Canadian singer/songwriter Begonia returns with her sophomore record ‘Powder Blue,’ where religious conflict, sexuality, and mental health present in an amalgamation of past and present.
Stream: ‘Powder Blue’ – Begonia
For the last few years, our world has posed endless unknowns.
Where reality rooted itself precariously within certainty, Begonia searched for her calm in the chaos. Enter Powder Blue, an unapologetic embrace of anxieties and tumultuous reckonings. Laced with nostalgic charm and vintage soul, the album speaks to religious conflict, sexuality and mental health — as the Canadian singer/songwriter comes to terms with her past and present.
Where powerhouse vocals meet introspective lyricism, Begonia’s compelling vocals lead rich musical landscapes, evoking powerful and vivid imagery. “Chasing Every Sunrise” opens the record, warmly welcoming you into the Powder Blue universe. The alt-pop singer oozes authenticity, her vocals standing against a bare soundscape before ushering in moments of highs and lows. From the tenderness in “Married By Elvis,” to the exuberant energy of “Right Here,” and cool-toned reflection in “Butterfly” and “Cold Night” – Powder Blue is a boldly sensitive and affecting record. Turning inwards, Begonia shows us that there’s power to be had within your truth. From the tracks to its visuals, the Powder Blue experience glistens with layers that reveal themselves more and more with every listen.
Begonia sat down with Atwood Magazine to discuss the conception of Powder Blue. We delved into the process of making the record and its accompanying visuals, as she shared the significance of imagery within her music, and the ‘Elvi’ of the “Married By Elvis” video. Begonia emanated light as she shared her journey of creative growth, chasing truth, and finding her calm in the chaos.
Powder Blue is out now via Birthday Cake Records.
Stream: “Married By Elvis” – Begonia
A CONVERSATION WITH BEGONIA
Atwood Magazine: What really struck me about this album was how it expresses itself. Usually albums are structured around one story, and the songs represent individual emotions that make up that story. With Powder Blue, it felt like the other way around. Each song is a different story, and it comes together to make one emotion. I really loved that as a listener. Tell us more about the stories behind these songs!
Begonia: I love that description, I haven’t articulated it that way! It’s my second full-length record, so there were things I could reference. The first record I made, I felt a bit more like a freak on a leash. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was just, here are the songs I have, let’s put them on a record. It felt far more intentional at the time, but looking back, I saw the frantic energy I had. This time around I didn’t want to be as frantic. Although, making this record was during pandemic lockdown, there was a sense of franticness by way of not knowing when it would be released, or toured. So it was almost like the intention was different. I wasn’t making it for this deadline, this release, for whatever. I was just kind of like, I need to do this for myself, for my own energy.
It became a calm in the chaos of life, and it took a while to get in. It wasn’t like the lockdown started and I was so creative. I was definitely so depressed. It took me probably, like a year and a lot of therapy and hiding away for a bit to come back out, and be able to revisit some older songs, and feel like I could be creative again. So the intention was, write songs that I believe in, then see what goes together. And that’s generally how I’ve worked so far. I want to amalgamate songs that I believe in, and then each step has its own process. So when it came to, maybe I’m done writing for now, then it’s, how many songs do I have? And then it was like, what actually feels right together? When this song ends, what do I want to hear after it to help me take in the whole record?
I live for track listing and putting that together because for me, that’s been something I’ve really indulged in as a listener. When I assume that someone’s put thought in the track listing, that really makes me happy. So I wanted that to be part of my process.
Tell us more about the track listing! I actually noted down how “Chasing Every Sunrise” was the opening track, and I loved that – it’s super bare bones, raw, just vulnerable. And then it jumps into “Heaven,” which has super Erykah Badu vibes.
Begonia: I’m wearing an Erykah Badu hoodie right now!
Oh my gosh, stop!
Begonia: I love her! I mean, I could never touch her, and I’m not trying. I had some records of hers burnt for me as a young teen, and I remember just listening to them in my parents Corolla and my mind being completely blown. Okay, “Chasing Every Sunrise” I really enjoy because the record has so much bigger moments and smaller moments. It almost opens the door and is like, Welcome. It’s an easy entry point, but it also has enough of an emotional pull that whatever came after wouldn’t be jarring. It starts just with the starkness, which I love starting records with that ease into things, starting with just the voice. Because for me, that’s where it always starts. It’s just with the voice. That’s my main instrument, my main way of expressing myself. So I like to have that as the beginning of the chapter of this book, basically.
