Queer singer/songwriter Lisa Bozikovic’s sophomore album, This Is How We Swim, further explores the theme of loss she examined on her 2010 debut. Yet, This Is How We Swim is also about love. Written mostly during an artist’s residency on the Toronto Islands, the album is raw with honesty and contains inspired imagery. Bozikovic took time before her show tonight, Dec 6, at Raw Sugar to answer a few questions.
Xtrapolate: Your first release dealt with death, and your new release further explores loss framed against bodies of water. What is it about this subject matter that drew you to tackle it artistically?
Lisa Bozikovic: My first record was made over the course of a very difficult two years, during which I lost my mother to sudden death. I wasn’t so much inspired to write consciously about that loss, but rather some of the songs simply came to me as I was working through moments of grief. It was therefore less a choice to write about grief and more of a cathartic need. My new record, This Is How We Swim, is a much more cohesive record than my first, and it’s a bit more intentional in its whole undertaking. I wanted to create a sort of watery dream world where love was constantly transforming into loss and vice-versa and to write about the overwhelming change I was feeling at the time. I was very interested in exploring the potential for growth that can come out of loss — or rather the insight, strength and joyful urgency that can come out of living through painful experiences. I dialogue with this idea of transformation throughout, using the metaphor of water and its changing states — whether it is a song about love, death or my own relationship to control and loss generally.
X: This Is How We Swim contains great imagery. What is it about the element of water that inspired you?
LB: I wrote the majority of this record during a focused, two-month stay at Gibraltar Point artist residency centre on Toronto island. I was surrounded by water, and it felt as if my whole being was somehow being reset by the constant sense of movement in the wind and waves. I had always wanted to live beside a lake but had never experienced it for such a long period of time before. Not surprisingly, I found water imagery and symbolism started to flood into my songwriting, and water, in its constant flux, became a very good metaphor for the feeling of transformation that was at the time already happening inside of me. I spent more time alone than I usually do, which was sometimes not at all enjoyable. But it really helped me face some things about my own relationship to control and also heal from some of the deep shock and grief I had been living in.
X: You are adept with many instruments. Do you have a personal favourite, and is there one instrument that was challenging to master?
LB: I’ve played classical piano since I was five, so that’s where I feel most at home and confident. I’m a terrible guitar player, and I’m very limited by basic fingerpicking and bar chords. However, I find some of my strongest songs are songs that begin on guitar. Maybe the restrictions of not being able to “do” a lot makes me focus on the melodies and lyrics and the physicality of the singing itself. Whereas when I write songs on piano I can get carried away with thinking of the whole arrangement before I have a solid melody in place to anchor it. I also generally write the best songs when I’m not thinking and the process is a little bit more organic and subconscious. My piano training sometimes keeps me in my head a bit too much. I want to focus more on learning about synths and electronic music so that I can begin to write songs from the starting point of texture and sonic environments rather than concepts, arrangements or theory. I think amazing things could come out of that and I would lose myself for hours.
X: How do your debut, Lost August, and This Is How We Swim differ as collections?
LB: I worked closer in collaboration with both producers, Sandro Perri and Heather Kirby, on this record, and the instrumentation is much more consistent throughout. With the exception of the solo song “Fever Dream,” the whole record was recorded in an intensive two-week period in one space. I think it really encapsulates a particular vision at a particular time. It is the kind of record you can put on and feel a sonic continuity from start to finish; it sort of takes you on a journey.
X: Would you say your sexuality has influenced your art?
LB: When I started playing shows in Toronto six years ago, they were almost exclusively within the queer community, and I found a lot of support and encouragement there. I still love performing at queer events. I was actually supposed to play Ottawa Pride but had to cancel on account of my mom’s passing, but I am also part of a broad range of communities, and not all of them are necessarily queer. I like spending time in different, sometimes opposing, sorts of social spaces. I don’t feel fully satisfied or actualized when I’m only living within a particular or small subculture. That being said, I would not be who I am without my queer community and I feel that being queer is ultimately about thinking critically and questioning oppressive and normative spaces, so it’s sort of indistinguishable from how I live my daily life and also how I create.
Lisa Bozikovic with Kite Hill and Her Harbour
Thurs, Dec 6, 8pm
Raw Sugar Café
692 Somerset St W
Listen to This Is How We Swim on Bozikovic’s official site.