Shari Ulrich and her daughter, Julia Graff, who produced Ulrich's latest album.

Shari Ulrich and her daughter, Julia Graff, who produced Ulrich's latest album.

The Big Personality: Shari Ulrich

Nothing's off limits for the Juno-winning artist and songwriter – including going into the studio with her daughter at the helm

Shari Ulrich is many things: a multi-Juno Award winning artist, teacher, actor, composer and an advocate for women’s rights.

She’s also a prolific songwriter with a wealth of experiences to draw on, but one thing Ulrich is decidedly not – at least not anymore – is a hippie.

“I like wearing shoes,” she says from her Bowen Island home. “I don’t wear long skirts anymore and I don’t necessarily believe in free love. Some values have changed, but that’s just a part of growing up.”

Ulrich makes a distinction between her so-called tree-hugging days, when she left the U.S. in protest of the Vietnam War and was quite content hitchhiking about, living out of a van, and how she lives today: as a musician and an informed environmentalist – in a comfortable home.

“In terms of profession, it’s kind of crazy that I went this direction,” Ulrich says. “It would have made more sense to stay. Politically and environmentally I’ve never regretted my decision. Frankly, I think it’s just insane down there. … When 9-11 happened – looking at the objections to America going to war over that – it was pretty quiet compared to how we were.”

Ulrich’s career grew organically from a standard creative upbringing, complete with artist parents and piano lessons in San Rafael, Calif. She wasn’t looking to start an independent record label in a kind of pre-Internet kickstarter campaign with her first band, Pied Pumkin. She was just doing what felt right at the time. Fans of Pied Pumkin (with Rick Scott and Joe Mock) asked the group to record, so they took pre-orders on their first record and the enduring Squash Records was born. She’s played her fiddle alongside Barney Bentall and Tom Taylor in BTU, a cast of characters in The Hometown Band, her current blues project, The High Bar Gang, and on Feb. 8 a 25-year-long rock and roll partnership with Bill Henderson and Roy Forbes steps onto the Mary Winspear stage.

“Testosteronic” is a word Ulrich would like to invent to describe the UHF experience.

“It feels so good, so meaty,” she says. “They play guitars like nobody else. They just dig in and play and it makes me want to play that way.”

Ulrich is amidst much quieter days on Bowen in the run up to her hard-rocking Sidney stint. This morning she saw the return of her daughter, 23-year-old musician Julia Graff, to the Vancouver Airport post-holiday visit. Like any child, Graff has left an indelible mark on her mother’s music, but unlike other musical mother-daughter duos, the fourth-year McGill music student produced her mother’s upcoming album.

Graff, an accomplished musician and budding sound engineer asked (read: announced) that Ulrich would need to write the album in a month before recording would begin in Montreal.

“I am a deadline person and if I don’t have a deadline, I can’t write for months and months and I’m just fine with that, other than the guilt and the self-loathing,” she says. “I’m just not someone drawn or compelled to do it, but I found that having no choice – I was so productive.”

Days and nights holed up in her home writing, culminated in a different outlook on her perceived limitations as a songwriter – and an unexpectedly smooth recording session.

“I’ve had a ton of experience and she’s had very little … but she was so confident and so knowledgable and so quick, that I just surrendered to her and it was very easy to do – and a relief to be able to do, to let go of the reins. I mean, I didn’t completely let go of the reins, because you never can. It didn’t have anything to do with her being my daughter, just as an artist you have ideas and I carried on as I always would.”

Her ideas bleed from a fearlessly intertwined approach to life and songwriting, unafraid to speak and write openly about every personal issue she’s come across. In 2007 that meant writing about a reconnection with an adult son she had put up for adoption as a teen, and prior to that, a brutal attack and sexual assault. Her openness in addressing the crime – over a sense of obligation and desire to reduce shame for other victims – led to speaking engagements in an effort to reduce violence against women.

