You know the old saying: If you remember the ’90s, you either lived through the ’90s or your parents probably wouldn’t shut up about how great the music was.
And it was.
Yes, there was a lot of dreck, but as a decade, it also left us with some pretty stunning and influential works of art.
No, you certainly couldn’t tag one style of music in particular to encapsulate the time, as everything from Canrock, new country and nu metal to pop, alt rock and the “G” word that shall go unnamed all contributed to the music-consuming boon and the sonic tapestry that we all remember.
That said, there is still a ’90s aesthetic. Think about it: You hear something from that decade, and you know it before you know it, if you know what I mean. There was a discernible sheen on the music that is confined to that time.
Unless you’re listening to Canadian folk-pop artist Megan Bonnell’s third and latest release Separate Rooms.
Close your eyes, listen, and remember. On all levels it will deja vu you back to that period.
It recalls that aesthetic and the might of female artists of that time — everyone from North American artists such as Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple to the Dolores O’Riordan-fronted (RIP) act The Cranberries and fellow Irish icon Sinead O’Connor.
The Toronto-based artist admits that was the vision shared between her and her producers — Chris Stringer and Joshua Van Tassel, the team for all three of her albums and currently part of the band she’s touring with, including a May 19 date at the Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre.
“The difference with this album from my two previous is that we sat down early on and really set our intention,” Bonnell says, while travelling in a van to a B.C. date.
“I think maybe in the past we just kind of stumbled on, in a nice way, stumbled on the magic in each album, and with this one, we sat down and talked about what it was that we were really after.
“For me, I’m just such a fan of a lot of that ’90s stuff — not only for the production style, but I think also for the kind of messages that were being put out, the edgier female artists that were unapologetically saying things for what they were and calling it as it is. Alanis is such an example of that, where there was just no interest in standing on the edges of what she was saying to make it more digestible for the listener.
She continues. “So I wanted that to go in with that idea for the production style — to be bold, make it really crisp and clear up front in a poppy way, but in a ’90s poppy way. Not all of the songs have the complete ’90s style, but I think with that in mind it pointed us in a direction that definitely educates the album overall as to what it is.”
As she alludes, the album is a very honest and unflinching work that tackles themes and subject matter that aren’t normal pop music fodder. It tackles everything from the miscarriage of a close friend — albeit written in a very universal way — on the pretty and plaintive Radio Silence and mental illness on the shimmering opener Breakdown to love and the loss of love on several tracks including the Kate Bush-esque Where Is the Love, the modestly anthemic title track and Your Voice, which actually recalls mid-period Tegan and Sara.
And it does so in a way that does hearken back to those aforementioned and comparative artists — bluntly, plainly, but poetically.
“That’s sort of my M.O., I think,” she says with a laugh, “even as a person outside of music. Being that way is natural to me, I really like to go in and delve into the deeper stuff with people and connect over those things. There’s, for me, nothing that I couldn’t, don’t want to talk about, I don’t think.
“My friends have nicknamed me Barbara Walters,” she says laughing again, “because I just go right in and ask the hard questions.
“But I think, especially I’ve been inspired with this album, and as I’ve matured as a person and gotten a little bit older you become clearer on what it is you’re wanting to say because you know who you are in a more intimate way.”
Bonnell admits that her two previous full-length outings — 2013’s Hunt and Chase, and 2016’s Magnolia — were similar in their lyrical approach, but were in some ways working towards Separate Rooms.
Helping, too, was the social climate of the time it was being created, including such important cultural shifts as the #MeToo movement, to name but one.
She thinks people are ready to hear about some of these subjects and have these conversations, her songs hopefully getting some of them started.
“In the last two years writing this album and recording it, it was timed perfectly with this really important and inspiring shift that’s happening in our society right now where people in general are coming forward to share stories and subject matter that perhaps was taboo in the past or that definitely was a no-no to talk about for whatever reason …
“I think it’s so cool that now people are leading with this stuff and connecting over it and coming together as a community to take a stand on these things. That definitely inspired me to be at the most honest and to go these topics that are maybe squeamish at first.”
But does she think people are wanting to hear about these things in their art?
More importantly, does she think a pop song is a medium that people are ready, again, to have those messages delivered to them?
“Yes, I do think so,” she says, admitting she’s more than happy to accept what she’s doing now is actually pop. “It seems that pop music is maybe being ridden in two directions right now.
“There’s the one where it’s just glossy, surface-level, it makes you feel good and you don’t have to think about anything, and it’s lovely and serves and important purpose in that way, because it is an escape.
“And then on the other hand, you look at our pop artists of the past, like really, really important ones — Prince as an example along with so many others, like Michael Jackson — where it’s like there are these hugely important messages that are causing people to rise up and take a stand arm-in-arm with them leading, and I think that we’re seeing a resurgence of that now with various pop artists — I think Lady Gaga is one of them — and it’s cool to see …
“It seems like there’s some mindful pop artists out there.”
Megan Bonnell performs Saturday, May 19 at the Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre with Leeroy Stagger as part of Stampede City Sessions.