The Hamilton Spectator
Begonia — a beautiful, delicate flower, just a bit rough around the edges
Winnipeg singer releases new LP, performs at Mills Hardware Feb. 25
When Winnipeg singer Alexa Dirks decided to go solo after a successful stint with the Juno-winning vocal group Chic Gamine, she wondered what kind of stage persona her new act would take on.
She feared her personal name — Alexa Dirks — sounded a bit too country. It didn’t really suit the R&B-tinged, powerhouse-pop she wanted to sing.
Then she found her long-time partner, Winnipeg artist Seth Woodyard, reading a plant book, open to a page featuring a flower named “Begonia Rex.”
“It kind of looked like me, a beautiful and delicate flower, but also a little rough around the edges,” Dirks says in an interview from her Winnipeg home.
“I started dreaming about this plant and its name, and it felt more and more like me. Now it has become me. Now people call me Begonia and it feels like it is me.”
The timing was fortuitous. Since donning the stage name Begonia, the word “Alexa” has become known a computerized voice that will gladly update you on the latest weather, as well as the closest place to grab a slice of pizza.
“I love the name Alexa, but I don’t want to be an Amazon app,” she laughs.
So for the rest of this article, Alexa shall be Begonia.
Begonia’s second full-length album “Powder Blue” will be released Feb. 24 on the Winnipeg-based label Birthday Cake Records and she’ll perform a sold-out show the next night (Saturday, Feb. 25) at Hamilton’s Mills Hardware (95 King St. E.).
The 12 tracks on “Powder Blue” provide a showcase for not only Begonia’s powerhouse vocals, but also her song-writing skills in collaboration with co-producers Matt Schellenberg and Matt Peters of Winnipeg indie-pop band Royal Canoe. The songs demonstrate a maturing sound, sometimes searingly emotional and at other times wryly delightful, anchored in catchy guitar hooks and backed by lush string arrangements.
Begonia’s music can boast a witty sense of humour and a bold theatricality that are evident in her latest single “Married by Elvis,” a gentle love song with a surprising twist in the chorus.
The video for the song features Begonia joyfully frolicking with a room full of Elvis tribute artists, all shapes and sizes, dancing, singing and guzzling champagne.
“I’m very in love with that video,” she says. “It shows a particular type of emotion I wanted to show. We filmed with, like, 10 different Elvis tribute artists from all over western Canada.
“It was a wild day. The tribute artists were all hugging and happy because they hadn’t been able to see each other since the pandemic began. It was love and goofiness yet they were so earnest and real. It felt like this amazing twilight zone that I was in.”
Despite the title of the song Begonia, admits to not really being “into” marriage … or Elvis, for that matter.
“But that’s not what the song is about,” she says. “It’s about love and how silly it can be. How it can be amazing and beautiful and sweet and absurd.”
Begonia, 35, is a true product of the thriving Winnipeg music scene. She was raised in a liberal Mennonite home and found her faith taking a more evangelical turn during her teens. She began singing worship music alongside her long-time friend Joey Landreth of The Bros. Landreth, who co-wrote Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy-winning song “Made up Mind.” (Joey and his brother Dave Landreth are also part of the brain trust behind Begonia’s label, Birthday Cake Records).
By the time Begonia was 19, she had parted with the church and was singing regularly in Winnipeg bars in a cover band with the Landreths before joining Chic Gamine and winning a Juno Award with the folk group in 2009.
Begonia launched her solo career in 2017 with the EP “Lady in Mind,” following it up with her debut solo album “Fear,” which was nominated for adult alternative album of the year at the 2021 Junos.
Brantford-based pop singer-songwriter Steven Ryan will be performing at a release party for his new single “Fall in Love Again” at Mills Hardware (95 King St. E.) on Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.
Ryan, who is working on his third full-length album, will be joined on stage by Canadian Idol winner Brian Melo.