FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH with Blake Melnick

Living the Impossible Dream - Part 2 with Guest Blair Packham and Oliver McQuaid

June 10, 2021 Blake Melnick Season 2 Episode 45
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH with Blake Melnick
Living the Impossible Dream - Part 2 with Guest Blair Packham and Oliver McQuaid
Show Notes Transcript

Well welcome to this week's episode of #ForWhatitsWorthwithBlakeMelnick, called #LivingtheImpossibleDream part 2, in our music series called #PasstheJam, with my guest Canadian music icon @Blair Packham

In part 1, we discussed Blair's early career as a singer / songwriter, the founding of his band, #TheJitters. Those heady days in the late 1980s, where they opened for Heart, the Kinks, The Byrds, and played large venues, both here in Canada and abroad.

We heard about his time in the studio and the various personalities he worked with over the years. Blair shared some great stories about his time as a radio show host with CFRB and Q107 and the guests he interviewed over those years.  And in particular, his favourite interview, the soulful Solomon Burke. We concluded the episode with a discussion about Blair's passion for teaching songwriting.

In this episode we pick up from where we left off, and then focus on Blair's songs and his soon to be released new record called #SongFood.  We will be joined by current artist in residence, @OliverMcQuaid who will take a deep dive into the art of songwriting with Blair, and help me to  #PasstheJam.  I hope you enjoy this episode 

...For What it's Worth

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The Music for Today's Show,  "You, Ya You"  and "The Land we Knew by Heart" is written and performed by Blair Packham along with his band, #ImpossibleDream

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Living the Impossible Dream Part 2 

[00:00:00] Blake Melnick: Well, welcome to this week's episode or for what it's worth. I'm your host Blake Melnick. And this is part two of my interview with Blair. Packham called living the impossible dream. And part one, we discussed Blair's early career as a singer songwriter, the founding of his band, the jitters, those heady days in the late 1980s.

[00:00:22] Where the jitters opened for heart, the kinks, the birds, and played large venues, both here in Canada and abroad. We talked about his time in the studio and the various personalities he worked with over the years later, shared some great stories last week. About his time as a radio show host with CFRB and  and the various guests he interviewed over those years.

[00:00:49] And in particular, his favorite interview. The impeccable, immaculate, soulful Solomon Burke. We [00:01:00] concluded the episode with the discussion about Blair's passion for teaching songwriting. So we're going to pick up from where we left off, and then we're going to turn our attention to the songs that Blair has submitted to the show.

[00:01:15] And in particular, we're going to focus on is soon to be released new record called song food. And then I'm going to bring in my cohost, the current artist in residence, OliverMcQuaid to help me pass the jam to Blair him and all of her in Blair. Take a deep dive to the art of song writing. I hope you enjoy this episode of For What it's Worth 

[00:01:47] Blair Packham: I don't believe that I can tell, take somebody who is not musical. Somebody who is not poetic, somebody whose brain doesn't lean that way and teach them how to write a song. I could maybe teach them how to write a crappy song. Right. But for anybody who has the [00:02:00] inclination, I can teach them how to write a better song.

[00:02:02] When I say better, I just mean our job is to make people feel something. I believe I can help you write something that will make someone feel something. Because I believe that you should be writing about your inner most feelings. There's no question about that, but you should also cut the audience some slack.

[00:02:20] They're not going to know all the nuances of what you're singing about. It's up to you to bring it to them. And I can help you do that. I can teach someone who already has the inclination and has some skill I can teach them. 

[00:02:35] Blake Melnick: Well, the reason I asked the question is because I think people feel that they can't be songwriters because they don't have that immediate, um, emotional upwelling that they believe is required to write a song. And I know from my own perspective, when I sit down to try to write a song, I also get that feeling. It's almost like a guilt feeling that I should have that immediate [00:03:00] well up of emotion. The song should be right there. And I don't find that's the case for me at all and I'm a good writer and I write a lot and I can write a song. But I keep thinking, I need that immediate inspiration. It needs to be right there. It can't be forced. It can't be crafted. It just needs to come out of me. And so I like what you're saying, when you say "no, that's not necessarily the case that you can actually craft a song that is more intentional" not to say that the inspiration is not important or the idea itself is not important. But to me, songs come from experience. And if you are a reflective practitioner and you have the ability to articulate feelings and ideas and write about an experience, you should be able to write a song. 

[00:03:49] Blair Packham: Yeah, I think you can, if you think of songwriting on a spectrum, on a continuum from conscious songwriting, which would be crafted songs [00:04:00] to unconscious, which is completely intuitive songwriting.

[00:04:03] I would say that the best songs are somewhere way down towards intuitive, but with some craft, because I think there has to be some thought that's put into it. I really resist the idea that craft equals hackwork or bad. I really resist that idea. I think it's insulting to Lennon and McCartney, for instance, who crafted their songs like crazy.

[00:04:30] The other popular romantic notion is that you never write songs with the audience in mind, complete and utter BS. And there are writers who I deeply admire, who claimed that's what they do. And I'm highly skeptical of that. Neil Young said in an interview with CBC radio have never rewritten a song. And while that strictly speaking may be true.

