Haley Bonar's late 2009 kids' EP Sing With Me was one of the most surprising and gratifying (and too brief) releases of the year, heartfelt and featuring Bonar's clear and beautiful voice. It's a combination that worked just as well on her most recent album for adults, 2008's Big Star.
I'm always interested in getting a wide range of perspectives on the family music scene, from those who have been in it for many years to those who've only peered in the window just a little bit. I also like talking with cool musicians. So this interview meets both those standards. Bonar talked with me a couple weeks ago as she was on the road, moving back to Minneapolis from Portland, Oregon, sharing with me musical stories of growing up, life sharing music as a nanny, and the beauty of awkward dancing.
Zooglobble: What are your musical memories growing up?
Haley Bonar: I conducted a lot of plays. We had a Schoenhut piano. I would make my mom play while I danced in a circle. We weren't super-musical, but we listened to it a lot. I never shut up.
When did you decide to become a musician, to make it a career?
Hmmm.... I didn't really know that it was a real career. A career means making money and I don't make money. Of course, now I'm super-rich [chuckles]. No, there wasn't a single defining moment.
You worked as a nanny -- how would you work music into your daily life?
The first full-time position I had was 3 sisters. These kids listened to really bad music and I couldn't deal. They did better after their mom took 'em to a show. Then the kids only wanted to listen to my two uptempo songs.
The Portland family was part-time -- the younger girl had to listen to it all the time. Other than that, not as much -- being a nanny supported the habit of being a musician.
What led to the EP?
My dad was always asking me to record something. So I recorded it in October just to have something new on sale when I went on tour.
Which sold better: your Christmas EP or the kids' EP?
I don't know. I just got the kids' EP on iTunes, so it's sort of hard to compare. I think it [the kids' EP] is doing pretty well, though.
Have you noticed any difference between playing for kids and playing for adults?
Well, I've really only done a few shows. One was with Rock the Cradle at Minnesota Public Radio. That was amazing. Also at the Walker Art Center [in Minneapolis]. It was all ages, which is I think the highest complement you can get as an artist. It's not just cute boys in shorts and cute glasses. When parents say, "My kids love your records," it feels great.
I also played at this crazy bookstore in the Twin Cities called Wild Rumpus. It was packed -- full of kids that were cute, and the parents were cute, and the kids were dancing really awkward, and I love that. I feel like families are attending more of my shows now...
You're working on a new album now, right?
The new album is recorded, and will be mixed in a couple weeks, so it's the later stages of the process. I'm still trying to figure out when it'll be released. It's really different -- my favorite album so far... It's definitely not Mary Poppins.
Photos by Cameron Wittig