Tal Bachman Uncertain About How To Make His Mark Again

Photo by Steve Mechem.
Photo by Steve Mechem.

Tal Bachman recently played a string of house concerts in the B.C. Interior. It was the first time he had performed or toured in any sense in years, or at least since his appearance with Taylor Swift at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena in 2011. I attended his house show at Serenity Performing Arts Centre just over an hour outside of Kamloops. From start to finish the show lasted over five hours and consisted of three distinct sets.

The night included stories you would only dream of hearing about growing up touring with his father Randy Bachman (of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame), his years of solo stardom in the late 90s and early 2000s following his hit She’s So High (which he performed much to the surprise and delight of the audience), and the new anthology of songs that are his best yet that showcase a fresh sound yet keen ability to nail a melody and catchy chorus. The night took a turn in the third set when he literally jammed onstage for hours playing any song the audience requested. It was like being in some type of alternate universe. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

An interview with Bachman had not been set up ahead of time. However, when venue owner Shirley de Vooght approached him he was game, and I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. Four hours later when the sun was almost up he had shared many intimate details of the past 15 years of his life, along with the depth of unreleased songs he has written that showcase his unyielding creative talent.

The guy is basically sitting on albums worth of material. So if not recording and touring, what has he been doing with his time?  The answer to this is complicated. In recent years he has been putting his energy into the creation of a character named Ian Starglow, a fictional British rock icon, and writing a pilot for a farse reality program based on Ian Starglow‘s life. Don’t get me wrong: it’s funny, and if Tal Bachman wants to pursue acting, he should. The guy has serious theatrical talent and can do any accent you throw at him; he is a born performer.

What confused me was why this is the direction he is going when his well in the songwriting department has clearly not dried up, along with the fact that he can captivate an audience in seconds with just him and his guitar. His answer to this was, “No one is interested in my new music. People are much more interested in a fake person I made up then they are about me.” First of all, this just isn’t true, but when one considers his experienced success at its height, anything less may seem muted. Furthermore, learning of the personal trials he has faced since his time in the spotlight, it becomes evident that it may be easier to be someone else these days.

The overarching theme of the night was identity, and the thread through each of his stories and songs was his search for it. He began the night playing some of the first songs he ever wrote which he referred to as “total rip offs.” He educated the audience by saying, “The easiest way to learn how to write songs is to try to rewrite someone else’s. Pick a song you like and write one that sounds a lot like it.” He played  his version of a Beatles song called “Losing You” in his best Paul McCartney-esque tone and followed with “Mystery Man on the Moon”, his attempt to emulate David Bowie, space imagery and all. Bachman was able to impersonate his icons at the drop of a hat.

At the height of his own fame he was in his mid 20s, a husband and father to already four children. Four more children would follow in the years to come with his beautiful and devoted wife with whom he had proposed after only meeting once when she was 18 and he 22, a reflection of their deeply devout Mormon upbringing, but equal star-crossed love story. It wasn’t until they began researching their religion in depth that they both decided they could no longer believe in its teachings and left the church.

This decision, albeit based in a reality of evolved conscious thought, destroyed the very foundation of their marriage and their individual identities. What was one of the most epic love stories I’d ever heard was made extinct by the loss of security in a religion that had given them all of the answers. According to Bachman, he tried everything to prove to his wife that their love was real outside of the church. However, her loss of self, according to Bachman, was too strong and resulted in the dissolution of their marriage, something Bachman fought hard to keep together.

“People always ask me why I haven’t been out touring. I have been spending the last 10 years trying to keep my family together and failed.”

So you may assume, like I, that Bachman has been holed up writing an album about his experiences, pouring his heart out, if you will. His immediate response was “No.” I was shocked. “People kept telling me I needed to talk about it, that the more I talked about it the better I would feel, as if it would be cathartic somehow. But it wasn’t. It just made me feel worse. So I learned to say nothing at all for a long time.”

It is through this perspective that the thought of writing and performing songs about this period of his life is all together rejected. However, as the night proceeded and he pulled out a binder of songs he had written over many years, he began to flip through and find some that he had forgotten about, songs about his wife, their life together, and the heartache of losing her.  When pointing out some of the lyrical and emotional themes in some of his new material he had played in the show, they too reflected much of this period of his life, although not all together consciously.

As we began to discuss the possibility of him recording a new album and sharing his music with the public, it was clear this was not a plan on the immediate horizon. I found myself attempting to convince a man who had experienced life as a top 40 artist that baring his entire soul with the world is worth the risk of trying again.

I basically begged the guy to abandon all notion of trying to be the next Sacha Baron Cohen because being Tal Bachman is pretty fucking awesome.

I quickly realized this was a fairly presumptive assumption because from the perspective of Tal Bachman himself, being him for the past decade has been pretty fucking sad. When you watch everything you have ever known dissolve and lose the family that was the root of all that was good and wonderful in the world, life sucks. He remains a devoted father to his eight children that range in age from 10 to 24. They continue to be the most important people and focus of his life. Take a browse through his blog that has been inactive for almost two years yet filled with content that will help you get a sense of the man, the artist and the mind. It is exhausting just reading what goes on in his head; I barely made it out in one piece.

What I have been left with is a feeling of frustration that is hard to describe. Bachman is detached from the knowledge that his name still carries leverage from his past success.  He doesn’t see himself as a relevant artist in today’s market, let alone have a sense of social media connectivity with a fan base and establishing a relationship through music online. Yet here he was, playing for a room of 40 people like it was the most natural thing to do; it was like breathing to him.

Who knows what the future holds, whether any of his songs will get recorded, or whether he will begin to perform more regularly in the immediate area. What I do know is that the hours spent in his presence solidified a belief that the man is a genius of sorts, deeply intellectual and endlessly creative with ripe potential to re-emerge into the market with an anthology of material at his fingertips. But to be an emotional slave to one’s past is to stifle one’s future, and Tal Bachman’s chains are mighty tight.

Heather Adamson

Heather Adamson