[00:04:50] He then went on to play a song, but he said he started 30 years ago and the song mentioned email and the internet. So if you wrote it 30 years ago, he may not have rewritten. He may have just [00:05:00] added to it, but it's really, he rethought it. So he may be strictly saying I never went back and changed the word, but I bet he dropped out some words.

[00:05:08] Maybe he rewrote new versus because again, unless he's a mind reader or a futurist, the internet and email didn't exist when he wrote the song originally 30 years ago, I just think that people are very attached to the romantic notion that it must just flow out of you. And I think the reason they are is because it makes it more mystical and then it justifies their own experience of music.

[00:05:31] Which beautiful and lovely, but it doesn't mean that the brain is the culprit here. It doesn't mean that thinking about something is bad. It's just a weird split between the head and the heart. I think great songs are mostly heart, but with a little brain, I want to shift focus now and talk about your music.

[00:05:51] Blake Melnick: You've got a new record coming out. Tell us about it. 

[00:05:55] Blair Packham: Okay, well, it's really challenging during COVID. I love playing [00:06:00] live. What hope do I have of even getting attention? I decided that I would release the records via Spotify. The album ultimately will be called. Song and food. And it'll be by my band at the impossible dream, which is a tree acoustic trio.

[00:06:16] It's not on a label. We're not pressing on physical copies. We're just doing it to have the music out there somehow. And then we'll promote it via Facebook and so forth. It's a very modest release. But some of my best songs ever, I have to say. So I'm really excited about getting it out there and it's very much a DIY effort.

[00:06:37] I've done the covers myself, the record covers and do the, all the recording myself, all the mixing, a lot of the singing and playing. Produced it and engineered it myself. So it's really a DIY thing. And I'm excited about putting it out, despite the challenges, it currency that I work for these days is compliments.

[00:06:54] Like, for instance, if you like the songs that you've heard of mine and you tell me, I was just [00:07:00] thrilled because. I mean, somebody heard it and listened to it, 

[00:07:03] Blake Melnick: by the way, I do love all the songs you submitted and we're going to be playing them, of course, for all the intros and outros to the show for the next month or so then have a final culminating episode where we do the complete playlist in its entirety.

[00:07:16] But I love all these songs. So the first one You Ya You what's this song all about. It's about an old girlfriend. When I was with her, I did. What many songwriters do if the song is a love song, I tend to say, oh yeah, I wrote this about you. And it may or may not have been true, in fact, so the chorus goes, you.

[00:07:37] Yeah, you, this is about you. I said that all the others were, but that wasn't really true. You, yeah. You, this songs about you don't please don't be alarmed. It's just that I miss you sometimes. And that was true. It's about somebody, you and I both know who I dated years ago, but I was probably guilty more than a few times of saying, oh yeah, I wrote this one for you.

[00:07:58] So I decided I would actually write [00:08:00] one about her. I played it for her and she, she went, huh? That was a reaction. So it wasn't that satisfying, but yeah, that's what that's about. It's about that songwriter thing. 

[00:08:10] and it's a great pop song. I really enjoyed that. The next song that you submitted was "Proof". I got to tell you, I absolutely love this song. I think the song writing is brilliant and I think it struck such a chord with me because of this present situation we find ourselves in with the pandemic. There was a ring of truth to everything I was hearing in that song in relation to where we are now, it's a gorgeous song and what's the background of that song?

[00:08:39] Blair Packham: I have a complicated relationship with religion. I'm not religious. However, I see a lot of magic in the world. Around me. And I think songwriting is magic. Those things I was saying earlier about craft and so forth. I'm not suggesting that that craft makes a great song. You [00:09:00] can craft the hell out of a really crappy song and make sure everything rhymes in all the right places and so forth.

[00:09:05] And it won't move anybody tragic part is what moves people. And there's tons of magic and music. And so I was just seeing a lot of magic in the world around me. The doorbell rang we're Jehovah's witnesses at the door. They're the same people who come around in my neighborhood. So I've seen them before and spoken with them before.

[00:09:23] And they're very nice. But it bugged me. I wasn't mad at them, but I was mad, but the idea that I don't wish to be controversial here, but the Bible was written by human beings and human beings always have an agenda. And so I'm suspicious of religious scholars and religious texts and so forth. Again, forgive me.

[00:09:45] I don't wish to offend anybody, but that said, I also feel that there's lots, that can't be explained in the world, or if it can be explained, it's only a sort of half. Part of the explanation I wanted to celebrate those magical things in a [00:10:00] song that weren't explained by religion. The opening lines of the song are man's a funny creature.

[00:10:05] I was thinking, man, as opposed to animals, as opposed to my cat, man's a funny creature. He wants spiritual insurance. He'll turn to the preacher for his immortal reassurance. In other words, after life he'll proclaim undying faith. The point is that the world is this beautiful gift. For us filled with wonder and so forth.

[00:10:24] And why do we need these religious experts to tell us what it means and that we must wear a particular hat or a particular t-shirt or whatever they're telling us that we must wear. Otherwise we will not be blessed. All these rules and stuff. It's a very gentle song, but that's how it was. You're right.

