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Q&A: Singer Haley Bonar

Haley Bonar was in her late teens when she was plucked from Duluth's open mic scene and given some helpful goading from Alan Sparhawk, a veteran musician who knew a little something about playing on national stages.

The singer/songwriter went on to tour with Sparhawk's band Low, and had an album produced on his Chairkickers Union label.

"He really gave me the opportunity, as far as getting me out in front of audiences," Bonar said. "[Sparhawk] gave me my bearings and was like 'Alright. Go.' "

Bonar, who grew up in Rapid City, S.D., remembers the almost four years she spent in Duluth as strange, magical, wonderful and a learning experience. There were Monday night shows at Sir Benedict's and three-hour weekend gigs at Fitger's Brewhouse. Eventually, Bonar weighed her options: "Is this a hobby?" versus "Is this what I want to do?"

The latter prevailed.

Cut to a handful of years later.

Bonar is on stage at the State Theater in Minneapolis opening for a nationally acclaimed folk rock singer/songwriter Andrew Bird. This, Bonar said recently, was her most surreal music moment to date.

"That was a pretty great show for me," Bonar said. "There was so much love. And I felt so happy. I thought: 'I love what I do. I love singing.' "

Bonar, 26, plays at 7 p.m. today at Sacred Heart Music Center. She recently talked to the News Tribune about her move to Portland, what she's working on now, why she won't play music from her first album, and the time she was compared to Tracy Chapman.



I just needed a change of scenery. I've always really liked it there. It's a lot more mild climate in the winter time. I just wanted to go somewhere new to write my next record. Since I wrote most of the songs while I was on the West Coast touring, I needed to listen to that. I think it's good to shake it up sometimes. I don't think that I'll be out there permanently. I just needed a new environment.

When I went out to Vancouver this spring, I was [in Portland] for like a week and a half, and I had written a lot of songs in the hotel I was staying at. I think half of the inspiration for writing is where you are, what your environment is. For me, I write a lot of songs when I am on the road.

It's like this kind of weird void -- you know, in a hotel room or a green room, there is no character. It's this transitory place. For some reason, that's where I write songs. It's very strange; I don't really know why. I wish that I could write more songs at home, then I could be comfortable and whatever.


I have about three-fourths of my record done. I have a lot of songs, but I've weeded through them. I'm really picky. That's why I don't put out a record every year. I'll love a song, then six months later I'm like, "Aw, that sucks," and throw it away. Then I'll come back to it six months later and think, "What was I thinking?"

I just want to make sure that when I go into the studio, I'm 100 percent about every song.


Tracy Chapman. Somebody said that to me. Or they wrote that about me in an article, and I was like: "You know what? We are both women and that is about all we have in common." I covered "Talking about a Revolution" in a high school talent show. I think that song is amazing. I was like "You know, I don't have a black woman's voice." She's great and she's wonderful. I could not sound like her. It's funny to me. But because you're a female, you immediately get thrown into the category of every other female musician. That was one where I was like, "Really?"