QSC Aspiring Interview: Begonia on her musical journey and new track, Married By Elvis

Canadian pop star Begonia – a Juno and Polaris Award nominee – sits down for a candid chat with Headliner about her musical influences, her new album Powder Blue, and the inspiration behind new single, Married By Elvis.

When did you first discover that music was your calling?

I basically started off singing in church when I was a kid. When I was 16, I was mentored by a local worship leader who took me and a few other teenagers around to sing in different churches. When I was 18 I started playing in bars, but at the time I was also working as a summer camp counsellor at a centre for adults and kids with disabilities. While I was there I was playing in bars until three in the morning, and then waking up to go work with the kids; I felt like I couldn’t do both and had to choose one. So when I was 19, I told my parents that I’m doing music full time.

I ended up in a bar band and we were doing a bunch of covers; I thought we were really going to make it! And then there was this local acapella band of women that were kind of a generation above me, whom I had been watching forever. They were super successful and were touring internationally. Unbeknownst to me, the band in its current form was breaking up and they were looking for someone fresh to join them to start a new project. I didn't even know how to wash my face back then, but whatever!

They started coming to my bar gigs, scoping me out from the back of the room, and eventually asked me if I would join their new project. I had to make this big decision whether to take the leap and go with these people who are more established. They had all these tour dates that they needed to fulfil from their old band, but now that band was broken up, they had to start this whole new thing. I decided to take the leap and go with them on this adventure, and that’s when I started my touring journey with them. I was in that band for eight years, and that was kind of my crash course in the music industry in a real way. I learned a hell of a lot about the music industry over the years while I was with them, and then by the time we broke up, that's when begonia started, because I wasn’t yet ready to be done.

The song is about love, and the mysterious things it makes the brain do.

Where does your musical inspiration come from, and what is your songwriting process like?

The direct inspiration is my life, my relationships, my diary. With Powder Blue, some of the songs take on hyperbolic kind of feelings, and push things a little bit. I usually have to feel something very directly,in order to have that kind of inspiration. It starts differently every time though; sometimes when I’m doing mundane tasks like doing the dishes or showering, ideas will come. Things will often strike me right before I fall asleep, so I always try to keep my phone nearby in case I need to record a quick memo.

I also love collaborating. For all my Begonia stuff I've worked almost exclusively with Deadmen, a production duo made up of Matt Schellenberg and Matt Peters. They’re longtime friends, and since I was a late teen they’ve always encouraged me. So a lot of the Begonia stuff comes from us being like, ‘Okay, we're going to a cabin for a week, let's see what happens,’ or they would send me something and say, ‘hey, what do you think about this beat?’ And then I would just riff over it and send it back to them. Every song has a different starting point; there's not just one way that works for me, and I try not to limit that because there's so many different ways to get a result.

Tell us the story behind your latest single, Married By Elvis.

There aren't a lot of tender love songs in my catalogue. Usually it's not something that comes naturally to me, or if I have written them in the past, I've been like, ‘no, that's not me, we're not putting that on the record.’ Perhaps I get a bit too self conscious of that kind of vulnerability. But in terms of how this song came about; I was working with Deadmen at their studio space and it was in the thick of some lockdowns. We had made some sessions, but we were all masked up or far apart, so we tried to just write and do something that felt normal for a second. The Matts had this guitar riff that they had split up and sampled on a keyboard; they had been working on it and played me a few notes. Right away it took me to a place and this tender love song just spilled out of me.

I'm not married, I'm not necessarily planning on getting married, and I'm not a huge Elvis fan. But to me, the song represents that feeling when you’re in love and you’ll do any number of absurd and silly things that maybe you thought you’d never do. In my mind, if I ever did get married it would probably be with an Elvis tribute doing it, or someone dressed in a Marilyn Monroe costume or something, I don’t know. I always felt like I would want to do it in a non-serious way. Basically, the song is less about marriage, less about Elvis, but more about love, and the mysterious things it makes the brain do.

Listen to the full interview with Begonia on the Aspiring Headliner podcast channel below:

Images: Calvin Lee Joseph