The music industry is tough enough without certain standards it holds for women. Often, women are expected to look a certain way and live a certain lifestyle, all the while creating consistently good albums and starting a family of four. The music industry — the entertainment industry as a whole — regularly scrutinizes women on a daily basis according to the standards it’s set.
This can be a difficult way of life for many, but there is often a light at the end of the tunnel. Artists such as Alexa Durks, otherwise known as Begonia, are working to eradicate this standard. Living her life as true expression of her authentic self, Alexa is a role model for women to look up to. Not only does she have a killer voice, she has a great attitude about life and works hard to achieve her goals.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Alexa to discuss her beginnings in the girl group, Chic Gamine. Continue reading to fall in love with her, just as we have after chatting with her about her life on the road.
Kimberley Drapack: How did your love for music begin?
Alexa Durks: I started pretty young. I was always interested in singing and I was a loud kid, so I was always singing at home. Nobody in my family is a musician besides myself, but everyone was always listening to music or singing. It was instilled in me at a young age.
It was always something that I felt like I wanted to do and I don’t think I felt like I always would understand how or why, but I always felt I was connected to music in an emotional way. I went to church as a kid, sang in church, and was in musicals as a child. It’s a typical start.
K: What was the first CD you ever purchased?
AD: My dad had a Columbia House subscription. I’d always try to mooch off his subscription and get him to get me something. I started listening to the Beatles because my dad liked them. The first CD I bought with my allowance money was in the fourth grade. It was Destiny’s Child, The Writing’s on the Wall. I went crazy.
K: Do you have a favourite Destiny’s Child member?
AD: Well obviously Beyoncé. I was in a girl group, Chic Gamine, I know what that is like. Not in the same sort of way.
K: That’s how you began singing?
AD: I started singing for a gig when I was like sixteen or seventeen. I was still in high school and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand how I could make it a career, but it was something that I wanted to do, and I could make money doing it, so it blew my mind. I started touring with Chic Gamine, when I was nineteen or twenty. It was an early start. I had no idea what was going on, and I sometimes still have no idea what’s going on.
K: Was it exciting in that you were getting out of your hometown and traveling?
AD: It was an adventure. I still have a romanticized view of the road and certain aspects of it. That’s why I still tour, I do it because I love it. I’m going to stop when it stops being fun all together.
That’s kind of what it’s like, you kind of have to be able to get on a stage and enjoy what you are doing, because people can feel that authenticity. You don’t want to do it when you don’t like it anymore, that’s when a lot of bullshit can come in.
K: You describe Begonia as being on a spectrum — with one end that is dark and grievous and the other a petite, elegant flower. What is it like finding the balance between these two sides and how does it relate to your music?
AD: I’m not necessarily what a lot of people would classify as the stereotypical pop star in any sort of sense. If you look at me, there’s meat on my bones, I’m a person that is pretty outspoken in certain ways. I can also be shy and timid, and there are all those sides.
If we’re really going to cut to it, as women, in that age in the industry, you’re supposed to look a certain way and be a certain way, and I struggle with that duality all the time of the person that I want to put out there and the person I really am, which is my authentic self that doesn’t always have my makeup done perfectly or doesn’t necessarily know when or if I’m going to have children. I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life but I know there are women in the industry who do not have specific roles. I feel like that’s where I find myself, in the middle of that, trying to represent the “other.”
K: Do you feel as though you’ve felt pressure in a way to express that women are supposed to be categorized a certain way, or fit a certain look?
AD: I respect it all. If you are being an honest, authentic person, who is representing yourself, you don’t have to look any specific way. There shouldn’t be a standard.
K: Tell us about your EP, Lady in Mind. What stories does it tell? What was the writing process like to produce this work?
AD: It was the culmination of a lot of years of writing songs and kind of shelving them, and not knowing where I was going to put some of these songs. I was in a band for so long where we had a really collaborative writing process, so I would write some of these songs on my own and not really know where they would fit.
Over the course of the years, it just encapsulated so many different topics. Being in my mid-twenties and trying to understand where I fit in as a woman in the industry, trying to understand my own female fragility. I got out of a really bad relationship at the time that was pretty emotionally abusive, that played a part in some of these songs, but I think the common thread in the content is trying to find the power within yourself in the dark moments. Each song has a realness to it because I’m just talking about my authentic experience. Anyone could possibly relate to it if they’ve ever gone through shit.
It’s about the relationship within yourself, a relationship with the same or opposite sex, and the world around you.
K: What genres would you describe your music to be in between? Do you find the label of a certain type of genre can be limiting?
AD: It’s a limiting question, but you have to kind of know. I do feel as though I have a pop sensibility to my writing but it is more on the alternative side. It’s not necessarily the type that would play on the Top 40 radio, and I know that.
There’s some R&B underpinnings, there’s some soul underpinnings. I draw inspiration from so many different places, but if you really have to put it down to what it is, it would probably be pop alternative music.
K: What did it feel like when your single Juniper, from your new five-song EP, Lady in Mind, reached number one on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20?
AD: It was super cool. I wasn’t expecting it. We just put the song out there to launch the project a year ago, and when CBC picked it up, it was a nice moment. It was a validating moment where people wanted to hear what I do, people are interested in what I’m doing.
I would have done it either way, but it’s one of those moments where you’re thankful. Hearing your song on the radio at any time is a pretty exciting thing. My mom would look up on the website when it would play.
K: Are your parents your biggest cheerleaders?
AD: They come to all my gigs. Since when I was a kid to when I was a teenager playing in shitty bars, they would come to every gig I ever played. When I quit my full time job right out of high school and said I was going on the road, they didn’t necessarily understand what that meant — I didn’t understand what that meant. They thought, “that’s cool, but you are still living at home, how are you going to make money?” I didn’t even know. Once I got more of a handle on the industry and kind of figured out what I was doing then they could understand it better, but they’ve always been super supportive.
K: For those not in the industry, they can see your line of work as more of a hobby than a job until you get a certain validation of playing a big festival. Can that be frustrating?
AD: I’m used to it, that’s part of it. When you are a small potato like me, you do have to prove yourself and whether I like it or not, that’s part of the game. I know it, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I do no matter what.
K: What can we expect from you in the future?
AD: I’m touring right now and this summer. I’m working on a new album and I’m going to be in the studio in the fall, so hopefully by next year you are going to hear some new stuff.