Considering she taught me tattoos, cargo pants, and getting pissed off are just as equal expressions of femininity as the images slung by the blondes of ‘90s bubblegum pop, the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s posh lobby was not exactly where I expected to meet Bif Naked.
Backstage at a music festival? Absolutely. A dive bar? Surely. Even a vegan coffee shop. But skirting around a Maybach in valet and excusing myself past tables of clean-shaven suits was a far cry from what my chipped-black-nail-polish adolescent self had once envisioned for this moment. I wasn’t upset about it. It was raining and shouldering up to the pit stink of stale beer soaked punk rockers my younger sex drive once lusted after would have been a bit much for my now-late-20-something self on a dreary Friday morning. I guess the setting just struck me as a tad ironic, but even Naked admits to being a bit of a “square” now.
I grab a seat in the lounge and within a few minutes, the classic blunt black bangs, big smile, and leopard print clad Princess of Everything spots me and walks over.
“How’s this for a classic west coast welcome?” I say, thumbing to the dismal downpour through a near window.
“Right?!” she says, laughing.
When I ask her if she misses it, she’s quick to retort: “not even a little!”
Naked is immediately effervescent and warm, straightening out her red tartan skirt and jumping into a conversation about her affinity for the east coast lifestyle she’s discovered in Etobicoke. While she waxes lyrical about her time living and partying in Vancouver, she adds there’s not much that compares to Ontario’s clearly delineated seasons and the hours she and her husband, Steve “Snake” Allen, spend taking BMXs for long rips down the lakeshore. For the India-born rock star (nee Beth Torbert), Manitoba was where she was raised, but Vancouver was her home starting with her Gorilla Gorilla days and leading right into her solo career.
“When I moved, my friends gave me a hard time—like I was defecting!” she says, giggling. “I was like: ‘I’m not a Leaf’s fan or anything. Gimmie a break!’”
Naked is higher up on the hierarchy than just a “princess” for a lot of inked west coast ladies like myself—more of a monarch, or deity. What you have to understand is I had posters of Jessica Simpson straddling a chair in low slung denim, Beyonce in a shirt only made of diamond chainmail, and Mandy Moore giving that clueless virginal smoulder plastered on my walls as a wee girl. But then along came Bif Naked, with her tattoos, jet black eyeliner, strong stance, and ripped crop tops. Her songs were punk rock power anthems for love, identity, and empowerment, and, note-by-note, each bore out a place for women and men who identified as rebels with big hearts and bad attitudes.
And although her approaches have become a little more holistic than hardcore, the gold and platinum-selling singer, poet, humanitarian, activist, and survivor has never stopped finding ways to inspire her following.
A new project
Naked is in Vancouver for a few days, promoting a new venture she’s recently thrown her support and advocacy behind: MonaLisa Healing. In Canada, hemp’s cultivation, distribution, importation, exportation, and processing falls under Industrial Hemp Regulations. A cannabis processing licence is required to extract and sell products. The plant differs from cannabis in that it contains no more than 0.3 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is often used for in the production of fibre, food, and beauty products. MonaLisa Healing uses B.C.-grown hemp to produce organic cannabidiol (CBD) tinctures and launched across North America in the Fall of 2019. CBD is lauded for its anti-inflammatory properties and various health applications—from anxiety and insomnia management to relief of pain and nausea—without the intoxicating effects of THC.
“When my manager, Peter [Karroll], asked me to come on board I knew I couldn’t get involved unless I was actually utilizing the product, because otherwise I’m a hypocrite,” she says.
“I grew up like any other prairie girl, learning how to drink beers and smoke pot,” she goes on to explain, but in her 20s she started to prescribe to a more “straight edge” lifestyle. After years of crappy consumption habits on tour, including aggravating a longstanding eating disorder, Naked became a vegan and moved away from weed and booze. Knee-deep in a substance-heavy music industry, it was still easy to find and always around.
“Despite giving it up, I didn’t mind people [smoking] it around me. I’ve always been a supporter. I stood in solidarity for legalization and can now share in the laughs about government pot and how garbage it is.”
I wonder if it was Canada’s newfound affinity for grass that sparked her appreciation for CBD, but she says her curiosity began when she was in treatment over a decade ago. After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, she spent a year fighting to overcome the disease—including chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation.
