Haley Bonar hasn’t exactly been M.I.A. since her last full-length in 2008. Sure, the singer-songwriter skipped town to live in Portland, Oregon for a year, leaving behind Midwest roots that include being discovered by Low’s Alan Sparhawk at the age of 20. But she’s been active since returning to the Midwest last July, switching up her wistful folk style with side project Gramma’s Boyfriend—which was described by a fan as the soundtrack to Twin Peaks’ high school prom—and a mostly instrumental EP last fall.
Before her show tonight at World Cafe Live, Bonar spoke to The A.V. Club about Gramma’s Boyfriend, using Kickstarter to fund her new album, and why Minneapolis is better than Portland.
The A.V. Club: What’s your songwriting process, and what was it like for Golder specifically?
Haley Bonar: The process for these songs in particular was: I took myself out of my comfort zone. I moved to Portland. I just needed to have some space and some seclusion, get out of my element. And that was good for me. Some songs I wrote in Portland, and some songs were really old that I had kind of thrown away but then come back to.
AVC: So why Portland?
HB: It’s easy. It’s really beautiful and affordable to live there. I’ve always really loved it whenever I’ve been on tour out there, which isn’t always the case with towns. I do have a couple of friends out there, so I wasn’t completely alone. It was fun to meet people and kind of start over. And it has a good music scene, but it doesn’t compare to what we have here in Minneapolis. I came back here to record and I thought, “I want to play with these people.” I’m a Midwestern girl.
AVC: You raised funds for this album through Kickstarter, right? Tell us about that.
HB: Yes, I did. I wanted to get the record out, and I had talked to some labels, but then I thought, “I’m not gonna wait around for someone to do it.” Kickstarter is just awesome. Whoever thought of it is great. People get involved with your project, and it strengthens your fan base. It’s not just buying CDs at shows; they can actually feel like a part of something. I raised enough money so that I can pay for the actual printing of the CDs and the basic touring costs. Didn’t make enough money to buy a van—I think that was shooting a little too high.
AVC: You said that the album title Golder to you means “brighter, heavier, stronger.” How is that reflected in the music?
HB: The past three years, since my last record came out, have been a huge growth period. I feel a lot older and a lot wiser than I was just a few years ago, which is kind of an amazing thing to recognize about yourself. I’ve had lots of life-changing experiences. I found my voice, I think, with this record. I believe in it.
What I like to do in the studio and how I like to go about things—I had my head on my shoulders more than I had before. I’m comfortable with myself and confident enough that I can do things I wouldn’t have considered before, taking risks. There are two instrumental songs on the album, and I had never thought of doing instrumental songs before. This is my strongest work that I’ve done so far, and I’ve thought that with every record. This is like looking back: When my first record came out I was 20, and I’m turning 28. It’s been a crazy eight years. This is a good end bracket to my 20s.
AVC: How were the production and the recording process different from your previous albums?
HB: I had like 20 demos, and I wasn’t sure which ones I was going to use. There was sort of a slump with the way we had been playing some of the songs, and I told the band, “I trust you, and you trust your own instincts, and we’ve been playing together long enough for me to say, ‘Forget everything you know about these songs.’ Pretend you’ve never played them before, and let’s take a new approach.”
That’s a scary thing to say when you have a nice recording studio booked that’s not cheap. In the past, I knew pretty much exactly how I wanted each song to sound. This time, I kind of knew the feeling or the vibe I wanted. And it sounds live; it sounds like a band working together. It sounds like it was in a studio and not Pro Tools, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
AVC: Tell me about your side project, Gramma’s Boyfriend.
HB: We started messing around with that late last summer. We had our first gig in October, at the Turf Club. We have a record; it’s not really done. We kind of handmade our CDs, and we just give them out at shows. I really love that project, and I love those songs. Gramma’s Boyfriend is the same band that I play with, so it’s just sort of an outlet for us all.
AVC: You’re touring behind Golder this summer. Do you like touring?
HB: I do like touring, I think because I haven’t done it for a really long time. There was a period of my life when I was touring a lot, and I got really burnt out and I hated it. When you’re the band leader/the person that’s writing the check and paying for everything, it’s really stressful. When you’ve got band members with families, you can’t ask them to do it for nothing. Now that we’ve got some funding behind it, there’s less anxiety. We’re not doing anything crazy, any world tours. I’m so excited. It’s so much fun when it’s not a total panic attack.
AVC: Do you know what’s next for you?
HB: Not really. My energy has been completely consumed by this project.
AVC: Any dream projects you’ve thought about?
HB: I really want to make a super slicksville kids’ record that’s sort of kid songs, but they’re not dumb—parents can listen to them too—and that’s awesomely old-school country. I like doing whatever’s different. I can’t stick with one thing. I get bored.