Interview with Bif Naked live in Ottawa on June 24th
Ottawa Ontario – Rock Goddess and author Bif Naked returns to Mavericks in Ottawa on June 24th, 2017 for an intimate concert.
Born in New Delhi, India as Beth Torbert, Bif Naked would grow up in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada during her formative years.
In 1998 Bif Naked released her most commercially successful album “I, Bificus” that features songs like “Spaceman,” “Lucky,” and “Moment of Weakness”.
“That record was pivotal for me. I got it released in America on a major label. I had a lot of trouble getting it out in Canada originally. The record that followed “I, Bificus,” called “Purge,” is where I started to mature as a song writer. And the record that followed that one was called “Super Beautiful Monster”, I think it was my favourite record until the one we are working on now. I loved everything about that record,” Bif Naked stated.
Songs from “I, Bificus” appeared on television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing, and Charmed.
“The most well known is Buffy. I think that show is timeless. It’s fun to watch and revisit all the episodes from every season of that show. It was really ahead of its time. Sarah Michelle Gellar was incredible. She was a hero for a lot of young girls who hadn’t had many role models like her – who were had secret powers, righting wrongs and fighting for justice. I was always really proud our song was included in an episode. The song appeared in an episode for a significant love scene, and we had the opportunity to play on the show, which was amazing,” Bif Naked reflected.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Bif Naked released a book of her memoirs on Harper Collins, titled, “I, Bificus”. It seemed like an appropriate title for the book, since it’s the album title that most people associate with the author.
“There wasn’t another title that I liked better. It just seemed like what people would associate with me. It always seemed like a funny title. It’s probably the best known record that I have. It seems like it would spark people’s memory, but also, for new fans or readers, it would perhaps spark their intrigue,” Bif Naked responded.
Writing the book was a long process, but editor Jim Gifford helped her along the way.
“It was a long process to make a book. I was lucky to work with Harper Collins, they are amazing. The editor I work with, his name is Jim Gifford. He has to be a saint to be able to deal with my very flowery, over exaggerated, wordy style of story telling. I learned a lot from him. It was a long process. It took over a year to write the book, and over two years of editing. When it finally had an opportunity to come out, I focused on that,” Bif Naked replied.
According to Bif Naked, writing a book is far more challenging than writing song lyrics. The art of story telling in a book needs to be more literal and factual versus song lyrics that can be more exaggerated, embellished, and metaphorical.
“Writing a book is one hundred percent more challenging than writing song lyrics. It’s so different. Lyrics I can enshroud my heart breaks or triumphs in to couplets. I can exaggerate and embellish, it’s not necessarily a factual account of an event. It’s story telling or metaphoric. With the memoirs I had to keep it together, I had to keep the chronology together, and I had to keep the story accurate according to facts. I found that very challenging,” Bif Naked admitted.
What was the most difficult subject to tackle in your memoirs?
“That’s a good question. I think I was quite lucky to write songs throughout my career about really personal or even triggering subjects. I did song writing based on things like sexual assault, heart ache, abortion, girl on girl love, unrequited love, all these things that were pretty big events for me. The reason I wrote the book was an emotional non-event, I felt very recovered, very healed from them for so long. The hard subjects were really talking about the death of my dad, and the death of my dog,” Bif Naked disclosed.
Themes such as death, illness, and adversity are universal subjects everyone faces in their respective lives. Those who have read the book can easily connect to Bif Naked’s source material via their own personal life experiences. Bif Naked has heard from some of those who were touched by her words.
“I have been very fortunate that people have given me feedback regarding their own life, or how they could relate to what I had written. It’s been a really interesting thing to discover all these other people in the world who can totally relate to what I was talking about or writing about. There is something very normalizing about it, and something very gratifying about it,” Bif Naked reflected.
In addition to her book and album titled “I, Bificus”, Bif Naked is also well know for hit songs like “Tango Shoes” and “I love myself today”.
