Bif Naked is a multi-platinum selling and Juno Award winning international singer, writer, poet, actress motivational speaker and cancer survivor. In her own words, she is an “advocate and activist, feather-ruffler, troublemaker, dogmommy, nice girl, dishwasher and optimist.” I do not hesitate to add that she is also an inspiration.
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Bif Naked when she was in Victoria to give a keynote address at the Breathe Now conference, and she graciously agreed to an interview.
Born in New Delhi, India, she was adopted by American Methodist missionaries and spent part of her early childhood in the U.S., before the family moved to Winnipeg. As the middle child of academics who encouraged their three daughters in the arts, she enjoyed ballet and poetry.
Bif says she was put on this earth to make her parents laugh, and that her Bhuddist, Hindu and Christian upbringing helped form her “hippie sensibilities.” She and her three sisters were raised on the same food, stimuli, music etc. but turned out very different, which is part of what she finds so interesting, anthropologically, about women – each is so unique.
Although she didn’t have any early desire to be a musician, she was invited to fill in for the missing singer in a punk rock band and found it a wonderful vehicle for poetry writing, and discovered the stage was an “effortless, fun outlet” for voicing her opinions.
She has toured Canada, the United States and Europe as a headlining act, and has performed with Billy Idol, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Chrissie Hynde, the Foo Fighters and many more. Her solo albums include the self-titled Bif Naked, I Bificus, Purge, Superbeautifulmonster and The Promise and her top singles include Spaceman, I Love Myself Today and Nothing Else Matters.
In January 2008, as a newlywed of four months, Bif announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. Just two weeks before Breathe Now she underwent heart surgery, but she came, she spoke with passion and spirit, and made a room full of conference attendees fall in love with her.
It seems that art often comes from dark places… have you found that creativity is something you turn to as a way to heal?
As a sensitive girl I always found a catharsis and an escape in my poetry and writing and painting. This is where I actually did heal many things that occurred in my childhood. I was not intentionally intending to heal….but, in fact, became more self-aware through my art and healed scars accidentally. Now, as an adult and an artist, I know myself and turn to my pen and paper whenever I am overwhelmed or drowning. I always work things through. I am very lucky for this, and very grateful.
I love making things and I enjoy multi-media artwork very much. Messy and fun. I am loving this.
You’ve done it all – performing, writing, painting, acting – do you find one form of expression more healing or cathartic than others?
I am blessed to emotionally and creatively enjoy so many different mediums in my artistic life, and they each hold more, or less, power over me at different times. I generally love to write words, poetry, essays when I am quite sad…..I paint when I am frustrated or angry…and, right now (going through a cruel divorce) I find I am combining the two. It is so helpful and healing for my broken heart.
Is there anything you haven’t tried yet, that you want to?
I love making things and I enjoy multi-media artwork very much. I have started combining my photographs with my paintings but am discovering sculpture right now. Messy and fun. I am loving this.
You have a tough image, and you’re such a survivor… does anything scare you?
Having had a long life of misadventure and some violence, then cancer, and this year-my kidney breakdown and heart surgery…I am starting to become fearful of dying while my senior dog (Nicklas, my 15year-old Maltese) is still alive. I am in fear of what would befall him, should I perish before he does. That is my first ever fear. It’s very powerful.
Who has influenced you, creatively?
I have been in love with poetry since I was a child and loved Irving Layton more than anyone. Anais Nin was also a big influence as I came into my own…and Fran Lebowitz. Jimmy Wright remains my all-time favorite artist.
What up and coming Canadian women artists inspire you today?
Gurjinder Basran and Ivan Coyote are my favorite Canadian writers, right now. From Seattle, however, is Tara Hardy, whose poetry changed my life more than once. Lezley Davidson is my favorite illustrator.
You appeared on an episode of The Cupcake Girls (that must have been fun!) What flavour of cupcake did you create?
I made a vegan vanilla chai spice cupcake and the proceeds from that cupcake were going to breast cancer charities. It was called “The Biffy.” I love Lori and Heather and their families and their team, and was just thrilled to film an episode of their show.
As part of the healthy lifestyle you lead for yourself and your dog, Nicklas, you make all his food. What’s his favourite?
I have always cooked for both of my dogs, (Annastasia, the Bichon, died when I was still in breast cancer treatments. She was ten.) Nicklas loves quinoa and chickpeas and yams but has a desire for anything anyone ELSE will give him. I usually keep him vegetarian…but some of my previous bandmates or boyfriends have been known to share with him whatever they are eating, which may very well be fish or meat of some kind. Nicklas has eaten my home-made food for his entire 15 years (so far!)
You’re active on Twitter, and Nicklas has quite a following of his own!
I started a Twitter page for Nicklas because I was worried that my OWN tweeting was just too constantly about “my dog” and I was trying to achieve more balance with music or writing tweeting…..and have discovered I still talk/tweet about him just as much and now it’s even MORE so, as I tweet about Nicklas from MY page AND from his Twitter page! People seem to enjoy him and that just makes me so proud of my babydog.
Thank you, Bif Naked! It’s been a delight and an honour.
Photos courtesy of Bif Naked.