[00:10:43] Blake Melnick: It is a gentle song and I certainly wouldn't have. Interpreted the way you just explained it. To me, it was very much, um, like the indigo girls song closer to fine. We're always looking for answers elsewhere and the answers are inside and right in front of us. And we just [00:11:00] have to be open to these wondrous experiences that can't necessarily be explained.

[00:11:05] That's what I got from that song. To me, our connection with nature and the world is magical and wonderful, and we don't need to explain everything. 

[00:11:14] Blair Packham: That's a way better explanation of a song. And probably one I should just adopt because the one I gave it is contentious a little argumentative and may offend people.

[00:11:23] And I don't want to, not at all, particularly with that song. So that's a way better explanation. I'm going to use that. There's a danger in asking a songwriter, what their song is about or where it came from. You have your own experience with it. And it's hard sometimes to hear what they'll actually say.

[00:11:38] I'm friends with Ron Sexsmith. Do you know the music? 

[00:11:41] Blake Melnick: Yep. I sure do. 

[00:11:42] Blair Packham: Ron and I are friends and we recorded years ago. I needed to do some publishing demos, which would be just guitar and voice in my studio. And we would hang out and do these recordings. And he had a song called, called the strangest thing, and then he's never released it.

[00:11:59] It's a terrific song [00:12:00] because. "Well, the strangest thing has been happening, happening in my life" and, and it ends in the chorus. "You were born in a cabin, but now you're king and I was like, wow, is this like about Elvis? Is it about Abe Lincoln? What's it about? What does this mean? I made the mistake of asking and he said, "well um

[00:12:20] yeah um", cause that's how Ron talks. "Um, yeah, it's like all these record companies had started finally like calling me back and, and it was weird cause I, they never called me back before, but now they're calling me back so I was just thinking about, you know, success" and it's like, "oh boy, I didn't want to hear that, I wanted it  to be about Abe Lincoln or Elvis?

[00:12:41] And then the next song I made the mistake, I hadn't learned my lesson and it was give the little guy a chance. I thought it was about him maybe. And he said, "Yeah. Yeah. Um, it's about, I was thinking about Bob Rae, the Canadian politician and how he should be given an opportunity to lead. [00:13:00] I was like, no. So if you ask your favorite songwriters, what a song is about, you run the risk of having your impression dashed.

[00:13:08] Blake Melnick: You make a great point. I direct a lot of plays in Sams. Shepherd was my favorite playwright and Sam Shepard would never interpret his own plays. He'd say, "well, what do you think it was about?" And his perspective was half the time he's writing, he's not sure what he's writing about. And so he got as much back from the audience about what he was doing as he had in his own head when he actually wrote the plays.

[00:13:29] Blair Packham: Yeah. This goes back to our discussion about intentional songwriting. "Uh, today I will write a song about God and our relationship to him" because I didn't do that with proof. It went from one thing to another and I came up with the line. All the proof you'll ever need is all around you. And for me, it was, oh, That was my hook.

[00:13:47] That's the point of the song, but I didn't sit down with that. And then I thought I can call it proof. And then I gave more examples of what the proof of magic is in life. Like having a baby or adopting a child or [00:14:00] falling in love without resistance with no conditions in your heart. To me, that's magic.

[00:14:04] Music is magic. Music is absolutely magic. The fact that we can have these wooden boxes that have thin strands of metal stretched over them and certain frequencies are played and it'll make me cry. You know, when somebody will make this keening sound with their voice, rather than speaking, and that'll make me cry or two people will sing in harmony and I'll be like weeping.

[00:14:25] What's that, to me, that's a miracle. That's amazing. And to me, that's God. So that's where that song came from. But I didn't sit down. I'm going to write a song about God. You can be intentional, but your intentions can be revealed as you go along and even can be revealed years later. When you're Sam Shepard and somebody says to you, well, I think it's about such-and-such or somebody does a different production of that play.

[00:14:49] And suddenly the author is thinking, oh wow. They saw a depth there that I hadn't even considered. 

[00:14:55] Blake Melnick: I think it was his openness to having new ideas and new ways of looking at his work, [00:15:00] coming from other people. And I think that's why he never answered the question. Let's jump to some of the other songs. So you provided a song called The Other Side. I mean, I'm going to be hesitant now, but asking you what the meaning of that song is. So tell me something else about it. 

[00:15:12] Blair Packham: I liked the way it sounds. And I liked the way I sang it. And I liked the words and stuff. It's just about choosing optimism as a songwriter, you get drawn in by sad stuff and they can really take over your life. It can lead to depression because you're being moved by sad stuff. And you're looking for the sadness and things. And after a while, that can become really hard. I felt at that time, when I wrote that song, that it was time to actually make a choice to join the rest of humanity who are, or at least that portion of humanity who are optimistic.

[00:15:41] But I have to say, I could probably write it better now. I like it a lot. Don't get me wrong. I just think I could do a better job. There are some songs when I play them live, I'm like, oh, that bridge, I really should fix that. And even like Jitters songs, and then the only reason I say, even it's not because there's such works of genius, but because it's so [00:16:00] long ago, one of our songs was a hit.