“Tango Shoes” was released in 2001 on the album “Purge”. Like the song lyrics state, a nice pair of shoes can transform a person like Cinderella
“Yes, definitely. Someone can feel great regardless of their situation in life. Sometimes it is really empowering for someone to feel a little confidence and take pride in their appearance. A pair of shoes, can change a mood, like in Tango Shoes,” Bif Naked responded.
The song “I love myself today” was also released on the album “Purge”. The expression to love yourself is an important mantra that Bif Naked adheres to.
“The song “I love myself today” is a mantra I believe in. Even if we don’t really believe it, just verbalizing it and saying it out loud – positive statements transform how we feel. Just like when you tell a little kid he’s stupid, often enough he’s going to believe it. The same thing is true if you tell someone their wonderful often enough, hopefully, eventually, they’ll also believe that. So I always thought saying “I love myself today”, no manner what shit is falling on our heads, will make us feel better,” Bif Naked declared.
What is the song writing process like for you? Has it changed over the years?
“With song writing, every song is different. I don’t write on an instrument, so I always collaborated with my guitar player. We started out in our four piece band thirty years ago, and we would all write our own parts in the same room. That is how I learned how to song write. For me it was putting my poetry to music. Writing lyrics was something very easy for me. The hard part would be pentameter and trying to fit so many syllables into the music bars or pick a theme or topic I really wanted to write about and fit that into the music was always a challenge, but it’s something that is really enjoyable. I love song writing, it’s often more fun that simply writing poems, because you have to sit the lyrics into rhythm,” said Bif Naked.
Bif Naked is also a vegan and humanitarian. The singer-songwriter describes herself as an accidental vegan.
“I was an accidental vegan. I was a vegetarian initially and I didn’t eat any cheese or milk anyways because it gave me a stomach ache. So I was this vegetarian girl in my early 20s and someone pointed out to me I was a vegan. Over time, with the onset of the Internet, and my appetite for book reading, I just learned about vegan eating, vegan lifestyle, and vegan way of thinking. It evolved. Like all of us we learn and grow. Being a vegetarian is a choice I made in my adult life. I wasn’t raised as a vegetarian. My mom fed us chicken and rice my whole life, or whatever else kids in the 80’s grew up eating. No one in my family was a vegetarian or a vegan. It was just something I adopted because ethically it was a good fit for me. I got interested in different Eastern religions in my teens, and a lot of the philosophies and ethics in many of those religions are all vegetarian based and based around non-harming practices and a non-harming lifestyle. I really thought that was a good thing, and it really resonated with me. Over time, being a vegan is something I can’t imagine not being. I’m still the only vegan in my circle of friends. I don’t have any band mates that are vegan, I don’t have any relatives that are vegan, and I don’t have any husbands that are vegan. It has never bothered me. I just do my thing and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing,” Bif Naked stated.
As a humanitarian there are numerous and non-profit organizations that Bif Naked supports. With the advent of social media, learning about non-profit groups and supporting various causes has became easier.
“I think social media is a wonderful tool for many of these non-profits. Anything from the Red Cross to Doctors without Boarders to the Canadian Blood Services, to the SPCA, to Fur Defenders, to anything. We can go online, read about them, learn what they stand for, and usually we can donate money instantly to help them sustain themselves. These organizations do amazing work, that the rest of us often can’t do because we are busy working day jobs. Most people in the world generally think along the same lines, war is bad, hurting animals is bad, and ultimately we all support many of those causes anyway. If we can’t physically assist in that manner, or with that organization, we can still do our part, donating a couple of bucks. I like trying to promote many of the organizations that resonate with me – issues that makes my blood boil because I can’t believe the injustices, or animal cruelty, or humanitarian issues; also human rights issues, and LGBTQ issues. There are a million things that are terrible that are going on in this world but there are also a million ways we can get behind it, share stories and spread awareness, and hopefully donate time or funding,” Bif Naked explained.
Bif Naked is also interested in body art. She is adorned with tattoos. Today tattoos are common place, but in the 1990s getting visibly inked was still considered taboo. Tattoos tell stories just like song lyrics, and Bif Naked’s favourite tattoo is the Ganesha on her left arm.
