Canadian power duo Bonjay add new twist to live shows
by Sarah Kitteringham
The duo that makes up Canadian dancehall/R&B/ indie-rock hybrid Bonjay are an affable pair. Vocalist Alanna Stuart and beats and effects creator Ian “Pho” Swain answer a call from the Reflector on a Tuesday morning, quickly delving into recollections of their band’s birth at D.I.Y club nights in lofts above “Italian restaurants in Chinatown” in Ottawa. Since joining forces in 2006, the act has released “Gimme Gimme” and “Bangarang Business,” and is fresh off the heels of their most recent EP Broughtupsy.
All feature their blend of Stuart’s breathy, sexy voice over cascading electro beats and liberal doses of percussion. Their output ranges from original tracks to mashups, remakes and remixes for labels such as Ghetto Arc and Ninjatune. “(Stuart) had previously been a high school R&B semi-star,” says Swain over speakerphone. Stuart giggles in response while Swain continues. “So we did a track together that hopefully no one will ever hear, pre-Bonjay. Pretty funny. At (a) party we had this idea to start doing live versions, where usually I would take an interesting, overlooked bass-heavy beat, re-edit it, then Alanna would pick a song that she liked and do her interpretation on top.” Now, the act has moved from periodic remakes (look up their cover of Caribou’s slow, sweet “Jamelia” and their interpretation of Feist’s “Honey Honey”) to the “totally original, there aren’t any samples at all, even chopped up” format used on Broughtupsy.
However, their interpretative work has served an important purpose. “It’s giving people a sense of who we are,” suggests Stuart. “It tells people where we came from and some of the things we are interested in, but with an original body of work, you can give people your perspective on those influences or come up with your own sound.” This focus on their own tunes will dominate their upcoming full-length, which the duo hopes to release sometime in 2011. As for their creation process, it is a fluid process that sometimes is hashed out in “battle.”
“I start out by sketching the beat, I’ll start out with the drum track and then usually the bass line and then the melody bites, maybe a verse and a chorus part and I’ll give that to Alanna well before it’s done,” says Swain. “I’ll search for the melody or rhythm my vocals can fit in or sit nicely on top of and create the melody according to the beat,” says Stuart. “It’s usually based on the instrumentals and from there it is collaboration, whether we diplomatically discuss our views or argue and battle them out until we come up with a song we are both happy with.” “What’s cool about this music and this era of music is this is studio-oriented music,” says Swain.
“It’s a really cool era for taking studio music and making a really kinetic live show out of it. You’ll see in Calgary that I’ve started to play a lot of the parts live and just adding that extra kind of danger and the live element to things where something could screw up. As we’ve started to tour a lot, it’s (resulted in) changing the songs from their studio version to the live version, adding a whole other layer to them.” “What’s so great about the new format is that with the risk of screwing up live there is that sense, between us and the audience, that we are in this together and we are trying all this out together,” says Stuart. “And it just makes the show that much more interesting.” See Bonjay lose control at the Hi-Fi Club Nov. 24.