[00:16:01] The closer every day, the bridge is ridiculous. Like. Stupid. Ridiculous. I don't mean stupid in the cool way. The way Michael Jackson might say it's bad, man. I mean, it's stupid, stupid, like dumb, and you know, you got to let go of these things. 

[00:16:20] Blake Melnick: Yeah. You make another really good point there though that I think, and this is part of evolution of personal growth and new experiences. But I would think that you could look back at almost every song and say, if I was to do it again, I would add this or I would change it this way. And it just a reflection of how you've grown. 

[00:16:36] Blair Packham: Well, yeah, you're a different person. You're not only different emotionally and so forth and hopefully more mature in some ways you're physically different than a cellular level.

[00:16:44] You're a different person. So yeah, you're going to have different thoughts about things. Inevitably. 

[00:16:48] Blake Melnick: The next song that you provided was calledLoved by You. 

[00:16:52] Blair Packham: Loved by You. I was in love with a woman. I thought we wouldn't ever be able to be together. And I wasn't sure if she [00:17:00] loved me or not, but I thought she did.

[00:17:01] And it felt so good that to feel that, and to know that I was just in a particularly down part of our relationship. And so I wrote that song about that. She actually took her own life a few years ago. People said to me, after that happened, they said, well, at least you'll get some good songs out of it.

[00:17:20] Which is just about the worst thing you can say to a songwriter who has faced a tragedy like that, like the loss of somebody like that. So to your audience, don't ever do that, or you think you're saying a good thing and encouraging thing, and you're not, you're just making them feel office, but that one was written when she was fully alive and vibrant and lovely.

[00:17:38] And I just was sad about the way I thought our relationship was going at the time. 

[00:17:43] Blake Melnick: Well, that's very personal. I do appreciate your willingness to share that. 

[00:17:48] So these first four songs were from your solo release in 2017, called unpopular pop. You've also submitted a couple of tunes from the new record.

[00:17:57] And I got to tell you The Land We Knew by [00:18:00] Heart, which I absolutely loved by the way, took me completely by surprise. When it began, I thought, wow, this is a sea shanty and east coast, sea shanty. You know, I heard a story on a ship and Labrador, and so I had visions of Alan Doyle, and Great Big Sea and a song about fishing and life on the sea. And then you took me in a totally different direction. And as I started to listen to the lyrics more carefully, I realized that this was not a happy song. This is a song about displacement. This is a song about indigenous people and you really taught me something here because I, I've never really given a lot of thought to the relationship between the seafaring people of the east coast and the indigenous people and Labrador. I don't know that well, I've, I've been to Newfoundland and I've been to Nova Scotia and PEI and all through the east coast, but I've never been to Labrador. So I really want to [00:19:00] hear. Where this song came from. 

[00:19:03] Blair Packham: And it's funny, especially with the talking about the last song. I, I must sound like a barrel of laughs.

[00:19:10] I actually am. I'm fun at a party. People when the lockdown and stuff is over, invite me to your parties. I'd love to go because I like laughing and joking with people. And I'm funny on stage. I like joking around, but my songs sometimes are sad or they were about serious things. So I was on a ship. As the entertainment. That was my role. It was an adventure cruise. I'd never been on a cruise before in my life. And I was hired to do this at the last minute I had about four days. Notice you want to go to Greenland on a ship? Sure. Okay. You don't have to entertain people and so forth, but I also had to do other jobs and for a guy at my age, at the time I was 57 and I was loading and unloading people all day long, wearing hip waders, getting them in and out of Zodiacs.

[00:19:51] And it was really grueling work actually. And getting up at five.4:30 - 5 to do that and then having to entertain people at night in the [00:20:00] lounge until 11 o'clock and you know, so it was tough. We visited a community called Hebron in Northern Labrador, and it had been a Moravian mission. And the missionaries came from Germany, I believe.

[00:20:15] And by all reports had actually had a great relationship with the Inuit people who live there. You knowas far as I knew in the brief exposure to the story that I had, the relationship was almost surprisingly good for centuries until 1959, when the community was told by the Newfoundland and Labrador government that they were going to be moved.

[00:20:41] Without any consultation, they handled it, I think, in a very underhanded kind of way, they made the announcement in church, which I pointed out in the song, which meant that there would be no discussion. It wasn't in the community hall. It was in church. It was said as a sermon almost so that there was no chance for anybody to respond to it.

[00:20:59] And they're going to be [00:21:00] moved over the next six months or so to communities in the south. And they would be separated. They'd be go to the point of several different communities. But there would be housing for them and there'd be food and there'd be a livelihood and so forth, but it's too expensive to run this community here in Northern Labrador.

[00:21:15] So it was a fait accompli. This is what's going to happen. And it was a disaster. Families were separated. There were no jobs. The communities that these people were parachuted into, we're not happy to have them. They weren't welcoming. There was a lack of housing. So the people had to live in tents all winter long.

[00:21:36] In Northern Labrador for at least the first winter or maybe several winters. I'm not sure, but it went on and it became generationally disastrous as well. That was 1959. So for the intervening 60 years, people were disconnected from this reasonably idyllic life that they had within the mission and their own community had gone on literally for [00:22:00] a couple of hundred years.

