Tracy Bonham – Part Two – An Xperience Interview
Written by Staff on December 4, 2023
Tracy Bonham – Part Two – An Xperience Interview – by Niki Kaos.
In Part one of my interview with Tracy Bonham, we talk about the challenges of being swept up in the music industry’s hit making machine after the success of “Mother Mother”. The conversation continues as I learn how Bonham took control of her musical journey.
RRX: People have an illusion, I think. The cost of celebrity makes the music part a little harder.
TB: I agree with you. When I look back to the time when I was really successful and feeling that weird pressure, people treating me differently, I started to really not like it. And I’m all about manifesting. So, I manifested a lot of this… slow down. I wasn’t comfortable. And it was a few years of feeling not comfortable. I could have continued to push, push, push, even though things were harder and harder with the music business. But I was like, hell, why do I wanna push that hard if I’m gonna be miserable by being famous?
RRX: I admire you for having the maturity to make that decision. When I see people who take time between albums it’s an opportunity for reflection. A time to learn from your last process and create something that is meaningful to you.
TB: Well, now that I’m in this position, I can look back and go, wow, cool! Thank you! But at the time, I was frustrated. I wanted momentum. I was jealous of bands that had mild or moderate success but kept putting stuff out. I was jealous of those guys because they were working! I had this hit. I was up on this mountain. And then I was down in the field.
RRX: It’s gotta get in your head a little bit?
TB: Oh, yeah, it definitely does. And then it took forever, right before my second album imploded so much. I didn’t have the right manager. And I was constantly waiting for other people’s permission to do literally anything. I needed permission to go into the studio, or make an EP, or do a gig. And I fell into that trap too.
That’s my own shit again. Therapy… Whatever. I wasn’t saying, “Hell no! This is my career! Get me so and so on the phone!” I was never that kind of person.
RRX: I read everything changed from Burdens of Being Upright, and on your second album you went from working with people that you knew to working with different people. Even if you wanted to, it might not have benefited you to speak out because that was not what they wanted. They didn’t want you to say shit.
TB: Oh, yeah. It’s not really welcomed. I mean, there are artists that did that. I totally admire people like Ani DiFranco didn’t even let herself get swallowed by the machine. And my upbringing, I’ve come from a long line of women who are kind of like passenger seat, you know, so I didn’t grow up with a Gloria Steinem type as my mom.
RRX: So, all those things shape you as you go through the corporate hell of the music industry, and you started figuring out what you did love and making albums that were truer to your growth as a musician?
RRX: That’s the happy ending to surviving nonsense!
TB: It’s really true. And, you know, maybe I didn’t get out and reach all corners of the world. And maybe I didn’t make the kind of money that was expected back at that time. Everyone was expecting all of this money, and I saw glimpses of it, but now I look back and I’m like, that’s fine. That would have eaten me alive. I’m really happy with my choices, you know?
RRX: You manifested what you needed, which was to get away from that industry control. I think it served you as a musician because you have an independent spirit and intelligence to your writing. Your lyrics are a little bit like a verbal side eye. I’m a big lyrics girl. It’s what draws me into the song.
And your instrumentation and production tell a story, embodying the mood of the writing. Your later albums have elements of a storytelling feel. Reminds me of something like Jason Isbell does.
TB: For me, it’s like really old Willie Nelson. Like even his demos from the fifties. His snarky, funny, ironic lyrics are great.
RRX: I like that you’ve mixed in some of that folk element on your later work. You’re not just stuck in the classical world when you write, rather, that experience gives you the bones to build out songs in all sorts of genres.
Let’s dream about the future. If time and money were no object, what would you want to work on right now? And do you have any people you would love to work with? Maybe who you haven’t had a chance to?
TB: I love that question. Because I asked that question of myself one time on an airplane. Those are my deep thoughts. Deep thoughts come to me on airplanes and stuff. And, so I’m gonna say exactly what I’m doing right now, which is the best answer. Like if I had all the time and the money in the world. I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing. How lucky am I?
Right now, I’m writing the best songs I think I’ve ever written. I’m gonna make an album which, I’m so thrilled, you’re the first person I just told, except for my band and a few friends. I’m gonna start recording in December. It’s time. And my trio that will be with me on New Year’s Eve are phenomenal. They’re jazz musicians who like to rock.
Oh, my God, I have musicians who listen! They don’t just play, they listen. That’s opened up a world so much for me that my music is expanding. And I’m so happy with the music that I’m making as Tracy Bonham.
Okay, I could say maybe I would hire a nanny and a cook and stuff like that so I could tour more. That I would do. So that’s the one thing I feel like I’m suffering through is I can’t get out on the road because I’m a mom and this is challenging. It’s complicated.
But the other thing I’m doing right now that I’m so proud of that I wouldn’t change for the world is I’m working on my music education curriculum. It’s called Melodeon. My bass player, who is also my wonderful life partner, and I, creating this music education program/curriculum that is my jam!
It incorporates everything I love all into one thing, which is music, obviously, music theory and education, because that was my foundation as a classical pianist and violinist. I love theory, harmony, ear training and children! And I have been developing this for all ages. I’ve been writing all these songs that teach the fundamentals of music.
RRX: That’s so cool! My mind is blown right now, and I’m really excited.
TB: The last time we played in Saratoga was at Caffe Lena and we did a double bill of Melodeon was the family concert and then Tracy Bonham at night, after hours. And that literally is my dream, to do both and travel around and tour. The beautiful thing about Melodeon too, is that it’s my same world-renowned jazz trio.
I need to make some videos and put them on YouTube of them doing a silly song about time signatures. These people have played with classical music giants, and here they are doing Sesame Street gags. This is why I’m so happy. This is really what I want to be doing. So, time, money, whatever. If it wasn’t an object, I’d be doing that more and having my kid with me and somebody making nice meals.
RRX: I am going to sit here and manifest that with you right now. Because I think that sounds like an amazing life and I think you deserve it.
TB: Thank you. I do, too. Darn it.
RRX: Thank you so much for talking with me. I can’t wait to catch your set with the trio New Year’s Eve!
People can catch Tracy Bonham on December 31st at Saratoga New Year’s Fest this year! For tickets and more information, visit: https://www.saratoga.org/tourism/saratoga-new-years-fest/
To learn more about the Melodeon education program, check out melodeonmusichouse.com