I was pretty sure the odds of me going to the show were nil. I asked for media accreditation over ½ a dozen times, and not once did they approve my requests. To my utter surprise, Live Nation sent me an email 2 hours before the show, granting me a reviewer pass to the Serena Ryder & Begonia show at Burton Cummings Theatre last February.
Begonia walked on stage in her bright red dress and sparkly silver boots, and delivered one of the most powerful, vulnerable, and authentic performances I’d seen in…ever? By the time her opening set was through, I was completely intrigued.
So when Swish Magazine asked me to interview a local musician, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the woman and performer behind Begonia.
TM: So I’m just sitting here eagerly anticipating your new Christmas single out November 30th. Why a Christmas song? Are you a Christmas nut like me?
Begonia: (laughs) I went to a SOCAN writing camp about a year ago, and I met a band called The Darcys. Our challenge was to write a song in a day, and at the end of the day, we’d show it to the whole group. We were trying to make music that we thought would be viable in the world. But it was day 6, and we were so tired from staying up late and writing every day, and it was October, but really cold. It started as a joke, “Yeah Christmas music! People like Christmas music! We should write a Christmas song!” And then once we got into it, we were like, “And then let’s do this! And then let’s say this!” By the end of it, my voice was so tired, and that’s the track that you hear on the recording; it’s me raw. After screaming for days and singing and writing, we just left it as it was because I thought may as well keep the moment. But I’m just singing my brains out, and by the end of it, I was laughing so hard because I’d be doing all these riffs - stuff that I never really do on any of my other stuff - and I'd hear it back in my head and laugh. I couldn’t even finish some of the riffs I was doing because I was laughing through ½ of them.
Tm: I love it when artists push themselves like that; it’s so exciting for the audience.
Begonia: Oh good. Well, I hope people like it. It's all in fun, and I feel like a lot of the music I create does take itself seriously to a certain extent, and this definitely does not. It’s a departure from things that I normally do. But it was a fun collaboration with The Darcys.
TM: I'm looking forward to it; it’s nice to see different sides of artists.
Begonia: Awesome, well thank you.
TM: I saw you open for Serena Ryder, and I’m pretty sure after that performance every woman in the theatre wanted to be your best friend.
Begonia: (laughs) That’s funny.
TM: You have this vulnerability that comes across as completely endearing when you’re on stage. It must take a lot of strength to get up in front of thousands of people and project those insecurities. Where does that come from and how do you do that?
Begonia: I don’t think too hard. If I’m calculating what I’m going to say, then things go awfully wrong. I rehearse, and I’m thoughtful when I go out there, and I want to make people comfortable because that, in turn, makes me more comfortable, which allows me to present the music the way I feel it should be presented. Then people can feel it the way they’re supposed to feel it. I’ve been such a Chatty Cathy since I was a kid, and was always encouraged to be an individual, and that has carried through in my adult years.
This is not to say that I don’t struggle with sometimes crippling anxiety, but I think that almost drives me to push myself even further. Generally, within the first two songs I’ll have that “Awe people hate this, oh shit, what am I doing? Oh no, I gotta win them over.” It almost drives me to work harder to be myself and as relatable as I possibly can.
But I REALLY don’t calculate what I do on stage in that way. I practice the music, but the stuff I do in between is just me, and there's no way around it for me. I end up saying dumb shit, either way, whether I practice what I say or not, so I'd rather be off the cuff, and go out there, and experience what the audience is experiencing. If I see people connecting, then I want to speak into that, or if they're in a more sombre mood, I can speak into that.
TM: There’s a certain level of authenticity that comes from you, and I think people are attracted to that.
Begonia: I appreciate that.
TM: When you’re on the stage, what do you get from the crowd? What do you feel and hear when you’re there?
Begonia: I guess it depends on the show. If it's a bar show, the electricity can be different than if it's a sit-down show. Opening for Serena was totally different because they’re all her crowd and they’re there to hear her. I walk on stage pretty naked in a sense because before that tour I'd been supporting bands that don't do a lot of solo stuff like that, so I'd be walking onto these huge stages and would feel that silence and be like “Ok…how do I fill this silence appropriately?” Because sometimes silence IS appropriate and you need to let there to be silence. I think I’ve learned that over the years that I don’t have to be talking all the time just because I feel nervous. So from some of those crowds, you feel like they’re just waiting to see what they’re going to get because they don’t know me. And I kind of love that, especially in theatres, because people are forced to listen because it’s etiquette to be quiet. You have to work a bit harder perhaps, but its fun and you can feel if the crowd is with you or not. But Serena’s crowds are always so receptive, and there to have a positive experience and I could feel that from those crowds for sure.
TM: Your new single is called "The Light," and I liked your explanation of the meaning behind it about society's unattainable expectations placed on women, and how you want to empower women to reject those roles and to be who they are. I don’t know any women who that wouldn’t speak to. It seems so universal.
Begonia: Right. I mean you said it, that's how I feel. I feel like in this industry, and at society at large, there are many heavy expectations placed on women, and I feel like most of them are bullshit. As an ageing woman in the industry, I feel like I don’t fit into many of the boxes that are the beautiful neatly placed things a woman should be doing at this age or at this time. I have so much frustration and anger and energy towards those emotions, and I don’t always know where to put it, or how to use it. Given this small platform that I have, that’s where I want to channel it. I want to channel it in a way that empowers other women to feel their feelings as loud or as quiet as they want to.
TM: I feel like you’re saying that with your look as well, with your hair and makeup.
Begonia: Yes and a lot of it is just because it’s what I like. It’s more about doing what makes you feel like yourself, and what makes you feel free in yourself. It's not doing it exactly how I'm doing it. That's a unique person to person experience. I do those things because that's what feels right to me. And I would encourage anyone else to explore what feels right to them as an individual.
TM: So we have this Christmas single to look forward to, and are you also working on new material for an album or EP?
Begonia: Yeah, I will have an album coming out next year. I can’t say exactly when, but there’s definitely new stuff coming down the pipe in the next few months that I’m excited to share.
TM: We’ll look forward to that too! I think that’s all the questions I have, thank you so much for your time!
Begonia: Yeah! Thank you!