“Tattoos are like story telling in our skin. They weren’t all that popular in when I was a young person. It was kind of weird having tattoos. It was intimidating sometimes for other people, which is probably what I was going for, and probably what a lot of my peers were going for. There weren’t a lot of girls in the 90s that had lot of visible tattoos, and now every Instagram star has a tear neck tattoo. Which is intimidating looking, if you’re not expecting that. It’s cool, and empowering for those getting tattoos. Myself included. Over the years the tattoo of mine that remains my favourite is the Ganesha that I have on my left arm. It’s kind of old now and the ink is kind of shitty. It’s not clear anymore. But at the time that I got it, it was really important to me. This deity represented removing obstacles and represented good luck. At the time I needed it. It’s still deeply important to me. Ganesha is the Hindu deity,” Bif Naked replied.
Bif Naked is also interested in martial arts, yoga, and fitness. Although she wasn’t raised as an athletic kid, she did do ballet in her youth.
“We weren’t really raised as athlete kids. I suspect that was what our dance training was. We were in performing arts as children. I was in ballet for a long time. I think that over the years, I got interested in martial arts because my manager of almost 30 years now, was a 5th dan blackbelt. All we did was martial arts training. I had a chance to host a martial arts TV show a few years ago, where we would travel across the globe and interview MMA athletes. That was before it was so globally popular. It was fascinating to learn about their lifestyles and all the fighting they did. I love martial arts a lot. I don’t do too much of it anymore. I was in a bad grappling incident. I still can’t believe I didn’t get decapitated from sparring. I think its a great physical activity for anyone,” Bif Naked reminisced.
Over the years Bif Naked had appeared in various media, magazines, television, and more. She has been labelled Punk Princess, Rock Goddess, and Legend. How do you feel about those labels?
“I don’t mind any of them. It’s flattering if anyone is even talking about me. If you’re on someones radar for your music or your art, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter in what context, or how they identify me or categorize me. I never paid much attention. I just think it’s all really positive. They like one side of my music or a different side. I always said great,” Bif Naked disclosed.
As a musician Bif Naked has toured the world, but her favourite place to travel and play is right here in Canada. She has fond memories of playing the University Frosh Week events.
“I think because I toured Canada so many times, just being from here, and growing up here, it’ll always be my special place – my home country. We use to do three national tours a year, for at least 15 years. We played every frosh week when the Universities started every September. Like a lot of Canadian bands, I toured the country and played every University. It was unforgettable. The first time I was on a tour was probably 1994. I cut my teeth and learned how to to be a professional and how to tour by touring in Canada,” Bif Naked recalled.
For the upcoming Ottawa show Bif Naked will be doing an acoustic set with Snake. She is going to mix things up for the upcoming tour, and fans can expect to hear some new songs performed.
“I will be performing acoustically, me and Snake, vaudevillian acoustic show. This is our third tour for our acoustic show. We do song writing together. I don’t know if I’m going to be doing any stories from the book. The last two tours were very specific to the book, and about book reading and singing the relevant songs. This time we’re going to change it up a bit and do some new songs. We got a lot of our guitars set to beats, and so we are going to be exploring that, and how that sounds. It’s a little trip hoppy and a little bit industrial. For us, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Bif Naked informed.
Bif Naked has been playing Ottawa shows for 27 years, and she is looking forward to returning on June 24th.
“We played at Mavericks in November, and it was amazing. It was incredible and we loved it. We’ve been playing Ottawa shows since 1990 – the first time we played there was at Barrymore’s and I still have a photo of that exact concert. It was transformational. I was very proud to be in the Nation’s Capital. Every time we go there, we go to the canal and take pictures, and go to Parliament. I’m fiercely patriotic. It’s always a real joy to hang out with our fans from Ottawa because I’ve known them for so long. It’s really rewarding to be there. We are excited about the show,” Bif Naked concluded.
The show is 19+, starts at 10pm, and tickets are available online for $30.