Manitoba Music has teamed up with Fresh Radio for a new monthly spotlight on local music, dubbed Manitoba Fresh to introduce audiences to a stellar slate of buzzworthy local artists emerging on the Canadian music scene. Featuring on-air segments and online performances via Fresh Radio, and in-depth band profiles right here on manitobamusic.com, Manitoba Fresh continues this month with new pop act Begonia. Tune in to 99.1 Fresh Radio and stay tuned for so much more...
By Jillian Groening
Alexa Dirks is a Winnipeg triple threat: singer, songwriter, and karaoke host.
Her admirable skills in all three occupations have earned her a spot in the hearts of local music lovers and gained her cred as one of the most charming characters to grace local stages.
Ability to rap Eminem (or belt “What a Wonderful World, depending on the day) aside, Dirks is a mega-power. After ten years spent singing in bands, Dirks is venturing out on her own and the results are more than exciting. Begonia, the artist’s new solo project, blends swoon-worthy pipes with poppy hooks and an electric stage presence to produce a sound that is teeming with pent-up vigour.
Getting her start singing covers in downtown bars such as the infamous Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club, a young Dirks was scooped up by the JUNO Award winning group Chic Gamine. A big fan of collaboration, or maybe it’s just called making friends and having fun, Dirks was in the habit of lending her powerful voice to other projects, from The New Lightweights to Royal Canoe. The jovial performer was also constantly writing songs and divvying them up between the various musical projects, but there were always a few songs that didn’t seem to belong.
“I always had this pool of songs that didn’t seem to fit anywhere,” Dirks explains over the phone from Louisiana, where Chic Gamine has just been playing at the Festival International De Louisiane. “I saved them for when the time came for me to do my own thing. I never knew when that was going to be but the idea of it was always kind of there.”
When an opening in her busy schedule appeared, pal Matt Schellenberg of Royal Canoe subtly pushed her towards the option of flying solo.
“Matt Schellenberg has been a huge encouragement for me from the beginning,” Dirks explains. “Matt and I had been working on an EP but I wasn’t ready to do it on my own. Courier News gave me the confidence.”
With a stellar team behind her, including producer and compadre Schellenberg, Matt Peters (also of Royal Canoe fame), and manager Stu Anderson, Dirks was able to gain the support she needed to realize Begonia could be a reality.
“As much as this is a solo project, I am still very big on collaborating,” Dirks states. “I love writing songs with other people. It’s like a puzzle, you arrange all of the pieces and it’s so satisfying seeing it all come together.”
Recording tracks in both the Royal Canoe jam space above The Good Will Social Club and Private Ear Recording during the fall and winter of 2015-16, Dirks is bringing together skills learned through years spent performing and touring.
Begonia’s first single, the catchy, soulful “Juniper,” is available online and has been the recipient of rave reviews. This is a rare instance where I will advise anyone to read the comments, they positively glow.
The release of “Juniper” is the perfect hype for Begonia’s debut performance, the highly-anticipated Peter, Bjorn and John show at The Burton Cummings Theatre during this year's TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival on June 24.
“It’s a venue I’ve always wanted to play at on my own but never knew when that would be,” Dirks says. “It’s really nerve-wracking but very exciting. But I like the nervousness, it propels me forward and gives me deadlines. It puts me to task having these daunting things ahead.”
Joining Dirks on stage will be a whole roster of friends including Ariel Posen on guitar, Ryan Voth on drums, Alex Campbell on keys and synth, Jason Pankratz on bass, and Atlaas' Heather Thomas singing backup vocals.
“I feel so close to this project right now,” Dirks states. “It’s like my little child that I still don’t really know if it will have blue or brown eyes, or straight hair or curly hair. The little components that make up this project are still coming together in a big way.”