“A lot of the girls that I was in chemo with were using marijuana… CBD oils mostly. They got it from local places like the compassion clubs and activists, just everyday people, making sure patients had access to it,” she says. “It seemed to mitigate a lot of their side effects, or help them sleep, or just help them manage their fears and anxieties.”
Slowly becoming more attuned to wholesome nutrition and holistic healing practices, she started noticing more of her friends turning towards cannabis for its purported benefits, then their parents, then their grandparents.
Even her younger sister (a single mother who Naked says uses CBD to manage chronic knee pain, inflammation, and improve her range of motion) and her husband (who uses it to improve sleep) were turned on to the cannabinoid.
“He [Naked’s husband] hadn’t slept well in years, but then started sleeping like a baby. It was these little signs that I always kind of brushed off as coincidental, but seeing it work right in front of me, I just couldn’t turn away from it.”
Committed to giving it a go herself, Naked says she didn’t have anything “earmarked” for CBD to really improve—she sleeps very little, but likes it that way, and already had various coping techniques for anxiety. As she began to ingest the product, she was really just trying to get a better idea of correct dosing and proper consumption practices.
What she didn’t expect, she tells me, was the very clear impact it had on her physical capabilities. Over the last two decades, Naked has pushed her body to the limit as a student of Sun Hang Do (an ancient Korean martial art), yogi, ballerina, and stage diver. Turns out, she incurred a few stress fractures to mark the memories.
“What I discovered in my martial arts and in my gym workouts was that suddenly I’m doing 200 walking lunges in the gym! I was like: ‘how’s that even possible?’ I can’t usually do that anymore, but my knees and feet weren’t hurting,” she says. “It changed the game for me.”
That’s when she knew CBD was a product that could help other people.
MonaLisa Healing’s products are branded as premium amidst the onslaught of emerging CBD lines—touting an independent triple-lab certification for its organic B.C. hemp—but Naked points to some of the company’s values as a differentiator. The brand prioritizes fairtrade agreements with its suppliers and aims to keep an accessible consumer price tag, without “gouging” (ranging between $80 to $200 per bottle depending on potency.) And Naked would like to take those community-focused values a few steps further, as she hopes to implement pay-it-forward programs, top-up systems, and increased support for nonprofits and charities in the near future.
We muse for a bit on the follies of Canada’s legalization, agreeing despite its many pain points it’s made us both a little more proud of our homeland. We also agree that there’s a lot that still needs to improve.
“It’s a weird transition to watch. It [the cannabis community] used to be a lot of activists, now it’s a lot of suits,” she says. “Which is cool, as long as they support the farmers who’ve always been here and always been doing it from the heart. It [Cannabis] was a community before it was an industry, and a lot of companies overlook the value of that.”
A year of projects
Alongside the new product line, Naked is set to debut a number of projects over the coming year: an illustrated book of poetry, a book for patients navigating the healthcare system, a single, then her eleventh studio album, which would also prompt a tour, and a podcast. And she’s managing new talent. (It’s a good thing she doesn’t mind little sleep.)
“When do you find the time?” seems to be the next appropriate question.
“If you’re an artist, or if you’re a writer, or if you’re a creative person in general, everything you do is creative—even everyday things like making dinner, you know? It’s just a part of who you are. That’s what makes it enjoyable. Creating is fun.”
Naked has doodled “stupid cartoons” since she was a kid. Back in the day of make-your-own CD art, she was hand lettering her band’s logos, drawing stick girls spouting inspirational quotes in notebook margins, and even penning comic books while on tour. The same goes for her poetry. She says it seemed fitting to compile both her writing and illustrations into a book to be published later this year.
“Some of the poetry that I have is a little bit violent, some of it is a bit dark, some is just the most effusive, sappy, love-garbage poetry possible, which I think the contrast is kind of funny. And it just made sense to throw the cartoons in and intermingle them in there to balance out the book.”
Of her upcoming podcast, The New Riot Girl, she says the conversations are meant to highlight “average Joes” who deserve a platform to share bold perspectives, whether it be on “inclusivity, race, or cupcakes.”
“It’s really about people who are interested in living a life really deeply and people who are disrupting in their own way… I think that everybody has a story, and sometimes people just don’t have an opportunity to share it.”
