When Haley Bonar was a little kid, she used to press the "demo" button on her family's rented keyboard and pretend she was playing a piano concerto or a jazz solo. No words, no singing, just music.
"I've always been obsessed with how amazing it is for a song without any lyrics to convey a feeling," she says.
And that feeling flows from "Golder," her new album, thanks to Bonar recruiting some of the finest instrumentalists in the local scene, people like bassist Mike Lewis, drummer Luke Anderson and guitar wizard Jeremy Ylvisaker. They lend such a lush, expansive musical terrain to the songs that many could function as instrumentals themselves if you took away the words and singing.
Bonar's memory of how the two instrumentals on "Golder" sprung into her brain is kind of hazy.
"It's sort of like the opening theme of a movie, you know," she said while sitting at the baby grand piano in a studio at Minnesota Public Radio. "You see these little kids running around."
"Everything is magical," she said as she began to pick out the opening notes of "Sad Baby."
The words "Sad Baby" popped into Bonar's head as she developed the riff. As the tune progresses, you begin to realize why this baby is sad. It becomes less carefree, more serious and melancholy. This baby is leaving childhood behind for good.
"It gets all emotional," she said. "It's sort of trucking along and then it gets emotional and then it just stops. And that's exactly how it is to grow up, I think."
Bonar is actually days away from giving birth to her own, first child, but "Sad Baby" came to her long before her pregnancy. She wrote it while living in Portland, Ore., where she moved rather impulsively a couple years ago, seduced by the mountains and greenery and temperate weather. She got valuable alone time, which is what she wanted, but she was also isolated.
Portland is also where the instrumental "Leo" comes in.
"That song to me is just this dreamy, nostalgic, sad feeling," she said. But it's also really comforting, informed as it was by an eerie dream Bonar kept having, of being stranded on a familiar yet foreign mountaintop with everyone she's ever known.
"Luckily, I was able to just write about it and I think that the instrumentals are sort of that, 'I don't really know how to convey this in any other way, but than to just give you this little feeling that I had,'" she said.
"It's a feeling," she said. "It's not any less than a feeling you would hear listening to a Bob Dylan song. It's just that the images come from you. You not exactly told what you should be thinking. It's just sort of a trick in your brain, but the feeling is all there."
Bonar, who performs Saturday night at the Dakota in Minneapolis, said the two instrumentals give her new album "Golder" texture, and they glue the rest of the songs together.
"Leo," in fact may be one of Bonar's favorite creations. Not only is it fun and relaxing to play she said, but along with "Sad Baby," it reminds her of her childhood.