[00:22:01] Um, since the Moravians arrived in the late 17 hundreds. And then that was all taken away because it was considered too expensive to subsidize this community. And so the Newfoundland and Labrador government in the early two thousands decided they would put some money into restoring Hebron as a physical place, as a monument, as a provincial monument.

[00:22:23] And there's a plaque there where they apologize. It's an official apology from the government to the people. And on the right-hand side of the plaque, there's an acceptance of the apology. From the Inuit people. Right. And yeah, I found it very moving to read this plaque to be in this place. Lovely, lovely spot.

[00:22:44] We were there in July, but it was still cold and we're wearing winter jackets and stuff, but really lovely, beautiful spot. And just to read these words, we forgive you. That's what it said at the end of the Inuit acceptance. [00:23:00] And I just started crying. I found it. So moving that they would say that because there's very little forgiveness in the world, Ron Sexsmith and I are working on a song together right now that's about that. It's about how I've got it in front of me here. He says in a world where apologies aren't accepted anymore and where empathy and forgiveness are not welcome at your door. The opening lines, there's not a lot of forgiveness around and I just found it moving. So when I got back to the ship We had a presentation every afternoon of what we had learned and what we had seen.

[00:23:30] And I thought I'm going to write a song and I'm not a fast song writer, but I wrote it all in one, go and performed it, reading off my notebook. People were crying and I got a standing ovation and I was crying and it was really moving. So I decided I wanted to record it with my acoustic trio because it really is musically unlike anything I'd done before. It's nothing like the jitters or anything like that. And it is kind of like a sea shanty. 

[00:23:52] Blake Melnick: Yeah. I loved it. And I just thought it was an amazing song. And as you point out the apology being accepted, and I think there was a [00:24:00] line in the song and I can't remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect that we accept the apology, but we recognize what happened and it has to be remembered, but we forgive you for it 

[00:24:10] Blair Packham: to quote my own song, which always sounds really pompous to me when people do it, we will forgive, but we won't forget as time goes on and as we go on and on. Right. People on the ship, on the cruise who were there as guides and as spare monitors, people who would go to the places where we landed and they would go first and they'd go out with their rifles and they'd secure the perimeter from polar bears. They told me they were very moved by the song and that's the greatest thing a songwriter can hear.

[00:24:36] Blake Melnick: Yeah, I think people are going to love that track. I really do. And then the final song you submitted was calledFunny How

[00:24:44] Blair Packham: I used to say that song was fictional until it came true. And every time I say that, it's because it's about a breakup, but it wasn't true. I was with my wife and I was happy with Arlene, my partner, my life partner and my musical partner. So when I wrote it and [00:25:00] when I started playing songs, acoustically, I never played it live cause it didn't feel truthful to me. And then Arlene and I split up in 2007 and I started playing that song. So it's been around a long time. It's been around since the late nineties. I wrote it with a guy named Nisha Sheridan.

[00:25:17] Who's a terrific songwriter, but yeah, funny how she flew all the way to Boston where she don't know a soul. Funny how. Uh, fast. Uh, my half of our possessions were bundled up or sold. Yeah. Just talking about a split in a relationship, 

[00:25:31] Blake Melnick: fabulous song. And I'm really looking forward to hearing the full record and when will that become available 

[00:25:38] Blair Packham: I'm releasing them one song at a time? It's funny how it was going to come up. First land we knew by heart will be second. After that, I'm not really sure I've got another five or six ready to go, but by the time we get a few months into this who knows, I may have another 10, I don't know but the plan is when I finally thought, okay, that's enough, I'll release the whole thing. And maybe at that point, I'll do some physical copies just to. [00:26:00] Have them, but it'll be called Song Food. But right now I'm planning on being a six song EP. But at the same time, we're doing a lot of this stuff remotely I'm sending stuff to the bass player, Jim, and he's playing it remotely. So it's not the ideal  way to record it. It's time consuming. And then you're never in a room together. Land we knew by heart, we were in a room together. It was recorded pre pandemic, but the other ones are remotely recorded. But to me, they sound very similar. They sound like a band

[00:26:26] Blake Melnick: for our listeners. We'll be posting links to these songs and to information about Blair on our show blog page for what it's worth podcast.com. So check it out. You can follow Blair in the news as his new album comes out and on his website, which is very detailed Blair.

[00:26:42] It's been fascinating for me to hear your stories, what an amazing career you've had and are continuing to have. It's now time where we're going to officially go through the passing of the jam from our current artists and residence Oliver McQuaid to Blair who will be the holder of the jam for the next [00:27:00] month or so.

[00:27:01] Oliver McQuaid: Thanks. Blake. hi Blair I have absolutely enjoyed. Listening to your stories. I am a huge fan. I started off as a fan, just listening to the few songs that you had sent in. And I have a lot of hours to log going through and diving into your past recordings. And I do a lot of driving, camping with the family and stuff like that and you are going to be a mainstay in my car for a while, and I'm really looking forward to that cause I've enjoyed every bit of it so far. So thank you. And man, oh man. I mean, when's the full length documentary come out because I've been sitting here listening and literally all the questions that I had ready to go you just sorta tick them off one by one and the answers and the things that you've talked about and branched off about just resonates so much with me. I don't know. I'm just a huge fan. I feel like I've decided throughout the course of listening to this interview so far that I'm going to track you down and buy you drinks or food or whatever you like and [00:28:00] keep it going beyond this.