Her album was what really intrigued me. Naked’s last release was entirely acoustic (Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits & Other Delights, releasedin 2012), with singles like “So Happy I Could Die” and “The Only One”. I was curious to know what made this one stick, considering over the last decade she has shelved three albums, citing things like bad timing or the wrong energy.
“Last year, Snake, Doug [Fury], and I started really earnestly writing for a record and, for whatever reason, it just was so different. All the magic was happening, the thunder and lightning hit and it was amazing.”
“Do you have an ‘aha’ moment with songs?” I ask.
“If I cry writing it, I know somebody else will cry listening to it. That’s always been my benchmark for a good song,” she says, pressing her hands to her chest.
“We can all relate to one thing: love. All the songs I’ve ever written were about love, whether I was singing about emancipation, learning, happiness, or rage—they are all ultimately love songs… Language is amazing. There is a real satisfaction that comes from writing a song that says, “I love you”, because there are a million other songs that basically say the exact same thing… the process of finding new ways to say that is just plain fun.”
The album’s first single, “Jim”, comes out on February 14 and Naked describes the central character as a villain, coyly teasing “everyone has a Jim in their life.”
In the coming weeks, Naked says she’ll also be kicking off an acoustic tour, then shortly after announcing a spring rock tour.
“I still love it. I love touring,” Naked adds, beaming.
Finding time for self care
Considering her health victories over cancer, kidney failure, and heart surgery, and some of the darker times in her life (which are detailed in her autobiography I, Bificus), I wonder how she maintains this eternally sunny disposition.
“I can’t even help myself. It’s a default mechanism,” she says. “Anyone who was the class clown when they were a little kid probably, I suspect, has the same type of attitude. You’re still going to do a dance on the table even with your pants on fire, because you literally can’t help it.”
Her role model was her mother, who she says never complained a day in her life and was permanently optimistic, regardless of circumstance.
“Nowadays, it’s very popular to promote self-care and that’s something I think that’s really beneficial for people. I don’t know if it’s my generation, or if it’s my upbringing, but that was the total opposite for my parent’s generation,” she explains.
“It was a belief of: serve the world first, serve God first, serve your community first, and you’re last in line.”
Learning from her parents, and pouring that into her motivational speaking, volunteer efforts, and activism, the concept of taking care of others first is what sustains her own mental health.
“Taking care of others is rewarding in a regenerative way.”
She adds her numerous health battles also taught her about a human’s fundamental needs, and that lesson lends a grounding perspective to her day-to-day life.
“I knew no matter what, [during chemotherapy] there was a lady across the hall from me, and it was sucking for her. Just sucking. Because she was also fearful, or she also had four kids, or she had to take the bus to chemo and then take the bus home,” she says.
“I just thought: I can never complain. Ever. Whatever is going on with me, it’s easy compared to what some people go through.”
Advice going forward
As our rainy day conversation comes to a close, I want to know what concern women bring to the motivational speaker as she visits different places and speaks to various groups. Is it healing trauma? Is it finding creative energy? Is it tips for good vegan recipes? No. Naked says the one conversation she has with too many women centres around a fear of aging. And she’d like that to change.
“I’m the Generation X girl, we’re getting older. And a lot of people get really fucked up about that. I always say: ‘you know what? Every time I worry about how old I am, I look to Gwen Stefani,’ and I go, ‘fuck everyone, that bitch is 50 and look at her.’ All bets are off,” she exclaims.
“Our generation is the first generation that gets to skate or die until we’re 80.”
We talk about how badass it’s going to look when an entire generation grows old with tattoos, and I tell her how older women often worry about my aging skin under the ink. She brushes it off as “commitment issues” with a giggle and a shrug.
“To anyone worried or hand-wringing over their age: life isn’t supposed to be short, it’s long. And thank goodness for that… brace for the surprises and be emotionally flexible enough to handle them.”
Naked says that’s the best advice she could give anyone. Then she looks down and spreads her fingers across her red tartan skirt.
“And put sunscreen on your fucking hands.”
Co-editor, Inside the Jar
Stoner. Scribe. Sarcast. Supercunt. Commie.
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Forgotten rolls of 35mm film
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