Tracy Bonham talks new album, Steven Tyler’s love of slides, crying on Stevie Wonder’s suit, and, of course, the song that started it all

Many a music lover know of Tracy Bonham thanks to her Grammy-nominated debut, The Burdens of Being Upright, and its quirky, unforgettable star single, “Mother Mother.” However, fewer know (shame on you!) of the numerous releases, both full-length albums and EPs, that followed, delivering the same high caliber of original, infectious songs as Burdens. So, you owe it to yourself to add some more Bonham to your CD rack (um, I meant iPod), and now is the perfect time to do so, as she gears up to release her first full-length album in five years, Masts of Manhatta, on July 13th.

The R&RR recently had the chance to catch up with Bonham and talk Masts, Steven Tyler’s love of slides, crying on Stevie Wonder’s suit, and, of course, the song that started it all.

Q: Masts is the first full-length in five years: why the considerable hiatus, and how does it feel to “be back”?

A: Life is different. The business is different, but I am still excited. A lot happened in my life to take me away from the idea of making records and touring. I fell in love and got married, with desires to start a family. I couldn’t see myself touring and being present for a husband and family so, I took a hiatus. After a few years, I realized that I can still make a record and see what happens in life, instead of trying to control everything. I did self-release an EP during this time, and I went on a few short tours.

Q: Having already had several CDs and EPs under your belt, how did the writing/recording process on this album compare to past releases?

A: This one is written and made in real time. Meaning, there are no songs laying around from different eras, waiting for resurrection. No record label pressuring me for singles. I was in the same frame of mind when I wrote the songs and when I was in the studio recording them. past records had songs that were years old.

Q: Smokey’s Roundup is the backing band, how did that collaboration come about?

A: I met Smokey when I was on a big tour, playing with the likes of Beck and No Doubt. Smokey and I met in the elevator of a hotel in L.A. and he pointed to me and said, “I love your guitar playing.” I looked behind me to see who he was speaking to, “Really?” Fast forward to 2009, when I sat down with my good friends and owners of Grand Street Recordings, and we made a wish list for musicians – Smokey’s name was the first thing out of my mouth. I wanted something “swampy.” I have always loved his playing, especially with Tom Waits.

Q: You’ve personally said this new record has an underlying theme of city vs. country so, in the battle of the two, which wins your heart?

A: I think a healthy balance is where I am at right now. I am so lucky.


Q: Can you single out a favorite track on Masts?

A: No, I cannot.

Q: Which artist/band would be involved in your dream collaboration?

A: Tom Waits, The Black Keys, and Cat Power. It’s OK to dream.

Q: You recorded with Aerosmith a few years back, and I have to ask – is Steven Tyler as wonderfully eccentric as he appears to be? Any anecdotes you’d like to share from that experience?

A: He is a little boy at heart. He laughs at fart sounds. He has a slide going down to his “play room / pool area,” and he chose to take the slide instead of the stairs. He was wonderful to me.

Q: When you hit the road, what’s one item that you absolutely can’t leave home without?

A: Incense for stinky dressing rooms!

Q: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

A: Warming up my vocals and maybe just a tequila shot after yoga.

Q: Who are your favorite “new”/up-and-coming artists?

A: I like Broken Bells. I don’t know if I would call her “new,” but I love M.I.A.

Q: You’ve seen both the ups and downs of the music industry; what’s been the most significant lesson you’ve learned?

A: To not question things when they are good, and to not take yourself so seriously.

Q: What’s been the driver that’s kept you recording and coming back for more (with fabulous new tunes each time)?

A: Thank you. I realized this last time […] that I make records. Yeah, I take time to get back to it, but I love it. The studio’s where I am most comfortable. I have ideas. I need to put them down.

Q: “Mother Mother” has become a “classic”: have you gotten tired at all of hearing it / playing it, or is it still as enjoyable as when you first wrote it?

A: I still enjoy playing it. I didn’t realize it was a “classic” yet. Does that mean it’s “classic rock” and I have to wear hair plugs? Yikes.

Q: What’s been the most memorable moment in your career thus far?

A: Crying all over Stevie Wonder’s suit at the Grammys.

Q: Tracy Bonham in just one word?


Q: What would the soundtrack to “Tracy Bonham: The Movie” be?

A: Songs in the Key of Life.

Q: There’s no place I’d rather be right now than …?

A: Sayulita, Mexico with my husband and dogs.

Q: And last, but not least: Physical albums or iTunes?

A: Albums! Vinyl!

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