‘Powder Blue’ felt like a calm place loaded with emotion. For me, it’s the color of my wallpaper as a child, my baby blanket, the Virgin Mary shawl and all the plays I was a part of in church as a kid. Or like the sky, and a light poppiness but then powder blue also feels electric to me, like a powder keg blowing up.
You’ve said Powder Blue evokes very specific visuals, these seem really specific to childhood, perhaps? What is its significance for you?
Begonia: I feel like the process of this was digging up a lot of things for me, perhaps the childhood stuff that I’ve never really touched on. I’ve always been so open with my music. With the last record I put out, I was like, this is all I’m ever going to say, how am I going to sing more than this? And then all these years passed and it’s like, as if I thought that was all there was to say about my life! It’s just ever evolving, the topics that I can mine from, because I’m just living life and it always comes back to my emotions. Sometimes I try to write songs about other people but it always just comes back to a personal connection. On this record there are some tender love moments, which is something I hadn’t felt confident exploring – just the vulnerability of that. I’m so used to sharing the thornier moments, I’m more used to it than the lighter stuff. Like “Right Here,” it’s for the love of a friendship. “Married By Elvis” talks about romantic love, which sounds so simple as a songwriter to explore. But for me, it’s just not something that I’ve often been comfortable diving into for whatever reason.
There’s different places that I allowed myself to go with this record, because of the nebulous timeline that came with writing it. In the past, I maybe would have been like, “people are going to think you’re too cheesy,” or “people aren’t going to think this is cool.” I have a very loud inner critic that stops me in my tracks that I’ve just really tried to mute for songs like “Cold Night” or “Butterfly.” If this feels right and my gut feels aligned with this, then that means it’s just as much a part of me.
So Powder Blue – when I was going through all the songs it felt like I was trying to link them all by a word or name. But every song felt so different to me, there wasn’t one lyric that could just sum it all up. I tried so hard workshopping it but nothing felt like it connected to the songs. I would be on my porch, just sitting on the swing and being like, what do I really feel when I listen to the songs? I just kept trying to access this calm place. Powder Blue felt like a calm place loaded with emotion. For me, it’s the color of my wallpaper as a child, my baby blanket, the Virgin Mary shawl and all the plays I was a part of in church as a kid. Or like the sky, and a light poppiness but then powder blue also feels electric to me, like a powder keg blowing up.
That’s beautiful. It's so personal, and the songs really do feel like that as well. You’ve also spoken about your first album influencing how you made this – amazing record too by the way. This interview is just me throwing all my admiration at you!
Begonia: No, I appreciate it! Honestly, it’s kind of surreal that you’ve listened to it that thoughtfully. It’s technically not out yet, so I haven’t gotten feedback except from my friends or my team, so sometimes I’m just like, but what do you really think? Do you feel like you have to say that? Haha!
I was so excited to chat with you about this project! It’s really impacted me. You’ve also mentioned wanting to shy away from concrete lyrical definition – not telling people how they should feel or think before listening to the music. Can you elaborate more?
Begonia: I mean, I can only pull from my own experience. The music that I’ve been most connected with – it’s how you can apply it to your own life that makes it so real and connective. I know how I felt when I wrote these songs, and if someone asks me what it’s about I’m going to talk about it. But I’m not going to say that anyone would feel it wrong. Or that there’s any right or wrong way to listen to it. That’s the beauty of music. Once you release it into the world, anyone’s allowed to take it however they take it, and there’s something terrifying about that. Like yesterday, I was listening to a podcast that played a song of mine, and I read the comment section. It’s not healthy, but I do. They were evaluating this one song and they were saying, yeah, the song’s called “Married By Elvis,” she must be a huge Elvis fan. And I’m like, No, I’m not! You just have to be comfortable. Once this shit is out there you can’t control everyone’s narrative. You can’t control where it goes and I don’t really want to try. I’m trying to get better at not reading the comment section. I don’t think it serves me well, the way that I subject myself to that, but it’s hard.
I like when people take encouraging words from it, I’m glad because that’s my intention. That’s not always how I actually feel. But that’s how I want to feel. I want to access joy in life. And sometimes that’s by being very vocal about the pain.
