Basia Bulat found heart on road

DENIS ARMSTRONG - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:53 AM ET

Basia Bulat knows you don't hear the autoharp very often outside of old country and folk records or perhaps at a Greek restaurant, but that's why the singer-songwriter loves it.

"It's not an instrument that lends itself to mega-celebrity," Bulat says with a laugh on the street in midtown Toronto.

"The autoharp has its own personality. It looks like a washboard, and it even sounds like a washboard. It's so primitive, yet it makes the most heavenly sound. That's why it's popular in American folk music. It's beautiful and wild."

Raised in a musical household in London, Ont., Bulat's mother was a piano teacher. She studied guitar, banjo, piano, dulcimer and autoharp because she wanted to be the next Bob Dylan or Otis Redding. And she clearly might have done that, if she had stuck with the piano and guitar. But with the autoharp, she found an instrument that suited her deeply romantic personality.

Surprisingly, her 2007 album Oh, My Darling caught the attention of the music industry in a big way when it was nominated for a Polaris Prize and earned a coveted spot on the Rough Trade record label's European roster.

In the end, Bulat found the pressure to capitalize on that initial success with her second album Heart of My Own, -- which comes out on Jan. 26, 2010 -- difficult to deal with.

So she did what she likes best. She spent the next two years touring constantly and writing songs.

"I feel like I've been living in a van for the last two years. I spent so much time on the road I don't remember where I was when I wrote the songs."

Not surprisingly, most of the songs are about coming to terms with new challenges, new lives. This last year, she moved to Toronto to be closer to her boyfriend, and the music scene in general.

"It's where most of my friends are now. I'm just trying to find my way."

Produced by Bulat and Howard Bilerman, the songs on Heart of My Own are so new and different from anything she's done before, she doesn't even quite know how to describe them.

"This was more difficult because I didn't want this to be like the first album. For one thing, it's louder and more confident. We even added an electric Fender to the mix. I like making challenges for myself.

"It takes a while to know what a song is about because it has a life of its own," she explains. "It takes a while for their meaning to develop. I need an audience."

So, she's pre-releasing a new song called Gold Rush on her website, www.basiabulat.com, and will be touring throughout Canada and the eastern U.S. until the album's release. Then it's off to Europe.


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