Local Current Blog

Haley Bonar talks about her ‘Bad Reputation’ and how motherhood has influenced her songs

Credit: Photo by Stephanie Colgan

A lot has changed in Haley Bonar’s world since she released her full-length Golder last year. Namely, she has welcomed her first child, Clementine, into the world, and transitioned from a busy touring artist into a stay-at-home mom. But her songwriting has never slowed, and if anything she says becoming a mom has only served to refocus her attention on her craft.

Bonar’s been so productive of late that she’s already made significant headway on a new LP, which is due out early next year, and will celebrate the completion of the album’s first two songs, “Bad Reputation” and “Down Sunny Roads,” at a 7″-release show tomorrow night.

I recently called up Haley to discuss the meaning behind the lyrics of her “Bad Reputation” and learn more about how Clementine has influenced her creative process.

Local Current: Tell me about the inspiration behind the lyrics of “Bad Reputation,” especially the lines “I feel like I’m kind of boring” and “I’ve lost a little bit, but I’m going to go find it.”

Haley Bonar: The beginning of the song is sort of talking about a relationship with yourself. For me, personally, obviously I’ve had a huge shift in my existence, and I feel like the beginning of it sort of talks about that. I don’t get it, I don’t understand myself right now. And then the second verse is reflecting on feeling kind of boring, and feeling — it’s a really weird feeling when you’re a mom and you’re staying at home with your kid, because you’re just on their terms a lot. It just takes a long time to get used to that, and I definitely felt a little bit bummed sometimes. And I think everybody who is a parent can relate to that.

Louis C.K. has this bit about how being a parent is the most boring thing in the world — like, it’s so wonderful, and you get so much from it, and I love you so much, but I am so bored I will just walk out of this movie and never come back. He talks about playing Candyland and just wanting to kill himself. [laughs] And obviously it’s an extreme version of it, but it’s true, though. And it’s not like, oh, being a parent is SO BORING, but compared to what you used to do, which was anything you wanted, anytime — you can’t do that. You kind of feel like you have a shackle around your foot. You can only do a certain amount of things, and on top of that you’re really just very tired.

So [“Bad Reputation”] talks about that. Like, I wish I could date my former self, she was so much more fun! And then I kind of took the lyrics a little bit further and just examined where we’re at as a race of people, just because — I mean, I think a lot of the songs I’m writing right now have to do with this apocalyptic idea. Not necessarily because I think the apocalypse is coming, but I feel like everybody is afraid of it. I think everyone’s sort of paranoid, because people are in sort of a bad place right now. People are looking for light, and there’s a lot of negative energy in the world. There’s a lot of negative power in the world, and I think that people are kind of losing themselves in that. You know, I lost a little bit. We’ve lost it. Everybody loses stuff as they cycle through life. People just kind of wave up and down; there’s really good times in the world, and really bad times, and it’s just a collective thing, everyone can kind of feel that. So I wanted to just state my own personal thing, and then bring it apart a little bit more, which is the end of the song.

Do you feel like you get to be less “boring,” as you say, or exorcise some of those feelings when you’re playing in Gramma’s Boyfriend?

Yeah. I feel like that. I mean, that band is our little therapy outlet for us all. We all love punk rock music, but we don’t play it necessarily. So it’s our way of getting our jollies out. And it is really fun. With that band, it’s definitely just a different kind of person on stage. I get to be this weird part of myself. But that’s always been there. [laughs]

Do you feel like you have to keep the weird parts out when you’re billed as Haley Bonar and playing your solo material?

No, not at all. I just don’t have those kind of songs. They’re different. I wrote those [Gramma’s Boyfriend] songs too, you know, the lyrics and stuff, and I don’t feel like I have to get into a certain character to write me versus Gramma. I just get to paint with a different color.

Tell me about the decision to put out a 7” now, with a full-length to follow next year.

