Haley Bonar is best known for her moody/atmospheric take on the Americana singer/songwriter genre, but her brand would seem to be more inspired by post-punk and shoegaze than the kind of artists who haunt dinner theater venues (When discussing the year’s best new music, she’s certainly kosher to mention alongside the likes of Swans and Marissa Nadler.) And at just thirty years old Haley has already been doing music professionally for nearly half of her life. She recorded her debut as a teen and, more than a decade later, is about to release her sixth full-length, Last War, next Tuesday, May 20th, on Graveface Records. I recently got a chance to chat with the Minnesota-based songwriter about a number of things, but perhaps most significantly, the biggest difference in the person who recorded her debut and her current self.
“I sort of fell into this really young. I was young and naïve and 19 when I started. I was lucky that the people who got me into this were really nice and kind… in the beginning, but I’ve done a lot of growing. I would hope that from 18-30, I can say that. I’ve grown a lot as a human being and a songwriter. I’m better at what I do, I think. Also, I had a baby at 27, which changed everything. That period of my life when my daughter was born was really powerful. At 19 I just cared about me, but now I have to care about someone else more than me and that’s a really powerful relationship.”
Last War is a bit of a departure for Haley Bonar… Well, maybe more of an evolution. It’s post-punk side has been pushed more into the realm of dark new wave or brooding synthpop. It’s playfully aggressive, while still retaining a high-mindedness in its handling of the existential. I ask Haley what prompted this evolution and she tells me that, more than anything, it was the result of a recent side project: “I think one of the biggest inspirations was the other band I started, Gramma’s Boyfriend, which started as an accident and a joke really. I had wanted to do something the opposite of what I’d been doing. I mean, I’m a good, weird person into rock n’ roll and punk and I wanted to let that self free, which I think I have.” And in terms of the subject matter, Haley is admirably blunt, yet with an obvious sense of humor: “I had a kid and had a relationship with her father, which didn’t work out… but we’re still friends and have a relationship with shared custody. I think the album cover might say it all, with the building burning, surrounded by greenery. I mean, life goes on and grass overgrows it, or someone rebuilds it.”
Haley Bonar has a handful of live dates throughout May and June and will be making her way up and down the East Cost mid-June (Check here for dates.) and she seems to currently be more excited about this than anything else: “We’re pretty tight and pretty rockin’ with this lineup, compared to previous tours and I’ve been finished with this record for a year now and I just can’t fuckin’ wait to get it out and do all the things associated with that – interviews and playing…”
And finally, since PHILTHY MAG is such the fan of Ryan Graveface and his Graveface Records, Haley’s current home (having recently covered artists like Dott, The Stargazer Lilies, and Whirr), I’m curious to hear her thoughts on the Savannah, GA-based indie label: “For the first record that they released I wasn’t really working with the label so much, but Ryan and I are definitely getting to know each other and he definitely cares about his child, the label, Graveface, and growing it. But I still need to spend more time getting to know my labelmates.” However, Haley does tell me that she’s gotten the opportunity to play some shows with and get to know one of PHILTHY’s favorite acts, The Casket Girls. The Casket Girls are comprised of sisters Phaedra and Elsa Green, along with Ryan himself. They are a hyper-postmodern, nearly avant-garde take on the girl group that both excites and scares me to a profound degree. Haley also seems to be excited by their radicalness and quite the fan herself.
“It reminds me a lot of a Twin Peaks vibe – there’s a coldness to their femininity, which is totally rad – almost androgynous, very robotic. It’s like they’re like, ‘We look like mannequins, which is what is really sexy to a lot of people,’ but I’ve played a few shows with them and they’re such nice girls.”