I guess how could you not! It’s your baby and your project. You’ll want to know how people are receiving it. And there’s always some kind of intention with anything creative, so that must be hard.
Begonia: When I say those things, it’s like a mantra I’m trying to repeat to myself too. Once this is out, you can’t control it. I’m trying to take that in. But I like when people take encouraging words from it, I’m glad because that’s my intention. That’s not always how I actually feel. But that’s how I want to feel. I want to access joy in life. And sometimes that’s by being very vocal about the pain.
Yeah! Well Fear, and Powder Blue both touch on this type of self-exploration. Do you think topics of self-reckoning are especially important for you in your solo projects?
Begonia: I was in bands forever. So as Begonia, it was my first time fully expressing myself – just as myself. I have collaborators that I write almost everything with. They’re like my brothers who I feel so comfortable being vulnerable with. But the lyrics and everything are me. I feel like Fear was a bit more chaotic in that I felt I had to say everything. I was trying to lasso all these different ideas that were running away from me. I was like, if I don’t express this now, maybe I’ll never get to express it. Now that has passed, and after the lockdowns and everything, my life will be expressed through art – no matter what happens. So I don’t have to feel like if I don’t say everything perfectly right now, I’m never going to have another opportunity.
Maybe that’s why this one, even though it still deals with heavy shit, feels a bit calmer in some ways. Also before this record, I felt like I wrote about my anxious thoughts, and covered these topics already. So I thought, how can I go back? But that’s who I am. The chapter doesn’t end there. I’m not the kind of person that’s going to make the record and be like, now I’ve reached the top of the mountain and I’ve learned all these lessons, now I’m going to tell you. I’m just expressing where I’m at, and that’s the most I can do. I’m expressing where I’m at in a way that resonates with me and feels true and authentic. So I’m going to put that out there. And the story could evolve, but I could be writing about the same thing in different ways for the rest of my life, and I just don’t want to judge it. And that’s what I tell, if I’m ever in songwriting panels. If people ask “How do you write music?” You write what feels true to you. Everyone has their own individual life. If you’re telling your truth, you can’t really go wrong.
The best story you can tell is your truth, there’s so much merit to that. Referencing what you said about feeling less pressure about what you want to say in your music – what does Powder Blue symbolize to you in the trajectory of your musicianship?
Begonia: It took a lot of trust to think that I could do this again. I’m after a forever career, I’m a forever artist; this is not something I’m trying to do for a certain level of success, and then I’m done. This is it for me. In the second one, I was able to directly reference things that I did the first time, whereas the first time I had nothing to reference. I was just kind of grasping at straws. I have a great team that I’m surrounded by, but all of us were kind of just doing it the way that we feel good, in the way that we know how. Even my first show as Begonia, I threw up hours before the rehearsal because I was so nervous to be a bandleader. To be the person that everyone was looking to, I was so nervous that the veil would finally be lifted, and everyone would be like, you don’t know shit. And I’d be like, Oh, I know, the impostor syndrome was so strong. But whenever that would come creeping up in me this round, I was like, but you did it before, bitch.
That’s not to say it never affected me, but just to say that I had a direct reference on these things already accomplished in a parallel way. I had to gas myself up big time to just be confident in my own instincts. Now I wonder what the next album will be like. I just feel like the more I achieve things in this career, the more I get these feelings of elation. It’s mostly the things that I dread the most, down to deciding what color this T-shirt is gonna be, red or pink. And I’ll be up at night being like, do people want red? Do people want pink? I’m just better now. Just trusting my instincts and knowing that if I pick red or pink, the world is not going to fucking explode and everything will be okay.
You write what feels true to you. Everyone has their own individual life. If you’re telling your truth, you can’t really go wrong.
I'm really interested to ask you about the role that visuals play in your music. This album trailer – the imagery, the styling, the fashion! Tell us about the process behind conceptualizing these.