I always put out an EP in the fall, or something in the fall, in between a record cycle or before a record. I don’t really know why, it just ends up happening when I have songs and I don’t want to just sit on them. I think with my last record, I put it out myself, and I’m planning on doing that with this upcoming record. I don’t understand, anymore, why we need to wait for a record. Because people don’t listen to records anymore. They don’t. You know, people as a giant number, they listen to songs. And that’s fine, that’s just kind of the way that it is with downloading and stuff. I think that it’s smart to put out music when it’s fresh for you as an artist. For me, I get bored really fast with my songs. I need to not be precious about it, and I just want to put it out, and I’m ready to record the rest of the songs now, and I’m hoping to have the full-length out hopefully in the spring. 

So you’ve already written the rest of the album?

I have a little over half. So I’ve got a little more work to do, but I’m kind of leaving that up to this winter. We’ll see what kind of a turn the songs take, I don’t know.

Are you more productive in any particular season?

Actually this time is the best, end of the summer into the fall. When the summer stops I’m way more into writing and not being anywhere except at home and working on music. In the summertime I’m just restless, I want to be out and doing stuff. And wintertime is good for that, too, because you’re kind of stuck a lot of the time. I don’t have anything else to do, and I don’t go out very much anymore, so it’s just like, well, I’ll just work on music as much as possible. That’s my goal.

What other influence has Clementine had on your writing, or your approach to making new songs?

My heart has grown like the Grinch, like 20 times too big. You think you know what love is, and you fall in love with a person or you love your family, but it’s a really different color of it when you fall in love with your baby because you made this little thing, and you’re completely responsible, and there’s all this work that goes into it but it’s just so amazing and sweet. It makes me want to write love songs. “Down Sunny Road” is totally about her, it’s totally for her. It’s just a love song, like let’s go along in our life together, and I want to be with you, you’re so sweet and I can’t wait to see you grow up.

Besides that, which is obviously a big part of it, the fact that I have been pretty much staying home with her since she was born — I do take her to childcare for 10-15 hours a week, and that time is really my time to work on stuff. I work better on a deadline, and when I drop her off it’s like, ‘Ok, you have five hours. What are you going to do?’ And if I’m inspired then I just sit and play music the entire time. And sometimes I come home and I don’t feel anything, so then I can just get stuff done, get housework done and check emails and stuff like that. But it’s been really good for me to discipline myself like that, because before I would say, yeah I’m going to work on music! And then I’d get distracted and end up at the Mall of America or something stupid. And now it’s like, I don’t have that time, and I don’t want to waste it. So the minute she is not in my care I’m definitely way more productive than I ever have been. It’s been good for me.

I’ve heard other artists say that, too. ‘If I’m going to be away from my kid, I better make the most of it.’

Yeah! You have to. That, and I mean, you have to have time apart from them. You can’t be with them all the time, it makes you crazy. You’re just better for it, and so are they if you have some time and space. Going and playing shows is way more special because it’s like, ok, I’m away, I’m here, this is what I’m doing. This is not some frivolous trip, I’m going to go to Duluth and party or whatever. It’s like, I’m going to Duluth, I’m playing a show, this is my job. And then I’m going to come home to see my kid. I don’t know, there’s a lot of artists that have kids, I’m not saying anything new really, but it just really turns your head around to go through that.

Will you tour?

I’m hoping to, I don’t really know at this point. We’re just kind of doing a lot of the groundwork for the next release. We’re getting some stuff happening with this 7”, and we might do SXSW and some shows around then. I don’t think I’m going to do any major touring until the full-length is out. Right now my goal is to work on regional markets as much as I can, so just keep going back to Madison and Chicago and Duluth and Fargo, playing them every three months. I think that’s a smart thing to do right now, and it’s more feasible and more affordable, and then I’m not away for weeks at a time yet.

What can you tell me about the upcoming Varsity show?

I’m really excited about that! I haven’t played there for a long time, and I really love that room. We’re going to do a bunch of old stuff, old, old stuff, I’ve been kind of digging that out. Stuff we haven’t played for years. We’ll do some stuff off Golder, obviously these new songs, and then we have a bunch of brand-new songs that we’re going to try out, too. I haven’t heard Van Stee or Buffalo Moon live yet, so I’m excited to hear them, too.

Haley Bonar plays a 7″-release show at the Varsity Theater this Thursday, November 1, with openers Van Stee and Buffalo Moon. More show info here, and read about the debut of “Bad Reputation” on NPR Music here.