Tracy Bonham's 1996 debut album, The Burdens of Being Upright, went gold, was nominated for two Grammys, and featured the last song by a solo female artist – "Mother Mother" – to top the alternative charts until 2013. So when the 20th anniversary of the album started to appear on the horizon, Bonham decided to mark the occasion with something more than a re-release. "I wanted to revamp and refurbish the songs and put them to a modern template," Bonham said. "To make it a creative endeavor, not just a commercial one."
To that end, the singer-songwriter with eight full-length albums and EPs to her name enlisted John Wlaysewski of the band Late Cambrian to produce. The two knew each other from gigging together. "I dissected her songs from her first album and tried to get her to open up to what they were in their essence, beyond how they existed in a certain time period," Wlaysewski said. "We wanted to think about these songs as if they were new," Bonham added.
Instead of the aggressive grunge production of the 1996 release, the new album – titled Modern Burdens – features more experimental, stripped down, often slower versions of the songs, including "Mother Mother." Placing the compositions in a more contemporary sonic landscape aligned with another goal of Bonham's for the project: Re-contextualizing the lyrics for the Trump Era. "Many of the songs on Burdens are about this horrible, misogynist guy," Bonham said. "So I just replaced his face with another."
At the time of the original release, the male-dominated music industry had room for very few strong female artists such as Bonham. So for the re-release, she decided to ask female performers she respected, both from her generation and younger artists, to contribute vocals to the new recordings. "I felt this was one way we could make sense of what had happened and create a community that could send a message of solidarity and strength," Bonham said. "The response was immediate."
These performers include Tanya Donelly (of Belly, the Breeders, and Throwing Muses), Kathryn Calder (of the New Pornographers), Rachel Yamagata, Kay Hanley (of Letters To Cleo), Australian pop songstress, Angie Hart, Nicole Atkins and Sadie Dupuis (of the band Speedy Ortiz).