Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability

Begonia walks into the studio, hands filled to the brim with bags full of wardrobe options for our cover story shoot; she drops them to the floor with an exasperated huff, “I’m so sorry I’m late, my keynote went on forever!” This is not an unusual predicament for the rising Canadian musician, 2023 after all was a whirlwind for the Winnipeg born wunderkind. Fresh off the heels of the one year anniversary of her acclaimed studio album Powder Blue, a hot docs premiere in Toronto, performances at the Drake and a slew of awards nominations including the Polaris Music Prize, and adult alternative album of the year at the Juno’s, Begonia’s star has been burning white hot for more than a minute.

Née Alexa Dirks, Begonia is one of those creatives whose artistry shines through not just in their musicality but equally so in their personality. As a team of makeup artists, stylists and assistants swarm around her we muse about the inspirations for the shoot. “It’s a bit of a manic pixie dream girl vibe” someone quips, “Manic pixie bitch girl!” Begonia chimes in, her wit both on and offstage is true to the candor she expresses in her lyricism. We muse about standout track, Butterfly, on her latest album as we shoot her first look (aptly replete with mascara tears flowing down Begonia’s cheeks). The track sets the tone for the sort of piercing profundity of introspection that characterizes the album; an autobiographical hymn dedicated to her struggles with faith and identity. “Chipped my tooth at the swimming pool, memorized the golden rule.” It is these sorts of candid vibrant vignettes of memory and deeply personal nuance that give flourish to her exceptional blend of soul and pop. Elsewhere on the album, Dirks delves into love lost (and found), mental breakdowns, and ignoring the haters, “Now you call me fat like it hurts me, Well I’ve turned off my Google alerts see, Cuz what’s thicker than my thighs, Is the resolve inside To never let you see me cry.” 

On-stage Begonia is a dynamo. A technically astute vocalist with a voice that soars between falsetto lilts and belts that crescendo, Dirks, to be sure, can command an audience based purely on vocal prowess. Albeit it is her affect and cheeky sincerity which ultimately give full kaleidoscopic colour to her performances. On the eve of Powder Blue’s one year anniversary, a crowd forms at the Drake Underground on Queen West, and within tracks which delve deeply into the singer/songwriter’s past and present, Begonia is dialed in, taking in the audience and the full spectrum of emotion in each song. Between tracks, Begonia riffs with the audience as if each were an old friend, standing there, swaying with a cocktail in hand, you get the feeling as if you’ve been personally invited to the performance.

After a day’s long shoot, various wardrobe changes and one Enya album on repeat later, we convene outside of the studio, Begonia standing perched with a lit cigarette whilst her manager dutifully attempts to whisk her away to another event. The glow of the streetlights behind her illuminate the singer/songwriter’s signature orange fringe, and that same sense of cheeky sincerity and unfiltered humour makes its way into our parting goodbyes. We muse about food cravings, making friends with other creatives, and our favourite brands of cigarettes. But not before we make plans to speak one last time, Begonia is after-all an artist whose inner world merits a certain extensive unfurling. Later via email, we take a deeper dive into her journey of self-discovery, the inspirations behind Powder Blue, and her candid takes on everything from navigating personal growth to the essence of her creative process.

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
For those that are not entirely familiar with Begonia, how would you describe yourself in three words?

Chunky, funky, spunky.

You recently celebrated the one year anniversary of Powder Blue. Can you share the inspiration behind the album and how it reflects your growth as an artist?

Inspiration behind the album was my relationship with my growing self. Growing away from my religious past, growing more into my sexuality, reflecting on my relationships and how they have changed throughout the years. Namely my relationship with myself. I called it Powder Blue because I felt like it encompassed the emotions so perfectly that I was trying to convey. A mix of softness and electricity.

Powder Blue puts your internal world on full display. How do you prepare mentally and emotionally to share such a deep level of introspection with the world?

I don’t think there’s ever a perfect way to prepare. Somedays I think I’m in the zone and I just go for it and then others I’m like WTF did I say haha I try to be as authentic and intentional as possible with my art so then that vulnerability kind of comes naturally.

