Interview: Megan Bonnell

Megan Bonnell is quickly becoming one of Canada’s leading voices as a songwriter, performer, and artist. A two-time Canadian Folk Music Award nominee, Megan has spent the last three years touring Canada, the US, and making groundbreaking debut performances at European festivals including BIME Live Festival in Bilbao, the Barcelona Jazz Festival, and The End Festival in London. From her earliest days growing up in Caledon she knew it was music. In grade school, she taught herself to play piano by ear, and later got serious about music when she studied voice at hometown arts high school, Mayfield Secondary. Later she would tour around Canada a number of times while simultaneously attending U of Toronto. In 2013 she released her debut album “Hunt and Chase” following it up 3 years later with “Magnolia.” Last year she released her third album “Separate Rooms” which “treads even further into difficult emotional territory, finding Bonnell at her most vulnerable but also her most courageous.” Not to afraid to tell it like it is, I caught up with Megan on a particularly windy day…

Mb: Hey Megan.
Megan: Hello! Are you guys getting crazy weather over there?
Mb: That was going to be my first question!
Megan: Winds are still very high, and now it’s snowing again. So, ya!
Mb: So you’re hunkered down? Good chance to work on some material? What’s your day like?
Megan: With music, there’s so many different stages through out each season, it seems. Right now I’m in the pre-tour stage. So I’ve got a lot of prep going on. I’ve got some rehearsals and some tour promo rolling out. It’s kind of a “work from home” day, which is nice.
Mb: Tell me about the tour?
Megan: The tour is a Southern Ontario run in March, and spills into April. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be with the whole band and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s going to be nice to get back out.
Mb: You like to play live?
Megan: Love it! It’s especially fun with this album, Seperate Rooms. I’ve really made a push to bring the whole band with me on the road, because it’s truer to the album. It’s nice to play solo shows, there’s an intimacy to them, but it’s great to have the band for the groove and all the kind of different layers that we can recreate from the album.
Mb: How are you feeling about the new album. I’ve read reviews suggesting it’s a bit “dark?”
Megan: (laughs) Ya, I know. I think my music… it’s funny, because I think this album in particular, is probably the darkest album of all, and yet it’s the most upbeat and groovy album! And there are definitely some more light hearted sections throughout, but I think with this album, I really wanted to make a point, maybe even subconsciously, but to really go to those places, and go all the way and not hold back. I was writing the album right around the time of the important shift that’s taking place in our society. These days, people are starting to shatter the taboos that have been around certain subject matter, whether it’s divorce or miscarriage, the things that are deeply personal that in the past have been a no-no to speak openly about. In this day and age, it’s so inspiring to see people coming forward with some of their hardships and connecting over them, creating communities around them for support. I’ve been so inspired by other artists, particularly female artists who always made a point of doing that. Not standing on the edge of their message to make it a little more gentle or polite. So I wanted to lean into that with this album. But you know, it’s also a full band with lots of groove, so it’s not too morose! (laughs)
Mb: As a songwriter there’s always that balancing act of “What can I say, and still be radio friendly.”
Megan: Right! It’s true. You have to keep that in mind and at the same time just let that go. If you think about it too much you start to lose the authenticity of it. It’s a fine line, for sure.
Mb: I see by your bio, you studied Political Science at university.
Megan: I did. I went to an arts high-school for voice, and I knew I wanted to get my degree, but it was right at the time I was starting my first band. So I thought if I get into the University of Toronto, I’ll move to Toronto so I can start playing music in the city and become familiar with the scene. But I knew I was done with the classical side of training so I went for English and Political Science because they are two subjects that interested me. It worked out for me, those four years in school, though I took little breaks to tour.
Mb: So does your interest in politics come out in your writing?
Megan: Ya. I think these days especially, it’s sort of impossible to not have it seep in to our everyday lives. Points of inspiration, so for sure it’s a part of it.
Mb: Switching gears, how was working with Donovan Woods?
Megan: Amazing! I’m so excited for him. I think it’s a double Juno nomination. He’s just such an inspiring writer. To write with him was really fun because I had an idea that I wanted to bring to him and we hashed it out for the entire day. I think, to watch someone else, especially with his level of experience with collaborative writing and to watch him navigate through the creative road-blocks when we’d get stuck. Where I’d think “Let’s take a break, let’s not force our way through it” and he would help forge ahead and bring it to completion. And I love his sound! It was a unique experience.
Mb: Speaking of the Junos, I see you have a cover of Blue Rodeo’s Try, as part of the Juno Sessions.
Megan: Yes! It’s such a great song. It’s so perfectly done by Blue Rodeo. It was fun to take a different angle with it and make it our own.
Mb: Are you playing that in the show?
Megan: Ya, we’re going to be playing that on the upcoming tour.
Mb: So you’re coming to Peterborough.
Megan: Ya, I’ve played there a number of times and it’s always such a nice place to play and Market Hall is a beautiful venue with great sound, so we’re really excited to come. It’s going to be a great night!

Megan Bonnell appears Thursday March 28 Market Hall Performing Arts Centre with special guest opener Evangeline Gentle.