Interview: Bif Naked

Bif Naked

Bif Naked is a celebrated and notorious performer in music, TV, film, and dance, and a tireless advocate and Humanitarian. Orphaned in India, emancipated by punk rock, and empowered by surviving breast cancer, kidney failure, heart surgery, divorce, and surviving as a Woman in The Entertainment Industry for twenty-five years, Bif has transcended any and all obstacles placed in her path to become one of the world’s most unique, recognizable and beloved icons. It is because Bif is such a tremendous performer and musician, that she is able to seamlessly and successfully explore and record other mediums, like writing, painting, choreography, and of course- other genres of music. When asked about what her favourite pastimes are, she has only one answer: “Living Loudly.” She’s returning to Peterborough Friday Sept 16. I caught up after decades, by phone….

Mb: Hello Bif!
BIF: Hello, how are you?
Mb: Good how are you?
BIF: Happy end of summer.
Mb: (Laughs) If that’s a happy thing…
BIF: Well, you know that everyone likes the fall, I think.
Mb: As long as it’s warm.
BIF: I was just going to say that, as long as it’s kinda beautiful and still sunny, not too cold, not too icky and rainy. Living in Ontario has been very happy for me.
Mb: I was just gonna ask, where are you living these days? Ontario, so you will get the fall colors.
BIF: Well, I moved here 4 years ago, I had lived in Vancouver for 30 years, and I just love it, I love it so much, I love it here.
Mb: Do ya?
BIF: I love it, it’s so amazing.
Mb: What’s the difference? Most people are clambering to get out of Ontario it seems.
BIF: I don’t know why?
Mb: They dream about out west, mountains, and warmer weather.
BIF: I guess so, but you know, winter, there is something really beautiful about the heartiness of winter here. I am originally a Prairie girl, so I am not shy about the snow. In fact, I had a little hatchback, a little Volvo hatchback, that sadly died and went to heaven last summer. It was about 13 years old and I drove it to Petawawa, through Peterborough, during a snow storm, the first winter I came here. It turned me into an adult. I had to be very, very alert and very good at driving, as I didn’t have winter tires at the time… I don’t think. It was real. The highways were closed and I didn’t know that. I was on them and had to go down the back roads with snow drifts bigger than my car. It was glorious, it was beautiful and horrifying, and terrifying, yet I was victorious in the end, that was it. I thought, “You know what? If that’s the worst that winter will throw at me, I’m good.”
Mb: Well, good on ya, what a great attitude.
BIF: Ya, I love it, and also, there are Cardinals here.
Mb: That’s true and Blue Jays.
BIF: Ya, even just yesterday, there’s Blue Jays and there’s another Jay, I forget what it’s called. The area of Toronto that I live in is right on the lake, it’s basically Etobicoke and it’s amazing. It is just absolutely amazing. I’ve never missed the Pacific Ocean, not one day, because this lake is so vast.
Mb: It might as well be an ocean.
BIF: A hundred percent. It’s just gorgeous, and summers here, everyone is boating and sailing, it’s just exactly the same. There’s not a lot of difference and it’s really great.
Mb: Well, welcome to Ontario. It’s great to have ya.
BIF: Thank you very much. I am glad there is an election coming up, I have voted in every election that has happened since I moved here. The spring I moved here, Doug Ford got elected. Of course, my Vancouver friends all teased me mercilessly like, “Haha you looser. You gonna come back with your tail between your legs.” I always vote, and I’m going to vote again, and try and vote him out. I am sure, him and his family are fantastic, I don’t know. I am going to try to use my vote. If only 40% of us are voting, or less, that means people that we know, socialize with, and maybe even love, aren’t voting. I don’t understand. Are they all just so high on mushrooms every day that they can’t get there? As they work, they have families why are these people not voting? it’s so frustrating. So I’m thinking of volunteering for Elections Canada this year.
Mb: In Australian the law is you have to vote.
BIF: Yes, 100% But you know what? There would be a truck convoy about that. There really would, people would not like being told they have to do something.