The album is a vignette of different moments and feelings in your life. What made you feel the need to share these specific stories and feelings?

I mean to me art is all about sharing your story and these are mine. I’ve tried many times to write songs about other people but they usually end up always coming back to my own lived experiences.

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
Is there a certain song on the album that feels particularly personal to you?

I’d say it’s a toss up between Butterfly and Marigold.

Your upbringing in the Mennonite church introduced you to the power of music from an early age. How do you think this early exposure has shaped your approach to songwriting and performing today?

It definitely gave me a certain confidence in performing in front of people that I don’t think I would’ve cultivated otherwise. Music was always something that drew me in the most to the church in the first place. I remember my mom singing harmonies to hymns in my ear when she had me on her hip in the congregation. Also because I showed such a love for music, I was thrusted on stage from a young age within the world of the church. That kind of exposure allowed me to have to deal with my nervousness early on. It also pushed me to want to be as honest as I could be…there’s a lot of repression and shame in the church that I also learned and have been working for years to grow out of. So I work through that a lot in my writing now. 

Can you walk us through your creative process? How do you go from an idea to a fully formed song?

It’s different depending on the song. Often if I’m trying to get a new idea together I love going on writing retreats. Go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a week with no distractions. But sometimes ideas just come as I’m doing the dishes or taking a shower or doing any other mundane daily task. You truly never know when inspiration hits. When I work with my main collaborators Matt Peters and Matt Schellenberg (deadmen), sometimes it starts with them sending me a loop they created and I work off of that. If I’m just at home alone I’ll write on the piano or the guitar or just use my voice as the main instrument. Again it all depends what the song calls for and every idea strikes me differently.

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
Your collaboration with Matt Schellenberg and Matthew Peters has been crucial in shaping your music. How does working with them influence the development of your songs, and what do you feel they bring to your music that’s unique?

They are truly my brothers without having any blood relation. I’ve been friends with them for a long time and have worked with them for almost as long. We have developed such a bond and trust with each other that allows for such vulnerability and honesty. It can be hard to manufacture or cultivate that quickly so I feel so lucky to work with people I trust and respect so much. I think it makes me and my music more honest. They also constantly push me out of my comfort zone creatively and when I hear the music we make I feel like only the sum of our parts creates that magic. They are constantly working with different artists and pushing themselves creatively so whenever we get back together it’s never stale. We always have new ideas to draw from which I feel so lucky for. 

Looking back on your first EP, Lady In Mind, and your album Fear, how do you feel your music and you as an artist have evolved since then?

Oh my gosh the confidence in my own opinion has grown so much. I used to feel like I needed more outside validation in order to be confident in any sort of creative opinion I had but now that I’ve done this long enough I trust and value my own instincts more. I used to be more afraid of saying the wrong thing in a session or sending the wrong email to the wrong industry person at the wrong time or whatever and now I’m just not as scared any more.  I’ve seen my career take so many different twists and turns then I expected and every decision I’ve made has led me here and that’s a beautiful thing. It sounds cheesy as hell but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have it all together haha the unknown is still scary but it doesn’t feel as terrifying as it used to feel. 

After every major creative output (an ep, an album) I usually feel like “WELL THAT’S IT I GUESS I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO GIVE OR SAY” but then time passes and there is always more to say and more to create and now that I’ve been doing this for long enough I can actually trust in that process. 

In terms of musical influences, who are you listening to these days? 

Lately In the morning to start my day I’m listening to a lot of Tim Bernardes, especially an album called Mil Coisas Invis​í​veis. I find the album so melancholic and beautiful and it just eases me into a softer headspace when I’m feeling anxious. 

When i’m feeling like I wanna get freaky (ie. maybe leave the house) I’ve been listening to Naduh a lot (namely the album HOMIESEXUAL). They’re a band I was turned onto at a music festival/conference I went to a month ago. They are a badass girl group from BC and I think what they’re doing is super special and unique in the Canadian musical landscape! In the last few months I’ve also been listening to Mk.gee, Kara Jackson, Adrienne Lenker. I also listen to a lot of brown/pink/white noise and video game music haha. 

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
Which artists have shaped your sound, and how do you incorporate these influences into your work as Begonia while maintaining your unique voice? 

