The St. Paul musician mines her own experiences to create heartfelt tunes.
There's an organic quality to the songs of Haley Bonar. Perhaps it's that she draws her lyrics from her own reality, mining her experiences and bringing its stories to life in a new medium. Her music carries a rhythm as palpable as a heartbeat.
Since releasing her latest record Impossible Dream in late summer, Bonar has been playing a steady stream of shows in support of the disc. We got to chat with Haley following her final show of the year in Grand Rapids about her songwriting process, the upcoming acoustic version of Impossible Dream and the several ways stories intersect in her life through bookstores to her own writing.
Hometown: Rapid City, SD
Homebase: St. Paul, MN
If you were to creatively describe your sound, how would you?
The lyrics read like little stories, the sound takes you to the place where the stories live.
Considering you're mining your past on your songs, how nostalgic would you say you are?
I would say I'm mining my past as much as I'm inventing a story. Perhaps every poet/painter/filmmaker etc uses something of their own life to create something imaginary. That being said, I tend to grow less nostalgic as I get older. Trying to be in the present makes more sense.
If Impossible Dream were filed amongst books and movies or similar themes in a library that eschewed the Dewey Decimal system, which kin media would sit alongside it on the shelf?
Filed near Patti Smith's Just Kids (book), Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Echo and the Bunnymen's Songs to Learn and Sing, Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi (photo book)
When did Impossible Dream start taking shape? Were you working with an album in mind or just writing songs? How do you feel it differs from your previous albums?
I started writing the songs for ID right around the time Last War was ready for release. I wrote "Better Than Me" the same time I wrote "Woke up in my Future" (from Last War), which was the first song of the album just as Woke Up was the last song for Last War. I kept writing songs until I felt there was an underlying theme in which I could sew them together to make a whole. Some songs did not make the cut.
What's your songwriting process like? How long does it take for a song to go from idea to finished track?
My process involves long periods of time in which I do very little or no songwriting. I call it "sponge phase," because it's like my brain is ingesting new information and storing it away. Eventually I begin writing, sometimes in fragments, sometimes just sketches. Once in a while, a song comes right away and is written quickly. Other times they require more time and reworking. I started writing the basic melody for "Kismet Kill" six years ago, for instance. It showed up every once in a while, until finally it made sense.
What's has the biggest influence on your music?
Solitude, reading, nature.
What do you most want listeners to take away from your music?
I guess I would hope that some songs would be forever songs.
How would you describe the dynamics of playing solo versus with band members?
I like playing solo when I first write songs, because they're still in a raw state, and it's exciting. Playing alone is something I've done for half my life now, and although I do enjoy it in some circumstances, it is far more satisfying to play the songs the way that they exist on the record, with other people's energy and more dynamics.
What are your favorite parts of touring?
Finding good book stores and restaurants. Talking to fans after the shows.
Have a recent tour story to share?
Nothing in particular, but what I can take away from this year's round of touring is that people are unpredictable. Some people are incredibly sweet and grateful for our traveling to them to perform. Some people (although very few) are weird or jerks for no apparent reason. But for the most part, people are good — and it is humbling to carry this around in day to day life as a reminder. Humanity is very complicated, and touring is an unique way to experience a side of it that many people never get the chance to.
What's ahead for the new year ahead? What would you like to accomplish?
I need to rest a bit, and be at home. I want to work on my book of short stories. I'm recording an acoustic version of Impossible Dream that will be out in the spring. Looking forward to heading back to Europe and the UK in March.
For more profiles on up-and-coming artists, visit our Artist of the Day page.