[00:28:02] Blair Packham: That'd be great. That would be absolutely great. I'd be thrilled. And thank you so much for your kind words. I know that my answers are really long and I'm sorry about that, but I have this compulsion to make sure that everybody understands 

[00:28:14] Oliver McQuaid: as much so we can, but I do feel like I understand where you're coming from. In a lot of ways, I wanted to touch on the sort of religious connotations of proof. And I was really thankful to listen to that bit of that conversation because that's actually something that. I struggled with a little bit in my song writing. And so what I wanted to ask you specifically about that is when you write a song that has words that could be construed as religious leaning or, or things like that, do you censor yourself in any way based on what the audience might think or do you just describe it in the way that you want and then let it fall where it falls?

[00:28:54] Blair Packham: I sort of feel like at this point that. I mean, I don't want to sound like Neil Young, [00:29:00] you know, the, the Neil young anecdote that I quoted where he said he never rewrites anything. And I thought that's BS. So I don't want to go back to that and claim now that I don't have to rewrite anything or I don't think of what the audience, um, Might think, but I don't as much as I might've in the past, because one of the luxuries of not really selling any records and not having any gigs and you can write whatever the hell you want, because I'm not religious myself and I know that when people get religious with me or in front of me it can make me uncomfortable. I might avoid getting too explicit about any thoughts I may have about God or religion. I don't want to offend anybody, but at the same time, I want to say what I want to say. So I guess it's somewhere in the middle, I think about a little bit, but I don't really feel I have to.

[00:29:49] I know people can believe what they want to believe, and I'm not going to argue with them and tell them they're wrong. 

[00:29:54] Oliver McQuaid: A song like that. If somebody does listen to it and it hits on all these points that they [00:30:00] have within their own belief system, that might not be what you were writing about. It's just as valid. I would imagine that they have that welling of emotion inside them in a different vein. I have a song called. God, won't you take care of me. And I feel like we share a lot of the same sort of belief system. I'm curious to dive into that more of an in person with you, but it's almost a sarcastic sort of song where I'm saying, I can't take care of myself, so God you do it.

[00:30:25] But anytime I play it live. Inevitably, somebody will come up to me and say, I didn't know, you were religious that really resonated with me and blah, blah, blah. And I don't dash their dreams by explaining more than I need to about it. But I do find that interesting how you navigate that. 

[00:30:40] Blair Packham: I think a song does become the audiences in a sense they will take their own interpretation from it. And if it moved them, I think it's important to not disabuse them of that notion. I mean, unless you feel really strongly, I have a friend who has a song about her marriage breaking up, and it's a beautiful song because she and her husband remained good friends and [00:31:00] they're still in love.

[00:31:00] It's just not a marital, marital love, but someone came up to her while I was hanging out with her after a show. And they said, I just want you to know that song saved my marriage. That song. It's just so much about love and devotion and so forth. And the woman left and my friend turned to me and said, should I have told her the truth, that it's actually about our breakup and how we will never be in love again, in that same way, people will take from a song what they will.

[00:31:28] I've got a friend right now and somebody, I don't know, very well, just reached out out of the blue of the other day. She said, I just happened to have it in front of me. Your song proof should be top on your Spotify list. I had to go searching for it today. I played it for my friend who has recently fallen in love with Jesus.

[00:31:43] You know, me always ministering. However, I can see so many incredible changes in her. She keeps commenting that the proof is all around us. So today I played your song for her and she showed me her arms and they're full of goosebumps. God uses that song to heal people. I want to encourage you to keep singing it.

[00:32:00] [00:32:00] My reaction to that is well, I'm grateful and I'm happy that her friend had that experience. I, I also resisted a little bit. And she said, I find that trusting God has been very difficult, but each time I do though, he is so faithful to encourage me and refresh me. And she sung my song in church and so forth.

[00:32:19] I wouldn't say, well, actually, Vicky, it's really kind of refuting the whole idea of church and organized religion. People can believe what they want to believe. It's not my job to convince them. I get to believe what I want to believe. And as long as they're not going. Oh, great. Let's use this song as the theme for the Canadian Nazi party or whatever.

[00:32:37] Oliver McQuaid: Let's say that song gets played in churches across the country. Maybe there is a point that it gets to where you say, actually I put so much of myself and my own thought and intention and feelings and observations behind that song that maybe I don't want it misconstrued if that many people are going to misconstrue it.

[00:32:54] I don't know if there is a line that you get to maybe. 

[00:32:57] Blair Packham: I don't know. And you may be right. I guess I talk to [00:33:00] me when, and if that happens, cause if you're right, I could feel. Like, Hey, you know, I didn't actually mean that. 