Mb: “Freedom!” Anyway… you know, I went back into our archives and realized that we haven’t spoken since 1999!!
BIF: COME ON!!!
Mb: I’m tellin’ ya. We put you on the cover after I Bificus released in 1998.
BIF: Oh my god.
Mb: You were touring up here and you came through in early ’99 and we did an interview, putting you on the cover… That’s a long time ago.
BIF: Unbelievable. It is, and we’re gearing up to do an I Bificus anniversary tour next year.
Mb: Fantastic!
BIF: I know! And do the whole record, I’m like “Has it really been that long?”
Mb: It has…well, here we are….here we are both still at it.
BIF: I still play those songs. Ya, love it, I love it!
Mb: Being here in Ontario is going to make it a lot easier to tour this province…
BIF: Well, that was the whole idea when I moved here. I do a combination of acoustic shows and rock shows. Technically, it seems like here, I could play in Windsor, I could play in London, I could play in Sarnia…
Mb: So many venues.
BIF: Yes, I could play in more populations. Of course, that was very true until the Pandemic hit, and the last acoustic tour I did, finished on the 18th of March of 2020… and we had a record coming out that year. It became clearer and clearer as the months went on, that the world did not need a Bif Naked record. The world needed bodies to go march… like literally! I needed to postpone the record. There were other things more important, like social distancing, pandemic watching and these things. We trickled out a couple of singles over the last two years and we are still hoping to get my Champion record out, but the problem is I keep tinkering with it. (laughs)
Mb: Tell me about making a record. You are such a multi-disciplinarian. You wrote your own book, you have a documentary coming out about you, you’ve had TV & film appearances, and obviously records… What intrigues you the most, which discipline?
BIF: Oh, good heavens!
Mb: Is that too broad of a question?
BIF: No, not at all. It’s just I think that the answer changes for everybody. I think that goes for anybody, people who are writers or poets. I wrote a book of poetry that is just basically literary trauma porn cloaked in adolescent eroticism. It’s like, “Oh my god,” it makes me laugh even when I think, “Oh ya poetry… no, no maybe not poetry.” Then the following year we work on the record and I love performing. That is hands down, my favorite thing to do. Whether it’s singing or spoken word. Not so much acting really. I mean I tried my hand at that a few times when I was younger, and I just kept getting cast as singers or drug addicts, or hookers. Now, thank god I am a little older, maybe somehow, I’ll get cast as a mother or grandmother, a jail warden, or something more interesting. But, I still like performing better than anything else I do.
Mb: Well, I’m looking at a quote here that you gave me years ago, again in 1999, where you say, “Poetry is a large part of my lyrics and music. I’m pretty much a loud-mouth storyteller,” Is that still true?
BIF: 100%…one hundred percent. I never shut up. When you look up ‘Chatty Kathy’ you see my picture. I am an elevator talker. Only now people kind of think I’m a middle-aged goth mom. People don’t think right away that I am that singer, and that’s kinda funny… and fun. Although, you know in ’99 it was very different. I was very lucky you know. I remember reading a story about Jennifer Anniston’s parents and how they were having lots of problems with their neighborhood watch because people kept going through their garbage. I remember thinking “That would suck, that would absolutely suck!” I thought “Thank god we are Canadian, man. Canadians would never do that to anybody,” but the story is not true. They probably would hit Justin Bieber or Drake, but you know, I feel lucky that I was kind of a bit more of a woman of the people, in a way. I never really felt on a different level in that regard, and even truer, the older I get, I like it. I think that, in one way, having the notoriety from being a performer has really benefited me. I can weasel my way into conventions and kind of hob-nob with some social justice folks. I think it is still unfolding for me as I mature. I don’t really know where my voice is best used, but it’s changing and I like that, because it is always a challenge and it’s always interesting.
Mb: I imagine a lot of your ability to influence, is just to deal with folks wanting to meet you. You’re not just somebody coming in off the street, that may not have an interesting back story or have any celebrity cache. People are going to be interested in what you have to say because you are a celebrity, and someone who has a pulpit to say things from. Those folks are going to want to harness your energy.
