Meet the 2021 Juno Nominees: Begonia
From now until the 2021 Juno Awards are presented on June 6, we will offer this weekly column to help you get to know some of the nominees in all categories a little better. Here's a look at a powerhouse vocalist from Winnipeg.
By Jason Schneider
From now until the 2021 Juno Awards are presented on June 6, we will offer this weekly column to help you get to know some of the nominees in all categories a little better.
Meet the 2021 Juno Nominees:
Nominated in the category Adult Alternative Album of the Year - Fear
One of the great things about music is that it not only allows anyone to express their emotions, but also allows them to completely transform who they are. In 2016, Winnipeg singer/songwriter Alexa Dirks was a member of Juno-winning folk-pop vocal group Chic Gamine, but was starting to feel the time was right to branch out on her own.
But instead of simply embarking on a solo path, she saw an opportunity to unleash all facets of her creative spirit. She chose a new name, Begonia, based on how the actual flower appears in both rough and delicate varieties, and released her debut EP Lady In Mind to immediate acclaim.
Bolstered by that response, Dirks dove head first into making her first full-length album Fear with collaborators Matt Schellenberg and Matt Peters of the band Royal Canoe, resurfacing with 12 deeply personal songs that punch back against self-doubt and anxiety through an intoxicatingly fresh pop-soul sound. It has led to Begonia’s first Juno nomination alongside the likes of Sarah Harmer and Rufus Wainwright, and, perhaps more importantly, validation of Dirks’ personal vision.
“To get this moment of recognition for something I put everything I had into feels really good right now,” she says. “It’s like a really nice way to give this album a little kiss on the head and be like, ‘You got your day in the sun pal... I can move on now.’ Also, to be recognized as a peer in this category alongside artists that I’ve looked up to for a long time is very sweet to me. I know this is cheesy to say, but it’s truly an honour just to be nominated.”
When Fear was released in September 2019 on her own Rex Baby Records, Dirks and her group embarked on a tour that culminated during the last week of February 2020 with a remarkable five nights at Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre. However, that triumph soon turned bittersweet as no further tour dates could be scheduled. Still, the best moments of those performances can be experienced again with the recent release of The Fear Tour Live, which has only made Dirks more eager to get back on stage.
“Touring is a big part of my identity as a musician, and, honestly, as a person,” she says. “I miss connecting with people, but at the same time I don’t really feel like I need to be the first person back out there. I’m working on a new album now and I feel like by the time it’s completed I’ll want to put a whole new show together and I don't want to rush it. But if any festival bookers might be reading this—I would definitely love to play, thank you!”
No matter how things might pan out for Dirks over the next few months, she has definitely already made an indelible mark as Begonia. Like a combination of Adele and Bjork, there seems to be nothing beyond the range of her dynamic voice, or nothing beyond the scope of her imagination. Fear seems to be just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and constantly surprising career.
“I definitely sing and write from my guts,” Dirks says. “Sometimes that means screaming and sometimes that means singing as delicately and precisely as I possibly can. My guiding principle is to always try and be as true to myself as possible, and I think that especially comes across in a live setting. I love leaning into beautiful melodies and harmonies and whatever makes me feel like I can believe in what I'm singing. I used to be really hard on myself about not having any technical training as a vocalist and musician, but as I've grown I've been able to embrace and appreciate that I'm constantly learning and exploring my voice in real time. The challenge of pushing myself is what excites me to always keep creating.”