[00:33:09] Oliver McQuaid: That's really interesting, actually, that it's okay but only to a certain point, maybe I've got my notebook out here and I'm actually sitting at a desk because I'm a mortgage broker and work from home so I feel like a student in your classroom right now working remotely. And I have so many questions to ask you, but I'm just going to pick my favorites for now until we do get to meet in person. But when I'm writing a song, I find that the initial impetus can be easy. If you're onto something that is interesting and has that spark, you kind of feel it and then you get this flowing of a song. I find it hard to push past that point. And I, I see in your songwriting that you're good at taking that and then running with it. And my question is how do you push past the easy part of the song? And it's a dual question, and please [00:34:00] touch on both things. How do you push past the easy part of the song and get to the work part of it?

[00:34:05] And then how, when you're doing that, do you keep it from being too normal. And is that something you think about? Because I feel there's this path of least resistance in a lot of songwriting where it wants to be major chords and poppy and typical melodies that you've heard. And do you actively and consciously try to resist that path of least resistance?

[00:34:26] How do you navigate that with your songwriting? When you get to the hard part? 

[00:34:30] Blair Packham: I think of that thing you're talking about a whole bunch of things in songwriting as tight ropes that songwriters have to walk. I believe you have to allow your intuition to guide you because that's where the feeling comes from.

[00:34:43] You have to craft the song a little bit because that can make the song more effective in communicating what you're trying to get across. You have to make the song somewhat familiar. If you try and write the most original thing in the world. No, one's going to listen because people [00:35:00] have to hear some familiarity.

[00:35:01] People don't listen to music to work, listen to music for enjoyment. So they don't really want to work at it. On the other hand, if you make it too familiar, then you'll bore them. An unsuccessful song is a boring song. It's not a song that didn't sell a million copies. It's a song that bores people or people start talking in the middle of it, or they start checking their email or whatever.

[00:35:21] It's like, there has to be some novelty there. I follow the path of least resistance until it. Becomes obvious that I'm following the path of least resistance. In other words, I'm not afraid of poppy melodies at all, but if it becomes anything specific that I've heard before or worse than I've written before, and I do that all the time, these days, I'm repeating myself all the time.

[00:35:41] Now it's really frustrating if it does, though, I will shut it down. I've known songwriters who write something and I'll say, Hey, that kind of sounds like that Waylon Jennings song. And they go, I know it. Wasn't a great, and it's like, no, it's not actually, it's your job to make it not sound [00:36:00] like that you can make it's reminiscent of, but as soon as it starts sounding like that song, people are going to think of that song and they'll think.

[00:36:09] That song's better. So you're doing yourself and them a disservice. Does that answer your question in any way? 

[00:36:15] Oliver McQuaid: Absolutely. It does. And so when you're teaching, is there a framework that you provide to students to explore that stuff? Obviously you don't want to be too rigid with it, and I appreciate you saying that the tight rope of all of that, but is there a framework that you teach to your students and do you embody that when you do your song, writing yourself.

[00:36:32] Blair Packham: Yeah. Do I follow my own advice? Not, not as much as I should. I don't give them a framework. What, what we do is what I call work-shopping. So I listened to the song. And I offer up my thoughts about what's working and what's not working from my point of view based on one or two or three lessons. It's not very in-depth in the sense that I don't listen to it 20 times because by 20 times you're either going to like it or you're going to hate it.

[00:36:56] Your reactions will be pretty extreme. Usually you like it because [00:37:00] familiarity, in the case of songs, doesn't breed contempt until it's overly familiar. So I don't provide a framework, I just try and offer a critique and I ask them, do you feel that this part is working on the, if they say no, it always kind of bugs me.

[00:37:17] And then I say, okay, well, listen to that voice. If you're thinking, well, it kind of bugs me, but I'm going to play it anyway because most people won't notice you're already letting yourself down because right. You should listen to that voice in developing your own aesthetic as to what you like and what you don't like in other people's songs, as well as your own is really important.

[00:37:36] And I say in other people's songs, because it's perfectly possible to listen to songs by people who are famous and successful and think, yeah, that bridge isn't really happening. Well, I mean, there are parts of Beatles songs where I'm like, ah, you got lazy, you guys. And a lot of people would think that's heresy and I must think I'm really great or whatever, but it's not that it's just, you develop an ear for this sort of thing.

[00:37:55] And you're not afraid to say that I wouldn't go around saying the doodles or shit because I [00:38:00] love the Beatles, but it doesn't mean they were infallible. And so in a way for a while, this kind of thinking ruins music for you because you start listening to everything critically. And you can't just go to a concert and go to a John Prine show and just bathe in the music.

[00:38:15] You have to actually sit there and go well, okay. That was a good line. Yeah, I like that. Oh, that rhyme is such an obvious rhyme, but that goes away. It really does. And I think if you listen to music that way with the face that the analytical thing will go away, it means you will actually benefit from it rather than just listening to music and going.

[00:38:33] I love everything. I love all music. 

[00:38:35] Oliver McQuaid: That was a direct quote of mine. I love all music and I love everything. I feel like I'm not as critical as I maybe could be, but what's interesting is something earlier you said where there's this romanticized view that the more honest, you are the less crafted and molded and with intention, a song or a piece of art would be.