Begonia: I love making videos. You gotta get creative in this day and age because I’m not a rich potato. I’m a medium to small potato in the industry, trying to be a bitch on a budget, a diva on a dime. It takes creativity, but sometimes those limitations can be so enlightening, and fun to think what we can create with what we have? That’s how I feel living in this Winnipeg community, with artists and freaks and beautiful creative people. I feel like I’m in a band again when we make videos. I love being a solo artist, but at the same time what I miss most about bands is that energy flow and bouncing off ideas – making something better than you could have ever imagined making on your own. Some videos I know exactly what I want and others I know who I want to work with. On the album trailer I worked with a director named Gwen Trutnau and her partner Mike Maryniuk. My partner Seth Woodyard did all the sets, and hair & makeup Rachel [Lynne Jones] and Kitty [Bernes] – we did all the styling and all the looks. Some of them would come together right before we go in front of the camera, others we conceptualize for months. But it’s just fun, to be that free and open and creative trust. It gives me such a rush. And I get in a mode when I’m on set, I don’t pee, I don’t eat. I’m just so hyper-focused in a way that I don’t access in other parts of my life. But for me, it’s all about the joy of what we can create as a collaborative team. That’s my favorite part of making videos. I kind of see them as separate entities from the music, in a way.
My favorite, favorite video is “Married By Elvis.”
Begonia: You’re making me so happy man, you don’t even know. I had the idea for that one right away. As soon as we wrote that song, it came out so quickly. I actually don’t even care about Elvis. I’m not a hater but I’m also not a lover. It felt so heartwarming, it was so tender and it was about a real emotion, like why am I trying to hide this side of myself? Like what does this benefit me, trying to tell myself this shouldn’t be a part of who I am as an artist? And so then pivot into the video. I wanted it to be in a club of Elvis Tribute Artists, but a story where they’re going around town doing mundane things. I also want to be dressed pseudo-Elvis like, and I just wanna be hanging. I want to have earnest connections with these Elvi. I’m fascinated by the Tribute Artists lifestyle, and by the people who decide to make that their alternate persona. Also! I’m just thinking of this as I’m talking. I guess I also have this alternate persona that has become me. This alternate persona is Begonia, but now Begonia is me… so, is Elvis them?
Anyway I was on tour and the plane was late so I came in and was taken straight to hair & makeup, straight to this bar in Winnipeg where all the Elvi were gathered. I was so nervous all the way there! Like, are these Elvis tribute artists going to have egos by being all featured? Are they used to just being alone? But I walk in and they’re all high-fiving and hugging each other! And they’re so happy to get to do this together, because half of them haven’t seen each other since pandemic started. Because they would have all these conferences before.
It took a lot of trust to think that I could do this again. I’m after a forever career, I’m a forever artist; this is not something I’m trying to do for a certain level of success, and then I’m done. This is it for me.
So they all know each other?!
Begonia: They all knew each other! They were all hugging and I was just looking at hair & makeup like, it couldn’t be any better! I had a director friend of mine named Ryan Steel, who was just willing to go there with me on wacky ideas, and I knew that this would be treated right. I wanted it to be a genuine expression of earnest friendship. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. We went to all these different places, set off fireworks. A grip, got a firework in their hand, which was not the cutest thing. Oh my gosh, an adventure day. I’ve never experienced a day like that before. One of the Elvis Tribute Artists was like, “I brought a Hummer that I won while doing an Elvis competition, and I really think you should feature it in the video.” They all had directorial ideas. They were all telling me different portions of their life stories whenever we’d break. We were shooting on 8 and 16 millimeter film, so it wasn’t like there were cameras on them at all times. But they were acting almost as if there were hidden cameras or something. They were always on the whole day. It’s one of the most beautifully strange things I’ve ever been in. How it turned out was a fucking dream, because as much as we were acting, it was just so earnest. And that was exactly the energy I wanted to match the song.
The video definitely captures that! Like a fever dream!
Begonia: When the day was done and I was sitting there taking my hair and eyelashes off, I was like… what the fuck just happened?! But that happens often with these video projects that we do. That’s what I live for. I live for those moments that just break up reality. It’s just like, I’m doing this for a living! This is my job right now! I’m very grateful.
Amazing! Okay, so my last question is, what do you hope people will gain from Powder Blue and the whole experience that comes along with it?
Begonia: Again, it was a calm in a chaotic moment of life. If I could pass on that energy, that would be what I want. That’s the feeling that I’m trying to evoke. Calm and chaos all at the same time. I want to encourage people to talk to their community of friends and not feel alone. I’ve always felt so encouraged to express myself, and I want to allow people to not feel alone. The most cliche thing – but I do mean it!
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