Best of 2020: Basia Bulat on U.S. Girls’ Heavy Light

The Canadian songwriter loaned her skills to one of her favorite songwriters this year.

I’m kind of cheating with my 2020 pick, U.S. Girls’ Heavy Light. I’m cheating because I’m a little bit involved with the record, but I do think it’s one of the best records of the year. Even in terms of the title, it’s this strong illumination that’s very revealing, and also life-giving. The record was made with a lot of people in the room, which is crazy to think about now — I think there were 20 of us at one point, all playing live. A lot of the songs are about trauma, and processing collective trauma, the idea of bringing people together to get through that. What kind of beautiful music is made from the shadows of that? It’s just got some really beautiful instrumentation; the percussionists and the choir are so good! 

I’m loathe to take too much credit for anything on this record; I feel like I helped midwife it! [Laughs.] But every song was different; Meg [Remy] works with a lot of different writers and on her own as well. It just depended on the song. “Overtime” was a song that she had recorded previously, and when we were looking at the idea of hindsight, we came back to it. It was also a song I had been obsessed with ever since I knew her, so we added things and played around with it.

My schedule has been so crazy that only on the rare occasion do I get to jump on stage and shake a tambourine or scream into a microphone with U.S. Girls, but I’m probably the number one fan. I love this record. We are all going to look back on 2020: What is it that we chose to see in the moment, and what are we going to choose to see when we look back? I think this record asks those questions about your own childhood, your own past, or longer stories. “The Quiver to the Bomb” is like the history of the earth a bit. It has that feeling. It was a quarantine soundtrack for me, for sure.

As told to Josh Modell.

Basia Bulat is a three-time Polaris Music Prize finalist and has been nominated for three JUNO Awards. She is known for her extensive touring and vibrant live shows that feature her powerful voice and multi-instrument skills – switching from piano, to autoharp, to charango, to guitar. She has performed at such festivals as Montreux Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits and Newport Folk Festival and has performed for audiences at venues like Carnegie Hall, Royal Theater Carré and headlined at Massey Hall. In addition to releasing her own album in 2020—the Jim James-produced Are You In Love?—Bulat co-produced and co-wrote songs with Meg Remy for the new U.S. Girls album, Heavy Light, and co-produced the soon to be released debut album from Kass Richards, The Language Shadow.