“Writing and living get rolled into one,” she says. “I can’t imagine what I would feel is off limits. I feel like my best work is still in front of me, that I’m just getting started, that I’ve got this huge potential that I’ve yet to fully tap.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future

Royal BC Museum dives into the world of orcas with upcoming feature exhibition

Frank Ludwig in a forklift with his long hair during Trooper’s heyday. (Photo submitted)
Humble Island beginnings blossomed into storied career for Trooper keyboardist

Frank Ludwig got his start as a boy pumping the organ in a tiny downtown Chemainus church

Joan Miller with the Vancouver Island North Regional Film Commission says there’s much room for optimism in the region rebounding from COVID-19 and is excited about what the future holds for the region. Black Press File Photo
North Island film industry optimistic about post-COVID rebound

Interest in filming here is still high, according to film commission, once things open back up

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, has been filming in Langford and Colwood over the past two weeks. On April 7, filming will take place on the east side of the Esquimalt Lagoon. (Black Press Media file)
Netflix series ‘Maid’ filming in Colwood

10-episode Warner Bros. production filmed exclusively in Greater Victoria

Lantzville singer Raymond Salgado will sing ‘O Canada’ before the Vancouver Canucks’ upcoming game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 17. (Photo submitted)
Lantzville singer to perform ‘O Canada’ at Vancouver Canucks game

Raymond Salgado scheduled to sing the anthem at Rogers Arena later this month

Nanaimo children’s entertainer Steve Romanik, represented by his character Mountain Dweller, is giving away his songs and stories to help raise money for children’s causes. (Photo courtesy Steve Romanik)
Nanaimo children’s entertainer ‘Mountain Dweller’ helping raise money for kids’ causes

Steve Romanik partnering with Nanaimo Child Development Centre, B.C. Children’s Hospital

“Racing Classics” by John Horton depicts sailboats near Trial Island off the coast of Oak Bay. The painting will be featured in his <em>Maritime Impressions</em> exhibit at the Winchester Gallery until April 14.
Greater Victoria galleries beckon spring with vibrant, whimsical nature scenes

At The Galleries: look at what’s on display this month

‘We Are All Beautiful’ by Elise Cole and ‘The Modern Thrall’ by Enigye (Happy) Amarkah (from left) are two of the pieces featured in VIU’s Anti-Racism Arts Festival. (Images courtesy the artists)
Vancouver Island University holds first Anti-Racism Arts Festival

Three-day online event to feature visual arts, performance, film and poetry

Thomas Kuecks, Bellamy Kuecks and Paula Foot have come together to create an album of stories for children. (Nina Foot photo)
Moments with Miss Paula creates musical stories for kids

Music and the spoken word from Island pair available on streaming

Author Eden Robinson poses for a portrait during an interview in Toronto, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Trickster trilogy author Eden Robinson hosts online conversation and reading

Haisla and Heiltsuk will join fans in event hosted by Vancouver Island Regional Library

Nanaimo author Lawrence Winkler’s latest book is ‘The Last Casebook of Doctor Sababa.’ (Bulletin file photo/supplied)
Nanaimo author wraps up trilogy following ‘antihero’ Island doctor

Lawrence Winkler presents ‘The Last Casebook of Doctor Sababa’

‘Frank Ney’ by Patrick Flavin, ‘Millstone River Upper Falls’ by John Collison Baker, ‘Labyrinth of Dreams’ by MA Molcan, ‘On the Other Side’ by Liana Ravensbergen, ‘December Snow’ by Laurel Karjala and ‘Jacks Point’ by Dana Smiley (cropped, clockwise from top-left) are among the works in the Nanaimo Arts Council’s latest exhibition. (Photos courtesy Nanaimo Arts Council)
Nanaimo Arts Council presents its first online gallery show

Submissions now open for upcoming ‘Ekphrastic Celebration’ show

Dorothy Sevcov’s exhibition ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ is on display at Art 10 Gallery until the end of the month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Experimental paintings now on exhibit at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Dorothy Sevcov’s ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ on display through April

Most Read