The now and then of Tracy Bonham’s ‘Burdens’

Tracy Bonham plays Club Passim on Wednesday.
Tracy Bonham plays Club Passim on Wednesday.

Last year, Tracy Bonham decided to revisit her past. The Berklee-trained songwriter and musician released “Modern Burdens,” a song-by-song rework of her 1996 breakthrough “The Burdens of Being Upright.” That original collection of violin-tinged grunge-pop, led by the coiled-anxiety single “Mother Mother,” was full of smudged-eyeliner and distortion-pedal-powered ferocity. On the 21st century edition, Bonham takes a tender approach to the material, honoring its intensity while also adding new dynamics and bringing along guests like Belly’s Tanya Donelly, Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley, and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis.

Bonham plays Club Passim in Cambridge on Wednesday with New York musician and record executive Blake Morgan, a fellow ’90s alt-rock gold rush survivor whose label ECR Music Group released “Modern Burdens” and who, as Bonham puts it, helped her “feng shui” her social media presence and back catalog. “His enthusiasm and his positivity in this day and age, when the music business could be perceived as so dire — it’s a joy to work with someone like him,” she says.

The Globe spoke to Bonham by phone.


Q. How is the tour going so far?

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A. It’s been excellent. We did the West Coast run [earlier this spring], and four out of the six shows were sold out. It was almost like waking up from a dream. I was like, “Wait a minute, I haven’t actually done this for eight years.” I felt like I had, because I’ve been working, but I hadn’t done an actual tour since 2010.

A lot of people came out that had never seen me. “Modern Burdens,” my last album, had an interesting reach because it reminded people who remembered “The Burdens of Being Upright” — “Oh, wow. She’s still doing it?” As an artist that’s frustrating to hear, but it’s great because then they come out and say, “I haven’t ever seen you play,” or, “I haven’t seen you since 1996.” Reconnecting with those folks has been really fun.

Q. What have the setlists been like so far?

A. I’m playing a lot of songs on piano — it’s been really fun to revamp and reimagine them. A healthy chunk from “Burdens” — I’ll just call them “Burdens,” because they now can’t be considered as [being part of] “Modern Burdens” or “The Burdens of Being Upright,” they’re just “Burdens” — on piano. Then I do a nice big chunk from my [2005] album “Blink the Brightest,” which fit really well on the piano. Then there are some new ones from “Wax & Gold,” which came out in 2015.


There’s one song, “One of These Days,” about motherhood, and I play that right after I play “Mother Mother.” It’s like then and now — “One of These Days” is from my perspective as a mother, singing to my child who is someday going to scream at me “Everything’s fine” on the telephone. I’ve curated this set like it’s a show show.

Q. You have a very big history with Boston. How do you feel about coming back, especially on the heels of “Modern Burdens”?

A. Every time I’m on the Pike approaching Newton, I start to have flashbacks of writing these songs in Boston and what I was going through — hard times, good times, good friends, troubled relationships. It’s really fun now to think that I’m going to go back and have these feelings and experience these songs 21 years later. This whole thing has been somewhat of a healing process for me — as a songwriter, as a person. And then these songs — this is going to sound really corny, but I don’t care — they needed to see daylight, too. I’m older and wiser, and I’ve learned from all of those experiences and have gone through a lot of questioning and therapy. I’m a grownup, and I’m able to figure out what happened or why I allowed it.

The songs were trapped in a ’90s package, and I say that with love because there’s nothing wrong with that. I love that first album, but it was of its time; it had the whole Nirvana quiet verses-loud chorus [aesthetic]. [Now I’m coming] back to Boston with this new perspective, and the songs to have a new life even beyond “Modern Burdens” — they open up on the piano, where they’re standing alone without any of the packaging.

Q. How has working through PledgeMusic [a crowdfunding platform that Bonham has used to release recent albums] been for you?


A. I love it. It’s made it really clear that there are people out there who care. In the ’90s, my vision of my audience was just faceless people listening to the radio. Then, you feel like you’re reaching a bunch of people — “Geez, I’m going to play for a lot of faceless people.” That’s fun, but it’s lonely, and your ego definitely starts to get bigger than it needs to be.

‘Now I know some of my fans personally. I’ve actually gotten to be very good friends with some of them. There’s a smaller group of people now . . . Then it’s more fun — you put a face to the audience, and it becomes a real, personal connection.’

Now I know some of my fans personally. I’ve actually gotten to be very good friends with some of them. There’s a smaller group of people now, because it’s 20 years later, but that is the new success story. Then it’s more fun — you put a face to the audience, and it becomes a real, personal connection.

Q. And they’ll go with you on any artistic leaps you might make. It feels like you’re the center of this collective energy — Pledge, and with Blake [Morgan], and the collaborators on “Modern Burdens.”

A. That was so cool, I have to say. I was almost feeling like we were doing a tribute album, but I wasn’t dead. It was so heartwarming to hear someone like Tanya [Donelly], who I didn’t really know. We knew of each other, and we probably played shows together back in the day, but I wouldn’t have called her a friend back in the ’90s, but now we text — “heart, heart.” It goes back to that whole healing thing; these days we’re not pitted against each other, and I just want to praise her. She said some really sweet things about how she loved “Mother Mother.” Kay Hanley [and other] people from the ’90s, and Sadie Dupuis [of Speedy Ortiz] who’s current, said things that were so inspiring and encouraging. It was a real boost as a songwriter and as an artist to hear these compliments. It’s a gift to hear them at any time, but now I can kindle these friendships.

Tracy Bonham & Blake Morgan

At Club Passim, Cambridge, June 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $20, 617-492-7679,

Maura Johnston can be reached at