Tracy Bonham didn’t write her first song until age 24. “I was late,” she tells me over the phone.
The song was called “So.”
Bonham grew up in Eugene playing classical music and singing jazz and pop songs.
“I learned three chords on the guitar in my adult life,” she continues. So she challenged herself to write a song with only those three chords. “I played the song before an audience,” she remembers. “It came off pretty well.”
Bonham didn’t really discover rock music until she moved to Boston. “I heard albums by PJ Harvey,” she says. “I fell in love with bands like the Pixies.”
It all left her wondering whether she could take her classical upbringing and morph it together with rock. “Maybe I can marry the two genres,” she says. The experiment scored Bonham a ’90s-era alt rock hit with the song “Mother Mother.”
Bonham’s latest album, last year’s Modern Burdens, a re-recording of her 1996 album The Burdens of Being Upright, features guest appearances from other female artists such as Kathryn Calder, Rachel Yamagata and Tanya Donelly. The album was recorded during the 2016 presidential election, and Bonham says her goal was to empower the female voice.
“This is a girl-power album,” she says. “It seemed important to share the stage and reach out to some of my favorite artists from the ’90s, but also contemporary.”
The response was incredible, Bonham says. “Everyone said yes. It was really exciting.”
Bonham will be playing some new material when she returns to her hometown alongside New York singer-songwriter Blake Morgan. The new songs are about communication issues in Bonham’s personal life — a trait she feels partially contributed to the delay in her writing her own material as a young musician.
“I’m finding I can communicate better in my daily life, so my songs are changing,” she says. “I’m doing a lot of stream-of-consciousness work.”
The new songs are about “loss of innocence,” she adds. They’re more vulnerable, raw and not as desperate to be understood, she says.
Tracy Bonham plays with Blake Morgan 9 pm Saturday, Nov. 3, at Sam Bond’s Garage; $10 advance, $12 door, 21-plus.