Photo: Jen Squires
Photo: Jen Squires

Five Questions With… Megan Bonnell

Separate Rooms, the third full-length album from Toronto singer/songwriter Megan Bonnell—out April 6 on Cadence Music—finds the genre-defying artist tackling difficult subjects we’re seeing finally being confronted more openly.

However, there’s a contradiction at the album’s heart: a lover’s appeal for space and independence, while at the same time, a desperate yearning for young and innocent love. Much of these ideas are condensed in the album’s title track, a co-write with Donovan Woods, which conveys a mature realization that true love carries with it as much loneliness as it does companionship.

Despite the personal nature of the lyrics, the production of Separate Rooms was a mostly collaborative process anchored by the production team of Chris Stringer and Joshua Van Tassel. With that pair at the controls, Bonnell was able to meld anthemic pop appeal with the textured, layered nuances of 70’s new wave, with songs echoing everything from epic alt-rock ballads of the ‘90s to traditional folk craftsmanship.

It adds up to another significant creative step forward for Bonnell, whose debut album, Hunt And Chase was a whimsical journey of growth from her rural Ontario upbringing to her emergence within Toronto’s independent music scene. Magnolia, Bonnell’s second release, was a considerably darker and sonically expansive work, which painfully dissected notions of lost love. Thematically, Separate Rooms treads even further into difficult emotional territory, finding Bonnell at her most vulnerable but also her most courageous. Hear more here

 

What makes Separate Rooms stand apart from your previous work?

I continue to feel most powerful as a woman when I'm honest and vulnerable about my emotional experiences. We’re going through an important shift in society right now. Difficult subject matter such as mental illness and early pregnancy loss, to name just two, are being brought forward and discussed. The cultural climate is changing. We are being supported more than ever before, and are encouraging each other to share in our personal and darker experiences. We are connecting with these things, finding communities to share in them.

This album is the most personal body of work I’ve written. That can be attributed to knowing myself better than I ever have before. I think I’ve gotten there through being a part of these beautiful communities of women. As we get older, we gain a more definite sense of who we are and what we want to say. My emotional understanding and awareness have deepened, and with that comes a more honest and articulate voice.

What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year? 

I’ve been guilty in the past of focusing mainly on my artistry, and less on the business side of things. That portion of my career had always intimidated me. I reached a point where I knew I needed to commit to treating my music career as a professional business. In doing so, I needed to make some changes to my team. I’ve taken back some control in operating my business. I devoted time to finding my people, ones who understand me as an artist and my vision for the future. We all share in this and work efficiently as one unit. I’m continuing to learn about the business side of my career, which is empowering. 

What do you recall about your first time performing in public?

I cringe thinking about it. I was a contestant on “Caledon Idol” and the pub where this event was held weekly was next door to my house. I would nervously practice all day long in preparation and then go to sing my favourite tracks at the time, like Jewel’s “Foolish Games” and Dixie Chicks’“Cowboy Take Me Away.” We all have to start somewhere!

What song by another artist do you wish you had written? 

“Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. That song was my anthem growing up. It celebrates the idea that life is going to be hard a lot of the time, even in the moments that are supposed to be the most beautiful—like a wedding day, having a baby, having success in your career, etc. I think as young girls we are exposed time and time again to the “fairytale” narrative. As romantic as it is, the story can be largely misleading to girls as they grow into young women and feel like they’re somehow falling short when life isn’t as easy as the stories suggested. Alanis flips this on its head and breathes power and ownership into the messiness of life. Her voice is strong, and she celebrates the strength she feels in being exactly where she is. As a young girl listening to this, it both comforted and empowered me.

What's your best touring story?

Last year, while on tour out west with the Great Lake Swimmers, I was driving my gear separately with a friend. We decided to take the “leisurely, scenic” route towards Revelstoke B.C., complete with regular stops for tea and muffins, and photo-ops. Everything was wonderful and looked as though we would even be early for the show. The sun was shining and the sounds of the Grateful Dead filled our ears as we reflected on how beautiful life could be. Suddenly, as we slammed on the breaks, a giant STOP sign appeared and the road abruptly gave way to a giant mountain lake. Unbeknownst to us, the GPS and its “faster” route had led us astray. In the far distance, a speck of a ferry could be seen getting smaller by the second.

Okay…stay calm. Surely, this is like the Toronto Island ferry and the next one will be here in 20 minutes? Not so much. Where are the signs with the ferry schedules? Absent. Panic started to wash over us. I was going to miss my show. Google, can you help us? Sorry, no service. It felt as though I was going to be stuck at this ferry point for the rest of my life! I’m not joking when I say, at that very moment, the sunshine packed up and went for lunch and it started to pour rain. Two hours went by at a snail’s pace. No more sunshine. No more music played. I looked out the window nervously biting my nails while my friend tried to keep up our morale. The sun started to set. And then, out of nowhere, like a beacon of hope that had been lost, the ferry appeared. We were saved! Gratitude filled my heart. I made it to my show, and no one even noticed we were late.

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