Kimberly Smith

Twice in her 31 years, Robin Bacior has moved from one side of the country to the other with no intention of playing music publicly in her new hometown. And twice, music found her anyway.

“You can’t take yourself out of yourself,” she says. “I thought I could, but music is just part of who I am and part of what I love.”

It’s been that way since Bacior was a child in Chico, California, where she grew up in a household that valued music both recorded (Beatles and Nick Drake records filled the air) and performed. Her parents regularly hosted gatherings of friends that usually involved informal jam sessions, and by the time she joined the school band, Bacior would sit in with the adults on whatever instrument she had dragged home that day.

“Music was always a very communal presence in my life,” Bacior says. “From the start, it was a safe and accepting place to just try stuff out.”

In 2008, Bacior—who started writing songs in her early teens—moved to New York, not to pursue a music career, but to work at a magazine. But she made some musical friends, and soon joined them at open mics. Before long, she was recording her own album and touring.

New York wasn’t quite the right fit, though, so Bacior headed back west in 2012, this time to Portland, with a goal of getting a “real job” and slowing down. She has done both of those things—she is a busy freelance writer who contributes to the Mercury—but once again, she couldn’t shake songwriting.

“In both places, I had this idea that I would do something completely new,” she says. “‘I’m not going to play music anymore.’ And then it just kind of slowly came out.”

Bacior wrote and recorded her 2015 album Water Dreams, a collection of cathartic and orchestral folk songs that she wanted to sound like “really dark, polished mahogany wood.” When it came time to think about a follow-up, she was determined to not make the same record twice.

Kimberly Smith

With a few years in Portland under her belt, and a few more years of maturity behind her songs, she decided to continue the elemental theme, but with a decidedly different perspective, on her new album Light It Moved Me.

“I want to pull out of the water and reflect up [to the] light,” she says. “Lyrically, the record is so influenced by looking for signs in light. Sometimes you see these really big signs and sometimes it’s just some natural light. Sometimes a flicker of light is just a flicker of light. Not everything has meaning or a message.”

In fact, Light It Moved Me is an intensive effort at a simpler, more natural “matte finish,” Bacior says. She eschewed studio effects and ornate arrangements, instead aiming for sounds that evoke light—voices, horns, piano, flute—and an overarching vibe of peacefulness and subtlety. As a result, the album’s songs are warm and tuneful and more than a little jazzy; Bacior says she is heavily influenced by inventive jazz pianist Bill Evans.

“It feels like everything is moving toward this larger-than-life approach. Music is mastered to be louder. Everything has so many effects on it,” she says. “There’s a place for that, but there’s also a place for things that are a little more subdued.”

A subdued sound is one Bacior probably couldn’t have made back in her mid-20s, when she was still bouncing back and forth across the continent. But after six years in Portland, she has changed, and so has her music.

“I spent a lot of time being so down on myself about not being something, and I didn’t even know what that something was,” she says. “Now, I’m coming to terms with that and letting go a little bit, and appreciating myself and the things around me and the people around me.”