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Begonia’s bold vulnerability in latest album Powder Blue building a raw connection with fans

Singer-songwriter Alexa Dirks, who goes by the stage name Begonia, poses before her performance at Toronto’s Great Hall February 24.Galit Rodan/The Globe and the Mail

“Just waiting at the back of the line,” Begonia sings on her new album powder blue. “I can’t be the only one.”

Begonia is the stage name of Alexa Dirks, a dynamic Winnipeg singer-songwriter who explores offbeat pop, feist-meets-flack ballads and bold expressions of vulnerability. That her intimate confessions are deeply embraced by fans is hard proof that she’s not “the only one”.

powder blue is her second full-length album after Juno-nominated 2019 fear. She spoke to The Globe and Mail about her sexuality, landmines in the music industry and the connections she makes through her music.

Her 2019 album fear drew a lot of attention in Canada. Is there a bump with powder blue in the United States?

We put money into marketing outside of Canada. But you can pay publicists and still not get on the front page of a magazine. There’s a little bit of lightning in a bottle and a little bit of that person knows that person that knows that person. I don’t know the exact formula. I would probably be a lot more successful if I did.

You signed to Winnipeg’s Birthday Cake Records after the last album. Why?

My management is closely connected to the label, so I feel comfortable with them. I never really felt the need to sign a lot of contracts. It has to be a deal that makes sense to me. I know where the head of the label lives. If there’s a problem, he’s two blocks from me.

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Is there interest from big labels?

There is always a cold. A major label plans an important meeting only to cancel at the last minute. It’s almost ridiculous, the ups and downs of the industry. But I try to limit my indifference. You really can’t take everything personally. If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Every day in the music business is a mini rejection or a mini win. Landmines are everywhere.

They are collaborating with producer Marcus Paquin, who has previously worked with Arcade Fire and The National. How did that come together?

It was suggested that I meet with him. It almost didn’t happen, because when I looked at what he had done in the past, I decided I didn’t want to indulge in that. I felt too confident to be in a room with him and pitch ideas. The night before the meeting, I told myself I was sick and had to cancel. It was blind date energy. As it turned out, we met in Montreal and it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

This record was made during the pandemic. As lockdowns began, much food for thought was written about how the arts would be affected. Did we ever get answers?

I was angry at that kind of thinking. Everything stopped, but people asked, “What great art will be produced?” My answer at the time was, “Nothing.” I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried every day. It made me angry that people had these expectations of us. I know it came from a place of joy, but at the time I resented the expectations that we should be super creative at one of the messed up times of my life. Later I was ready to do something.

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Why share Exactly here as the lead single from the album?

We actually started writing this prepandemic. It’s not heady – it’s a pop song. It felt like a nice re-entry into society.

The first track on the album is Chase every sunrise, a ballad. In today’s streaming world, wouldn’t you like to start with something more tangible to grab the listener’s attention?

To each his own. I wanted to do something that satisfies me. I love thinking about track listings. I mean the album is 40 minutes long. It doesn’t take much of a person to listen to the whole thing.

That attitude seems odd in 2023.

I don’t know it. Being authentic and being true to yourself seems to be a trend today in many ways. If you try to chase after what becomes popular instead of what you believe in most, it will show.

You mention a therapist in the song Bleeding heartand in i don’t die They sing, “I may seem depressed, but I’m actually not.” What’s the point?

The line about depression is a dig at myself. There was a point where I reconsidered. But it’s more tongue-in-cheek than anything else.

in the song marigoldyou ask “Am I bisexual?” Is that a rhetorical question?

There was always a liquid for me. I’m not a label person, but I’m not straight. I can’t say exactly what I am. It’s always been a part of my art in general. I don’t tell people who I am, and you should be. I’m not saying I’ve reached the mountain top and now I know it. It’s about exploration.

That’s the kind of thing your fans react to, yeah?

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Certainly. And the more I lean into that vulnerability, the more I feel that raw connection. I get messages from fans saying, “I see.”

Do they mean that you understand the fans or that they understand you?

Absolutely a mixture of both. And the feedback encourages me to be braver. It’s who I am, of course, but the messages I receive make me more comfortable posting these things.

This interview has been abridged and edited.

Dirks performs at the Great Hall in Toronto on February 24th.Galit Rodan

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