BIF: From your mouth to God’s ears. I think, that at the end of the day, I am still basically this half-white lady and have to try and find my place in the world. That is from a place of humility, and that’s always a good challenge to have. I think that it’s interesting, and being in Ontario was the right fit for me. Vancouver doesn’t need me, and that’s the truth. They have so many activists, so many great non-profits and great organizations. Some of my former bandmates are working in street outreach in the downtown east side and doing amazing work, but they don’t need me. Coming to Ontario and trying to find where I fit, somehow I wound up attending this thing that civilians weren’t at. John Tory was there, I never really met him, but he was there, as there were only about 10 people in the room and he was one of them. It was for the opening of Journey Home Hospice because I do hospice volunteering and this is the only place in Canada that is a hospice for the homeless or unhoused population. I kind of wound up getting my foot in the door over there and again right before the pandemic hit, I decided I wanted to become a Death Doula.
Mb: You wanted to become a what?
BIF: Death Doula is basically the same idea as the Birth Doula but basically you are supporting the patient in whatever way they need support or supporting their families, or caregivers. It is just a really interesting field and I am really passionate about it. I am hoping this pandemic is waning enough for me to resume pursuing that, as I think that is something that I am really interested in. Now, I have a little dog that was re-homed to me and that’s another story of woe… I had applied for her to be a volunteer service animal in the hospital and we’re in! Her first day was last week and it was amazing. She is the tiniest little Yorkie and just makes everybody smile and that’s her only job, that’s it.
Mb: That’s tough work, that’s heartbreaking stuff.
BIF: See, and I don’t think it is at all… It was a real accident how I wound up doing it. It was, again when we were talking about cache or anything like that, when I was a breast cancer patient. I kept being asked to go meet the rookies. As a new patient who was terrified, they thought it would be great if we met, who also happens to be bald and jaundiced. I was thinking, “This is nuts, but, ya of course! Just let me throw up first, and then I will get right on it!” I wound up volunteering in the chemo wards and discovering that it was my calling. Some of these patients, (it was mostly peer-to-peer volunteering) went into palliative care or into hospice care which is how I followed them in their journey. I wound up discovering that not only is hospice and palliative volunteerism very very low, but it’s also low in numbers of people that want or are willing to dive into that very necessary arm of volunteering. I kind of discovered that I was built for it. There is such a need, just like blood donors, there is a need for it. So, I kinda fell into it, and now, it’s really what I really want to do. I haven’t written any songs about it.
Mb: I was going to ask, how does that affect your art?
BIF: It is a totally different side of the brain, a completely different side of the brain. I never tire of it. I could do it for 18 hours a day, and the only other thing that I can do for that long is sing.
Mb: I don’t know that I could do that. I’d be taking it home every night… so hard to be optimistic.
BIF: I feel that way about cops, paramedics, or anyone that is a first responder basically. I don’t know how they do it. Don’t even get me started on animal rescue. I don’t know how, I couldn’t do that job, working with dying people no problem, but I could not do animal rescue, no way. I would just cry, I would collapse.
Mb: Are you still happy with your career after all the years?
BIF: Ya, I suppose, ya for sure. But it is just clean fun, plain and simple. It never leaves ya from the age of 17 til now, I’m still enjoying it just as much. Now, as I get older… boy, Tina Turner, that lady is in a mini skirt and heels at 70! Well, I’m going to be too! I will too dammit! (laughs). You know I think there is no time limit anymore and so many of these women are timeless. I mean you can look at Jann Arden who is a perfect example. I mean, she’s just consistently an entertainer and so entertaining. Deborah Cox is another matriarch of Canadian music, I commend them.
Mb: It’s not an easy lifestyle. Unless you reach some level where you are able to economically and fiscally support yourself in a real adult way, that’s the breaker for most people.
BIF: 100 percent. Absolutely, and I don’t know how young bands do it today. Canada is very lucky, we have a grant system that people can access, but our running joke is that only 5 bands get to access the grants because they keep getting the grants, and everybody else is in a van. That’s the running joke in Canada.
