Down Here with Tracy Bonham
by Alexander Laurence
A pop-punk songwriter signed by Island Records, Tracy Bonham made her debut in 1996 with The Burdens Of Being Upright. Having been raised in Eugene, Oregon, one of nine siblings, her first musical training came at the age of nine. She later studied the instrument at the University of Southern California and the Berklee College Of Music, but soon attracted away from classical studies towards rock music. Her first three-track demo tape secured live work, and she was eventually spotted at a small club called The Toad. At that time she was in the process of recording her debut EP, The Liverpool Sessions, released on Boston label CherryDisc. Taken from it, 'Dandelion' became a major local hit and helped to win her Best Local New Artist and Best Local Female Vocalist categories in the 1995 Boston Phoenix /WFNX Best Music Poll.
In keeping with the concerns of artists such as Liz Phair and Alanis Morrisette, with whom she has regularly been compared, songs such as 'The One' (which first came to light on Curve Of The Earth Records' Girl compilation) and 'Navy Bean' scolded errant boyfriends, while 'Kisses' attacked rock star behavior, and was seen by many to be directed at Courtney Love. Recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge, critics saw it as an album that more often than not outstripped the limitations of its influences. There was also no denying that those prepared to deconstruct the lyrics to 'Kisses' or the first single, 'Mother Mother' ('I'm hungry/I'm dirty/I'm losing my mind/Everything's fine'), would find a rich vein of humor and self-deprecation.
AL: How's the tour going with Catherine Wheel?
TB: This is our first tour with them. It's about two weeks into a five-week tour. It's going great. I love them. I just knew the songs "Black Metallic" and "Crank" but I got their new record because I knew that we were going on tour. I have been listening to it for the last few months and I love it. Some of my band members brought the old records. We are listening to them on the tour bus, and they're great. And they're even better live. We used to be on the same record label.
AL: Do you follow the British music scene and are you going to play in any of the festivals this summer?
TB: I wish that I were. Not this time around. When I was growing up all the bands I liked were from England, like The Who and The Police.
AL: There was a big delay for this album because there was a merger. What were you doing the last few years?
TB: The last two years I was going crazy. I was ready to go. It took me a year to write and record and to feel ready. And once I was ready they said, "No, Tracy, sorry, you're going to have to sit at home while we get our shit together." That was the most frustrating two years of my life. My record label let people know that my record would be coming out soon, and they let it wait, and that made people wonder. Six months went by and people were confused. Fans come up to me now and ask, "Why did they say it was coming out last year and it didn't come out?" I couldn't answer those questions because it was a business thing. I wish that I would have known when it would have came out a year ago because I would have taken a Spanish class or some Dance classes in the down time. We did go to Belgium a few times. But I would have liked to take a longer trip somewhere. I did write some new songs out of frustration. They're not happy songs. It was mostly classical music.
AL: You're someone who can play classical music and who can read music and who can play several instruments, so is there any time in the future where you are going to write a Rock Opera? Or a piece of symphonic music?
TB: (laughs) Yeah, but I don't know how I'm going to fit that in. I want to do a film score, and that's where I'm going to fulfill that need. I think that this last record, Down Here, has more strings than I've done before. But I don't know where my new music is taking me yet.
AL: There's a new song on the album that was recorded in a bathroom; it's just you playing violin.
TB: It was a four-track recorded in a bathroom.
AL: That was a dark piece. It really brought me down.
TB: I don't think so. It was inspired by 1940s music, so it's not supposed to bring you down. I love all that old music and those 78-rpm records. I grew up during a period when my grandparents were listening to Lawrence Welk. I love old movie themes .
AL: What about the Beatles influence? Or Oasis?
TB: Absolutely. Or if I was younger I'd say Oasis and who's the Beatles? It's all about the Beatles for me. At an early age I stole my mom's Rubber Soul record and wouldn't give it back. I fell in love with Abbey Road when I got older, when I was old enough to understand. That was my first inspiration.
AL: What is your favorite Beatles record? Mine is Revolver.
TB: I would have to say Abbey Road, and Revolver is a close second.
AL: People lump you in with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks and others. But I think of you as the one who can read music.
TB: Thank you. They did do that to me, four years ago. The Alanis one did bother me. Now it doesn't bother me because she's doing her own thing and we are not inundated with chicks that rock. The door is shut on that girl thing.
AL: Ten years ago, kids were into Nirvana and Pearl Jam, then others bands like Elastica, No Doubt, Hole, and Alanis came in, all these girls with an attitude, and now the young kids don't follow that anymore. They like Nsync and Britney Spears.
TB: Or Korn, and Limp Biskuit.
AL: Yeah, that stuff. Can you comment on that?
TB: Yeah, do you have an hour? I'm really frustrated with the way music is right now. It's really extreme. There's this really cheesy factory pop or it's this factory angry guys that have no melody. And it's pissing me off because there's no in-between. From my personal experience of having a record out right now, I've been told so many times that my song is either too hard for the pop stations or too soft for the rock stations. There's no home for me. That's bullshit. People do want to hear it but business has made it this way where it's all or nothing.
AL: Five years ago you were on MTV all day and now they only play boy bands.
TB: They wouldn't touch me with a ten-foot pole. Same with modern rock radio. It's really hard for women right now. The only one who gets played, and it's not much, is Gwen Stefani, and No Doubt. But they're so huge, you can't deny them. It's so different from four years ago when it was a fad. Back then I denied it all the way. I said, "How could it be a fad, there's only two sexes. How could you say all-girls or all-boys." But now when I look back on it, this is exactly what happens to fads, there's a backlash. Doors slam shut.