British singer/songwriter Vashti Bunyan was offered her first record deal when she was only 19-years-old. Indeed, her musicianship is highly regarded by colleagues and fans that have virtually saved her music from obscurity; talented, she is — prolific, not so much. Bunyan prefers a quiet life; at times rural / at times urban, living what she calls “an upside down life.” She chats with PopMatters 20 Questions about music-making at her pace, life without safety nets, and her nonconformist nature.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Trench Rats, a short animated film about a rat in the first world war trenches who is writing a letter home to his mother and telling her that everything is fine. He is dressed in tin hat and uniform. A new rat called Frank comes along, but he gets shell-shock. The frames where the first rat puts his arm around a shaking Frank made me cry, alright.
2. The fictional character most like you?
The person who went to the Outer Hebrides in a horse and wagon and stayed there bringing up kids and animals and being an earth mother. The real one didn’t stay in the Hebrides more than six months and was never much of an earth mother. Mother yes, earth no. Just mud. Mud, wind and fire.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Neil Young’s After the Goldrush — only partly because it was the first album I heard after being without electricity and therefore no record player for a couple of years.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Stars Wars, if you mean the film. If you don’t, then Star Trek, of course.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Do you mean brain food as in fish and omega? If so, I don’t like to eat fish. If you mean nourishment for the intellect – erm – arguing, probably.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
For never having had much of a plan. Learning how to live with almost nothing and not being afraid and finding a way to feel safe in the word without a house or a job or knowing how things were going to work out.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
An upside down life; making my 17-year-old self’s dreams come true at the age of 62.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Bob Dylan, who walks in his own shoes and not those made for him by the rest of us. And my father, who could find a way ’round obstacles like no one else I ever knew.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
It’s taken me most of my life to understand that what other people make is what they make and what I make is what I make. It was comparing what I do to what other people do that got me into trouble in the first place.
10. Your hidden talents…?
Picking stones out of horses’ hooves. No, really. I don’t know of my hidden talents as they are too well hidden.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My father, who never compromised, telling me to compromise and go ahead and record a Jagger/Richards song as my first single, “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind”, instead of holding out for one of my own songs. My song, “I Want to Be Alone”, went on the b side. I’m glad I did it.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
The first Mac I bought with the first royalties from the re-issue of Just Another Diamond Day. Getting it out of the beautiful box so new and shiny and mine all mine. It changed my life and it only gave up (gracefully) just the other day.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I’ve idea how it would feel to wear Armani. Levis are more likely, as I have more or less lived in them since I bought my first pair when I was 14 in a local Army & Navy store and yes, I did lie in the bath with them back then to get them to shrink to fit.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Peter Snell, the Canadian producer of my second single, “Train Song” in 1966. He is the only person from my musical past that I have not been able to find, and the only person back then who really understood the simplicity I was trying to achieve in my music. I would like to be able to thank him.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Back to the Christmas when I was ten. My older brother built me an electric train set even though I was a girl and hid it under our parents’ bed on Christmas eve. I was so overwhelmed with joy and surprise when I first saw it I probably didn’t even say “thank you”.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
One of the places I lived (in the country) I used to rage up to the top of the hill where there was a huge white rock that had been left there by some glacier thousands of years ago, stand on the top of it, and shout at the sky. It didn’t help. ‘Till I moved to the city.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Jammie Dodgers, a biscuit that I think is only available in the UK. Oh no, and I’m thinking of moving to LA.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I grew up in central London, left for the country when I was 23 and stayed there for 25 years. Then returned to the city 15 years ago. Knowing both I am torn. Country living is just a different kind of crazy to city living.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
You could have stopped it. Why didn’t you?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Well I wouldn’t call it “work” exactly, but I’m writing new songs which may or may not ever see the light of day.