Mb: Exactly. The folks that are getting the grants are already the people that are out there doing it, and so it’s not really a Development Grant as much as it’s a Sustainable Grant. “Ok, you are not quite making enough money, so here’s the extra money that you need to finish the record and go on tour.”
BIF: That’s right, ya, exactly.
Mb: Which, as you say, makes it harder for young bands. There’s no doubt about it. Then, of course, the last time we spoke, the internet was just starting up with the idea that you were going to be able to sell your music… or everybody was going to steal it. Now, everybody can buy your music but instead of there being 10,000 bands to choose from there are a million bands to choose from.
BIF: And also, nobody buys it, that’s the thing. Music is not a revenue source really, not really for anybody. Also, I feel bad actually for other facets of the industry like publicity and other businesses that help support artists. They are just not necessary anymore. Artists have their own Instagram, artists do their own publicity, and artists are on TikTok if they want to be. If they don’t want to be, “too bad,” they are still expected to be. You know it has just changed so much. For us, we still try and work with young artists and mentor them, I mean especially during the pandemic. I couldn’t even put them on a show with me, I didn’t have any. It was like I can’t do anything for this artist, just nothing. Now, it’s basically up to the artist to do silly things and put them on social media.
Mb: Let’s talk briefly about the documentary. Is the feeling in the same way when you wrote your book, a purging or is it an opportunity to share life experiences? What’s the motivation?
BIF: Well, you know, I’m not directing it and I’m not the film company so I don’t know what they are doing! Anyways, Jennifer Abbott signed on to be the director, which for me is so validating as a fellow woman and a citizen, because I have huge respect for Jennifer. Her lens to see my story? I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I don’t know if we are going to go to India to film, I don’t know if we are gonna do primarily performance showing. Last year we started, or they started is more accurate. They were with me on the BUCKCHERRY Tour, filming backstage, filming the shows, doing interviews with my manager, my bandmates, and interviewing me. Then, this fall we are going to be doing some more traveling and filming and I think I am going to take the director and film team to go meet my birth mom at some point. Ya, I don’t really know what it’s about, it’s really exciting and really humbling that they wanted to do it. I don’t know what to expect, I have no idea what to expect!
Mb: Are you nervous about that? Are you wondering how you will be portrayed and what kind of a story they are going to tell about you?
BIF: Not really, because I think that I’ve been kinda the same. Always the same “over sharing, too much information telling” person, that I have always been. Yes, with the book also, I don’t really have any secrets. They’ve all been told, except for the 200 thousand words that were cut out of my book by the publisher as he wrote libel across every page. (laughs) But, we’ll see. I don’t think they are gonna go down any of those roads, I don’t know. You know I’m an open book for them, again working with Jennifer is something otherworldly for me.
Mb: So September 16th, you are coming to Peterborough, you are playing the big rock room; The VENUE. What can people expect? What are they going to hear?
BIF: Well, it’s going to be loud, because that’s how we like it, when it comes to doing the rock shows. I am going to play the songs that people want to hear. They always want to hear I Love Myself Today or Lucky. I always dedicate Lucky to all the nurses and I get a lot of nurses at the shows, along with breast cancer survivors. I get a lot of women who are my age… late 40’s and upwards, cuz we all grew up together. We all listened to the same music throughout the ’90s, and it’s part of our shared history as a generation. Ya, to come back to Peterborough is always a thrill. I got a ticket the last time I was there and I remember not being able to pay it online. I was so upset that I couldn’t pay my City of Peterborough parking ticket online, that I phoned the offices and said “I am trying to pay my parking ticket, why can’t I pay this parking ticket?” And she got back to me like three more times. I wound up getting to know one of the administrators literally because I so badly wanted to pay my parking ticket before it went up to like 60 bucks or whatever it was, it’s the principal of it. So yeah, I always have a good time in Peterborough, we have a lot of friends there. Just really looking forward to coming back and rocking it out.