A Conversation with Begonia at Wayhome 2017

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.

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Contemporary Art & Individual Stories – Alexis Fraser

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It has ben only five years since Alexis Fraser became a full-time artist and her dedication has paid off. Being an emerging artist can give you more than headaches and stress. However, with her unique signature, Alexis is rapidly gaining recognition in the taught Art industry.

Portraits capturing the urban energy of big cities such as Toronto feature not only people but also their individual stories. “At the end of the day, we all have a story. We all want to be seen and heard. My body of work pulls focus to us as individuals and our need for relevancy. Who is that person? What is their story? Is there a message? Wether you know the person or not, these are the questions I want the viewer to think about when viewing my work. The fun part is creating your own meaning and your own story. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to art!” – in Fraser’s words.

Novella wanted to learn more about this up-and-coming talent, so we asked her some questions such us her personal definition of ‘portrait’ or her ultimate dream as an artist.

Celia Fernandez: What is art for you?

Alexis Fraser: For me, art is a visual outlet the same way music is an auditorial outlet. It’s something that we find emotional connections with. What we gravitate to is different from one person to the next, but it’s something we all hold an appreciation for, even if we don’t quite realize it.

C.F.: Where does your love for art come from?

A.F.: My parents were both very hands on with building, fixing, making and crafting which I believe had an influence, but I’ve always had that creative bone as long as I can remember. If I wasn’t drawing or painting, I was crafting something, building forts, rearranging my bedroom, shaping my food on my plate into patterns and performing other artsy quirks. I always perked up for creative projects at school, and I’m proud to say, I’ve never entirely stopped using my imagination. I’m a visual learner and always cultivated that original trait. My parents and family encouraged my creativity and never tried steering otherwise. I’m super grateful for that.

C.F.: When and why you decided that you wanted to become an artist?

A.F.: I never thought I could have a livelihood based on my art alone, so I went to school to become a teacher with the plan to teach high school level art. My husband, being a former Canadian resident, wanted to move back north and got a job which moved us from Chicago to Toronto. While I was waiting for my permanent residence and unable to use my education degree – not to mention the lack of teaching jobs -, I decided to pass my time by painting. After a lot of soul-searching and hundreds of paintings created while trying to define myself as an artist, my hobby became my full-time job, and I haven’t looked for a teaching position since.

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C.F.: Do you remember the first piece of art you made?

A.F.: Not one piece in particular, but thankfully my Mom held on to many of those hilarious crafty childhood keepsakes. I guess the first painting I ever did on an actual piece of stretched canvas, was a picture of what I imagined Greece looked like. I painted it when I was about fifteen and gave it to my Dad. I figured ‘he’s Greek, so he’ll like this!’ Surely enough he did and had had it hanging ever since. It’s something I laugh at now but is also a reminder of how a skill can develop after years of practice.

C.F.: What would you say is your signature as an artist?

A.F.: My backgrounds and how they reflect the person featured in the painting. My portraits aren’t just a face. They’re a story about the individual for the viewer to interpret.

C.F.: How has your signature evolved ever since you started your career in art?

A.F.: It took a few years for me to figure out what I wanted to paint. For a while, I was painting just hands and eyes. So much can be said about a person through their eyes and hands. Eventually, that evolved into faces. Living in Toronto and being surrounded by a melting pot of culture and individualism has allowed me to see people in a new light. After painting just faces for a while, I also wanted to include a story about that person. That’s where my backgrounds come into play. One thing leads to another and with that being said, I’m excited to see how I continue to evolve as an artist.

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C.F.: How do you see the art scene here in Canada versus the States or Europe? Is it more challenging to get your name out there in this country?

A.F.: I never made the leap towards becoming a full-time artist while living in the States, but I am quickly finding out what a small world the art scene here in Toronto is. I imagine having an art career in any major city would be similar to having one here in Toronto. As long as you have work that’s uniquely your own and catered to the demographic of your town, there shouldn’t be too much competition or difficulty getting your name out there. Work crazy hard and stay driven and folks will learn who you are.

C.F.: Define ‘portrait’ with your own words.

A.F.: A captured moment of a particular person that speaks to who he or she is in life.

C.F.: Complete the sentence: ‘My ultimate dream as an artist is…’

A.F.: To become a household name in the art industry. I dream of my art making a positive impression on people while gaining great success in what I love to do most.

C.F.: If your art was a perfume, which perfume would it be?

A.F.: I suppose I would go with the scent I used to wear during my adolescent years while trying to define myself for the first time – Happy by Clinique. To this day, that smell gives me both an active youthful feeling, yet feelings of uncertainty. It reminds me of the days where my life was a work-in-progress; which it still is, as well as my art. My art will always be feel good art, but will be forever improving, just like myself.

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All photos are courtesy of Alexis Fraser.