I mean I’ve always been the most attracted to unique voices. Voices where I feel their truth and emotion through every word and not necessarily voices that are deemed “perfect”. Some that have inspired me through the years are Gillian Welch, Karen Dalton, Bjork, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Adrianne Lenker, Erykah Badu, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Caroline Polachek… I mean I also went through a huge Mariah Carey and Spice Girls phase as a kid though…AND all the Amy Grant I listened to on tape when I was trying to be a good christian girl must have had some effect on my singing haha 

I sang in a lot of cover bands as a teenager and I think I used to try to emulate how my favourite singers sang but through singing a million cover songs in bars to nobody I was able to find my own way of singing in a really low pressure environment. Instead of trying to be exactly like those people I found “oh my voice doesn’t do THAT…but what can it do with these melodies and these lyrics?” My instrument is different just like theirs are different from each other and when you’re a tuba you can’t expect to play a song and sound like a flute…ya know? I’ve worked long and hard to embrace my own unique tuba. 

You’ve been noted for your distinctive style and stage presence. How do you approach performance, and what role does it play in your music? Is there a performance that felt like a turning point in your career?

Being on stage and connecting with an audience is always where I feel most alive and myself. I LOVE the electricity that’s cultivated in a room full of people. All bringing their unique energy and experiences into one room for one moment. Being on stage with my band and making music, It’s basically the only time where my brain actually slows down and I can be present. I also find it sooooo cathartic and fun to indulge in what I wear on stage. I just put on what makes me feel like the most extra version of myself and it instantly makes me come alive differently than if I was just up there wearing my everyday look of sweats and a toque. I for sure dress like a little teenage stoner troll almost every other moment of my life haha so indulging in the fantasy of stage wear is something I LIVE FOR. 

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
Being shortlisted for the Polaris Prize in 2023 and nominated for a Juno in 2024 are significant achievements. How do these recognitions impact your view on your music and career?

Okay truly cliche thing to say but I’m honoured to be nominated. To be recognized in categories with some of my artistic heroes…feels surreal. I had watched the Junos and followed the polaris prize for years never truly knowing if I’d ever be on those stages but always dreaming I would. I will say that I 1000% know my career and artistic practice doesn’t live or die with these awards or accolades though, I’m going to keep doing this no matter what, but I also will say that the recognition is just like a beautiful little pat on the back and reminds me that I’m doing what i’m meant to be doing. 

Your documentary recently premiered at Hot Docs in Toronto. What inspired the decision to capture the essence of Powder Blue through a film, and why was it important to showcase it in a theatrical premiere?

So this was all the brainchild of my pal and director Ryan Steel. We had the idea of capturing the show but he definitely dug into that and decided to shoot on stage with the band and wanted it to be all one take. It was a practice in vulnerability for me for sure as the way the video and sound were captured made it so that I couldn’t edit anything on the back end…couldn’t tweak a flubbed note or edit out an embarrassing moment…but once I got past my ego…that fact actually made it all the more magical. It’s very raw. Ryan had the idea to hit up Hot Docs because he really wanted this to be seen on a proper big screen and not just on people’s cracked phones over youtube. He def had a vision with this. I totally love that we went forward with it because it was such a fun and different experience for me. I’ve never seen myself on a screen that huge and at first I was like “AHHH LOOK AWAY MY CHINS” and then as I said… I got over my ego and I loved it haha. 

This one-time-only theatrical premiere is a significant event for Toronto Begonia fans. Why was it important to make this a unique experience, and how do you hope it impacted the audience?

It was screened on the year anniversary of my record which is also the year anniversary of when we last played in Toronto so it felt like screening it there first in a (relatively) intimate setting with an intimate crowd was so special. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of turn out or reception but people were so gracious and kind. The energy felt so loving in that room haha. I hid under my coat for some of it…not wanting to see people’s reactions lol not sure what I was expecting…maybe someone to throw a tomato? But no tomatoes were thrown thank gosh. Overall a really really positive experience. Film isn’t my medium so it’s a different world for me BUT visuals are SO important to me within my creative process. This really made sense to me in terms of something we could do to diversify the ability to reach people with the music! 

