The rhythm keeps me awake at night and I drive right through till the morning light
Got another thousand miles till I get there
There’s plenty of space on this Hwy 1 with room to think and no where to run
A soul can really stretch its legs out here
And I wonder how it came to this – doing more each day with less time to live
With every mile I think of what I’ve missed
–from “Crazy Life of Mine”
It’s a brisk, sunny autumn morning, with sailboats gliding across the glistening diamonds of English Bay, an unleashed dog sprinting across the grass and a little blonde girl dancing carefree in the wind, when Bonnie Ste-Croix drives me around Stanley Park, playing her new CD and sharing the stories behind each finely-crafted tune.
“It’s really appropriate that we’re doing this interview in a car because this is my office on wheels,” jokes Ste-Croix. “I do everything in my car–write songs, listen to my demos, eat breakfast or dinner, talk on the cell phone, do paper work, change clothes.
“I’m looking for a blender that plugs into my lighter,” she laughs, adding, “I’m destined to have an RV.”
The Gaspé, Québec native possesses the songwriting prowess of storytellers Dar Williams, Shawn Colvin and Tom Waits, with an immediately recognizable, smoky voice that fluctuates between a sensual bluesy Bessie Smith, an assertive country-tinged Mary Chapin Carpenter, and a heartfelt acoustic rocker Sarah McLachlan.
Openly lesbian, Ste-Croix is a popular draw to the main stages of Stonewall, Gay Pride, Grrrls With Guitars and various festivals.
Following the success of her first two full-length CDs, Flying High and Summer June, which garnered international airplay and major label offers, Ste-Croix chose the independent road. Her third CD, Here I Am (produced by Bill Buckingham), is a collection of roots music originals plus a clever interpretation of Heart’s “These Dreams.”
“For the most part, my songs are very seldom about just one thing,” explains Ste-Croix, making a smooth turn onto Denman St and briefly interrupting herself to comment on the city’s beauty.
“Writing allows me to express myself in a way that I would not normally in a typical conversation,” she continues. “I’m a fairly private person, and yet my songs are so personal. I think when people come to a gig, they see a completely different side of me. It’s raw and vulnerable. There’s something about music that I allow myself the permission to expose that part of me.”
Similar to Melissa Etheridge, Ste-Croix regularly performs gender-fluid material, where relationships are ambiguous and left open to interpretation.
“Eddy” is an example of this gender ambiguity.
“Confusing?” Ste-Croix asks, smiling, about the title. “I’m not a kiss and tell kind of gal, so I can only be sketchy on the details, but Eddy is a woman,” she confirms.
“And Eddy is not someone’s name. We named our connection Eddy. It was a little ongoing joke,” she confides. “It was the funnest, lightest song I’ve ever had to write of a big, fat broken heart. End of story!”
Parked near the lighthouse, I ask if the word “Eddy” actually means sex, given the lyrics “can’t take one week… without Eddy.” Surprised, Ste-Croix looks out the window, then at her stereo, and then at me. “No! It’s about the connection we had.”
One recurring theme throughout her songs is change. Ste-Croix, who moved to Vancouver in 1989, says she thrives on change–often changing jobs, relationships, residences.
For me, the most profound song on Here I Am is “Crazy Life of Mine,” written about Ste-Croix’s decision to pack up her life on the West Coast and relocate to Québec to be with her ailing mother.
“A lot of things had fallen apart all around one time,” explains Ste-Croix, driving by the infamous Hollow Tree with its requisite tourists taking photos. “There were things going on within my family. My mother was not well at all, and I just decided that I needed to go spend some time with her. It was a very emotional decision [because] I so love the West Coast. I quit my job, sold everything, packed up my car and drove from Vancouver to Gaspé. When I drove into Montreal first, it was really the moment that I realized Vancouver had gotten into my very soul.”
Ste-Croix’s mother soon told Bonnie to “go home” as she also realized that her daughter belonged in Vancouver. “I don’t think I could have left if my mother hadn’t given me that permission to leave. She knows me so well. She knew that Vancouver had become my home, and that’s where I needed to be.”
Returning west, Ste-Croix dove head first into writing and recording Here I Am, perhaps her most reflective and personal recording.
“A lot of this album is about getting into truer self,” she says. “You get to know yourself better as you get older. You just get clearer on things.”
A self-proclaimed dream-chaser, nature buff and worrier, Ste-Croix says humour is a big part of who she is, even though she writes intensely personal songs. Onstage and in person, Ste-Croix’s quick wit shines.
But the singer admits she’s certainly endured some bumps in the road, including two major back surgeries.
“I had scoliosis, so I had one surgery where they put in Harrington Rods,” says Ste-Croix as she looks for a parking space on Davie St. “Shortly after that, I was in an accident and my spine cracked, so they had to remove one of the rods and put another one in with a clamp. I have to say that chronic pain is a part of my daily life. It’s ever present, but we all have something. My life has not been a piece of cake, but I feel like right now I am at a very good place.”