘No Control’ is another song that just grabbed me. What’s the story to that song, and the sound that it has?
Thank you, I’m so happy to hear that! A lot of people have been reaching out to me about this song - it seems we’re all feeling a loss of control these days. There are so many things that we think we can control but we can’t… sometimes accepting that is scary, sometimes it can be liberating...and when we fall in love it’s both. My favourite element in this recording is the string parts played by my friend Mika Posen (her wonderful project is called Merganzer) - they go from completely focussed to completely off the rails, and back - in the same phrase.
How do you approach the studio process?
It always changes from album to album but for this album, everyone working on this session would take the morning to themselves - so I would spend the morning just playing guitar or writing lyrics on my own. Then we would all meet up around noon and we’d start working on a song and its arrangement with the band playing live. We would always take a break to watch the sunset, and see all the animals come out … and a new side of the desert would wake up with the stars. So it was with that night-time energy that we would often get ‘the take’ of a particular song.
How did you choose to work with Jim James on this album?
Jim is one of my favourite artists and songwriters - and as a producer he doesn’t ever want to do the same thing twice, and neither do I! I really love his approach to songwriting and making records, how he listens for the energy in the room to come through the speakers and I think that’s why every record he’s made or been a part of has been unique and different, but also has a really special energy to it.
What’s your process for choosing the final tracklist and order? And is the order important to you?
The order is definitely important! I’m old-fashioned so I still pick the order based on Side A/Side B of a vinyl LP.
What’s the best thing about the whole process?
Recording feels like you’re casting magic spells and hearing and seeing songs take shape in front of you.
And the worst?
There truly is no worst. I am so lucky to get to make records and put them out into the world.
Where do you find you get the most inspiration for your songs?
It can happen anywhere, anytime… but having a ritual or a routine always helps put the signal out to your songs that you’re there waiting for them.