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
The film features a special hometown energy. Can you elaborate on how this unique atmosphere influenced the filming process and the final product?

Oh my word my Winnipeg people ride so hard for me and I feel that every time we throw an event or put on a show. It’s something I NEVER take for granted and am constantly in awe of. It truly makes me able to do what I do in the way I want to do it. That show was SO special…the room was so attentive and full of energy and it took everything in me not to burst into tears after almost every song. Knowing I was being filmed probably stopped me from being as blubbery as a bitch could’ve been. That crowd gave me so much strength so inevitably that affects how I perform and how I interact. 

Your music often features themes of vulnerability, strength, love, and faith. Is there a song that was particularly difficult to write or perform? How did you navigate that challenge?

Butterfly was probably the song that took me the longest to perform confidently in public. It’s about my fall from religion and my disillusionment with the church. That was such a big part of my life for so long and I was afraid that once I put my feelings out there that my extended family would disown me or at least I would have to have hard conversations with a lot of people.  My band and my partner really encouraged me to perform it and the more I played it live and saw how other people could relate AND how my whole world didn’t implode when I sang those words… the more I could perform it with confidence and compassion instead of fear.  

2023 was a whirlwind year for Begonia, what have been some highlights?

Oh man, the last two years were a complete blur, gearing up to release Powder Blue and all the touring surrounding that …when I look back I wonder how I wasn’t sick all the time from exhaustion haha. Okay I did get sick a couple times but ANYWAYS I THINK the biggest highlight was probably the connection fostered between my band mates and I. Going on tour can be EVERYTHING …beautiful, painful, exhausting, lifegiving ALL OF IT and surrounding yourself with people you trust and have fun with is soooo important so I feel so lucky I have found that with my live band. We’re stuck in a stinky van rolling down the highway…we laugh, are vulnerable with each other, take space from each other when we need to and then come together and make music all over the world. I just feel so lucky and so much love for the energy we have cultivated together.

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine
Photo: Cody Rooney
Your journey from being a part of Chic Gamine to your solo career as Begonia has been inspiring. What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of this transition?

Learning to trust myself as just Begonia was probably the hardest part of the transition. You go from having 4 other people to lean on for EVERY decision to just having yourself be the final say from like…what colour tee shirt you’re going to print to what the name of a song is going to be etc etc . It’s all at once liberating but also horribly isolating. It was a huge learning curve for me. I also mourned the loss of that band dynamic not knowing if I would ever get something like that again. In Chic Gamine I truly grew up so much into the person and artist I am. I started touring with them when I was 19…barely knew my head from my ass and when it was over I was 26 and had learned and changed so much. It was a crash course in the industry for me and in collaboration and just in handling different social dynamics honestly. I am so lucky to have had those years spent with those people, we lived SO many adventures together. When the band broke up, I jumped pretty quickly into my solo project and while I have no regrets, sometimes the grief of losing that band hit me in awkward ways at different times because I didn’t just take the time to fully slow down and grieve when it happened. I’m thankful for my history though as it taught me so much on how to take care of myself and others. It made me the artist I am today! 

Finally, looking to the future, what goals or aspirations do you have for your music and career? What’s something you haven’t done yet but feel drawn towards exploring? What can your fans look forward to next?

My biggest goal and aspiration is just to continue. To continue to make art that I’m proud of and collaborate with artists I love and admire. I want to make another record and tour all over the world and keep the adventure and love alive as long as I can. 

I have a few sneaky things coming out soon tbh (some singles? An EP? WELP!) I’m going to the UK in May to play Great Escape and Focus Wales along with a show in London. Also will be performing at a handful of festivals this spring and summer…but mostly i’m focusing on balancing my work/life time and cultivating that creative space for myself again in order to start writing for the next record ahhhhh

Photography: Cody Rooney

Creative Direction: Avleen Kaur

Pearls: Gahm

Hair: Rakiya

Makeup: Josephine Kent

Production Assistant: Matt Oster

, Begonia Blossoms: On Powder Blue, Juno Nominations, and Embracing Vulnerability, Liminul Magazine

Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.

He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.

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