Tracy Bonham. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

Village Love

Tracy Bonham is back home in Eugene with a fresh perspective and sound.

Alt-rock trailblazer and classically trained musician Tracy Bonham’s commercial success first came when she was 27, when the track “Mother Mother” erupted and topped the Modern-Rock Billboard charts in 1996.

April 6 and 7, Bonham is back in her hometown of Eugene performing at the Hult Center in collaboration with the Eugene Ballet. The show features adapted music from her discography as well as a premiere of new music and is in collaboration with the ballet’s resident choreographer, Suzanne Haag. 

“Mother Mother,” a phone call from a daughter, was a rebellious anthem for young adults in the mid-’90s, as Bonham sings, “Are you sure that I’m your perfect dear? / Now just cuddle up and sleep tight / I’m hungry, I’m dirty / I’m losing my mind, everything’s fine.” 

Bonham earned two Grammy nominations for her debut album, Burdens of Being Upright. She continued producing and performing music, and tells Eugene Weekly, “I did really just mostly play guitar and violin during the ’90s, but then by the time my second album came out in 2000, I was already writing on the piano.” 

Bonham explains that the guitar served her expression more than her passion adding, “I started getting tired of it. I am very limited with the guitar. I can’t play the thing often and it feels like I am wrestling an alligator. I never really chose to become proficient because it always served me as a tool where ignorance and naivete could lead my fingers to the right place. It was very spiritual.” 

Over the last 30 years, Bonham has continued to evolve her sound and musical capacity. Her most recent album titled Modern Burdens was released in 2017 and is a re-adaptation of her debut album. As the title implies, Modern Burdens provides an alternative smoother sound to her classics without taking away from the rebellious tone and dynamics of the original. 

These days, Bonham performs with upright bassist Rene Hart and drummer Alvester Garnett — both jazz musicians. Bonham says that the artists respect music because the ideology of jazz is to be in the moment adding, “Listening to jazz and any music is just as important as playing it.” 

On March 22, Bonham released the single “Damn The Sky (For Being Too Wide).” However, Bonham tells Eugene Weekly that she had composed the single back in 2019 saying, “When I wrote this song, it just kind of fell from the sky. I didn’t edit it at all.” A fan was quick to post the then unfinished single on the internet as Bonham explains, “Someone streamed it on YouTube and that explained how bizarre the songwriting process was for me.” 

She continues, “I was missing family so much and I was having a really difficult time in New York where my husband and I live. We are older parents and we don’t have people around us. We moved so far from our homes. Now I live 3,000 miles away. Raising a child makes me long to have a village where people can step in.” 

Bonham says this motivated her to write the song although she wouldn’t officially release it for five years. 

In “Damn The Sky (For Being Too Wide)” Bonham sings, “It’s not supposed to be simple. It’s not supposed to run clear. I feel so alone in this, where is my village?” The village Bonham refers to is Eugene. She adds, “It is lonely and I just wished I could shrink the sky making my family closer.” 

Earlier this year, Bonham took to Instagram to announce that she was diagnosed with breast cancer — caught early — and says, “The difficulties in our lives are our defining moments.” She discussed her upcoming treatment, as well as her performance with the ballet and following West Coast tour with Jill Sobule. 

Bonham says she has always felt like every piece of her artistic work has a little piece of her in it, but she has always been a giver. After her recent hurdle, she adds, “Now that I have gone through something pretty harrowing, I realize that it is important to focus on oneself and not feel guilty about healing because whatever it is it is vital. I can’t be the giver I want to be without taking care of myself.”

Her latest track is a love letter to her village — Eugene. She says, “I am just blown away that I can do this. It’s cosmic. I called for my village and it responded.”

Performances are 7:30 pm Saturday, April 6 and 2 pm Sunday, April 7 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at starting at $25. The show opens with Gerald Arpino’s Reflections and Toni Pimble’s Slipstream.

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