Haley Bonar(photo: Graham Tolbert)

“You can be whatever you like,” sings Haley Bonar at the end of her latest album, Impossible Dream, but it’s clear that, to Bonar, being ‘whatever’ they like doesn’t exclude anyone from emotional examination. Throughout the album, Bonar presents her listeners with a barrage of implied life choices (“prostitute or loving wife,” “kids who got kids at parties”), and their emotional consequences (“I could be so happy if I let myself be happy”).

An accomplished artist, Bonar has been performing since she was a teenager, starting at open mics in her hometown and eventually dropping out of school to go on tour. “It’s been a weird career, and taken me a lot of places,” Bonar said, over a phone interview with The Bay Bridged. “I’ve gotten a hell of an education that I would not have gotten in school.”

While the production on Impossible Dream is notable, Bonar truly shines lyrically, weaving imaginative narration into each song. And Bonar takes her position as a songwriter seriously, even posting lyrics to each song on her website to encourage further thought by listeners. “That’s the number one thing for me, the words,” Bonar said. “If they don’t mean anything, I don’t care — and why should I expect anyone else to care?”

Bonar’s attention to detail has paid off in Impossible Dream, a fantastical pop-rock album which entwines influences by Fleetwood Mac, Joy Division, and Kim Gordon into songs cataloguing regret and imagined nostalgia. Characters on ‘Impossible Dream’ range from young parents to country kids, but each seem to look back on their life with complicated anguish. ‘Impossible Dream’ isn’t a tortured album, but it is a complicated one — and Bonar examines each choice her characters have made with empathetic minutia.

In advance of her show at Bottom of the Hill tonight, Haley Bonar spoke with The Bay Bridged, sharing the context for some notable songs on Impossible Dream, her life as a touring parent, and plans for an upcoming creative project.

On "Hometown":
"I wanted to leave the town I grew up in — I could not get out of there fast enough. I wanted to start my own life. There are certainly people who are born in a city and raised there and they don’t leave, and many of the people I grew up with [were] like that.

I was not one of them. I wanted to leave. I was a teenager when I [left], and you know, teenagers are hormonal, and angry, and restless, and so I think that that’s kind of the perspective I took on ‘Hometown.’ That’s why I was like, 'Let it burn, I’m going my own way.'

Now, my parents still live [in my hometown] and I love going back. The Black Hills are amazing — it's a very beautiful, sacred place. I love it, and I will probably never live there again."

On "Jealous Girls":
"I was inspired by Kim Gordon’s book, Girl in a Band, and she talked a lot about Thurston Moore, being gone, and [...] never being jealous until he was — and she was right. She felt suspicious and she hated herself for it, because she didn’t want to be a jealous girl, and then it [turned] out that he was having an affair, and [that] he had been having an affair for a long time.

[In the song] I wanted to [also] flip the perspective to the person doing the cheating, who is traveling, and chasing this kind of rock star lifestyle when [it’s] wearing [them] down, and taking a part of [their] life away, and taking a part of [their] relationship apart.

That’s why I end the song with 'like piss in your ice cream.' I wanted it to really hit home: this dream people have of girls screaming and loving you — the reality is that you’re just in a sad, depressing hotel room. It’s very lonely. Just because you’re around other people doesn’t ever take that loneliness away. Nobody is the bad guy in ‘Jealous Girls,’ it’s just a human experience."

On ‘Kismet Kill’:
"[Six years ago], ‘Kismet Kill’ was a melody idea, and I had the chords for it [...] I remember where I was when I first came up with it — I remember sitting in my living room, before I had my daughter, and I would just [hum] for hours.
Kismet is like ‘serendipitous.’ It’s always a positive. You would not say, 'It was kismet that I ran into that deer.' You would say, 'it was kismet that we both happened to be at the grocery store at the same time and I needed to talk to you.'

I really like how the letter K sounds, and I thought it was an interesting thing to place [kill] next to something that is so positive and sweet. I just wanted to play with the image of young love paired with reality. ‘Kismet Kill’ is like, 'I’m here, I’ve met you, it was magical, but now real life has happened and we’re stuck together.' I think that the fictional couple in the story is young, but they have a baby and they have to deal with that, and it’s a tough decision.

I know a lot of people who became parents really young. And my parents were young people too — I was born when my parents were 21. My mom and dad were both in school, and my mom dropped out of college to take care of me. I think that that was the baseline [of 'Kismet Kill']. I thought, OK, let’s examine this, you know, because [young pregnancy] has a negative connotation to it, but that’s not at all what I mean.

There is this idea that like, 'I’ve buried my dreams, I’m not able to do anything...I’m trapped by motherhood.' And that’s I think what society tells you, that your life is over, your career is done — but actually [parenthood] opens up stuff for a lot of people, and shows [them] new paths."

On her current short story project:
"I am working on a book of short stories right now, and I am releasing them as fiction. It’s very challenging. I’m really good at stripping away a story by condensing something that I’m trying to see in my mind into three minutes. Trying to write something that is extensively descriptive is a different voice.

I really love [writing], I just never really wanted to share it [before]. It was more of a hobby. Slowly but surely over the last four years, I’ve been coming out [with these stories]. It’s terrifying because it’s very intimidating, because it’s new to me. It’s like learning a different instrument."

On life as both a musician and a parent:
"Clementine, my daughter, is 5, and she’s a very creative person, but I’m curious to see what road she takes, [since] she is growing up with me and seeing what I do. I often wonder if she will take the opposite road — grow up and say, 'Screw this, I’m going to be a doctor.' But I certainly will encourage her to do whatever she wants.

[...] Ask anybody that has a job where they’re required to travel, and everyone will tell you the same answer: It’s difficult. It’s not easy to be away from your kids and your life and your home. I’m a total homebody, and I do not love being on the road for that reason. I miss my daughter all the time. But this tour, she’s coming with us. This is going to be her first tour, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be hard in some ways, but I won’t be missing her."

Night Moves, Haley Bonar, Heart Of The Whale Bottom of the Hill
December 6, 2016
9pm, $12 (21+)