[00:38:54] And I almost think it's the exact opposite in a lot of ways, at least where I'm [00:39:00] maybe internalizing what you're saying is that there's an honesty to taking the time to craft it into what you want. And there's an honesty to saying that I don't actually like what is happening here. So I'm going to take the time to try and find the thing that, that does work there.

[00:39:19] So there's an honesty to the crafting side of it too. That's what I'm taking out of that, which is really cool. 

[00:39:24] Blair Packham: That's what I believe too, 

[00:39:25] Oliver McQuaid: when you co-write and have co-written you mentioned that whole album with the Jules Shearwas co-written when you've done that in the past, are you sitting in the same room together and bouncing ideas or is it somebody works on something and then brings it to the group and then you take it and go back because.

[00:39:41] I feel like when I'm sitting across from somebody, I just want them to get all their stuff out of the way and then let me take it away and go work on it and then bring it back. I don't the face-to-face things, unless we're jamming and some magic comes out of that. 

[00:39:53] Blair Packham: The scenario you described, I basically want them to go home and I will finish it and then I don't. Then I get caught up. Uh, [00:40:00] cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry or working on a different song and I don't finish it and I let people down. Or then I started working on it, very begrudgingly and some of my co-writes have gone on for years. My favorite way to do it for me, the way that works best for me is I work on it, maybe a verse and a chorus. And I send that to a friend who I can count on who will come back with another verse and maybe a bridge. Or they'll tell me that the chorus isn't working. How about this instead? And then, you know, and they'll write a verse that works for me because. It's working off an idea. You said you asked earlier, how do you push past the hard part?

[00:40:35] Oliver McQuaid: the bridge for me, if you know a good bridge builder, you can recommend, I would love to send 20 songs off to them. 

[00:40:43] Blair Packham: I can tell you this. The function of a bridge is to provide a breath of fresh air because by the time you get to the bridge, you should have played the other parts of the song twice at that point.

[00:40:53] And so the function of the bridge is to give the brain some relief, something unexpected. So if that's the case, [00:41:00] When you hit the bridge, the part where you think, okay, I've now played the verse and the chorus and the verse and the chorus. If I play another verse here, my brain will go, no, that's aesthetic that I am developing will say, no, that's boring.

[00:41:13] Then you might think, well, maybe I should try a bridge. Well, if you're going to do that, let's say you're playing in a G a G, C, and D are your primary building blocks. Then you might use a minor or an e minor, you know, but do something really different. play B flat. You know, throwdifferent chord in, make it work, do a D minor where the five of the key is suddenly a minor chord, just try something different and see where that takes you because that's the function of a bridge is to be different.

[00:41:40] See if you can make it work for you. It's also supposed to be something different lyrically too. So if you're finding, you're expressing the same thing that you're expressing in the verse and the chorus. Then you've got a problem because you need to add some something to it. Even if it's one line and bridge can be just one line, but it's mentioned have your ear go, okay. Cleanse my [00:42:00] pallet. Now let's get back to that burst or back to that chorus. 

[00:42:03] Oliver McQuaid: Yeah. And then when you do get back, it's that much more impactful because you've gone away and there's a little bit of yearning unconsciously for that chorus again. Hey, I loved at the beginning of the interview, hearing the reference to John Prine and it's actually something that I could have guessed. And I feel like I can pick out songwriters who do have influence from John Prine because there's a certain lyricism and. Play on words and the sarcastic newness that you can recognize in music. And I, I love that I'm a total sucker for it, and I embody that in my own work as well.

[00:42:36] Can you tell me a little bit more about that? I know you guys talked about it at the beginning there, but I am such a huge fan of John Prine. Can you tell me how that influences your music, even now when you write it? 

[00:42:47] Blair Packham: Well, for me, that magical sweet spot for John Prine is the songs that are maybe funny, not like ha ha funny, but amusing, but also heartbreaking at the same time or with lines that are, have a wry [00:43:00] humor to them, likeHello in There, for instance, his song.

[00:43:03] About an old couple and we lost Davey in the Korean more. I still don't know what for, there's nothing funny about that song in particular, but it's got a sort of wry quality to it. It has other songs, Donald and Lydia, the song about masturbation it's about masturbation, but you could do a song about masturbation and make it crude.

[00:43:21] And funny and joke about the act of masturbation. He doesn't at all. He treats it with great tenderness and it's a beautiful thing because he can walk that line. I just think he was a master of that stuff and Jesus, the missing years. There's funny stuff in there, but it's, but it's about Jesus and he doesn't want to offend anybody either.

[00:43:39] He could do so much. John Prine was the third, big concert I went to when I was a kid. I saw him at Massey hall. I think the January, 1972. And it was his first time playing a big hall like that. But first time in Toronto, it was a big deal. He was solo on the stage and he captivated everyone. And I saw him in [00:44:00] subsequent years and it wasn't as good because people knew the punchlines to the songs and they would shout them out before he would get to them and it was horrible, but in those early years, people were much more respectful. I think that's that space that he's navigating there.

[00:44:13]Oliver McQuaid:  That is the tough, tight rope between funny and heart-wrenching and the specificness with which he does it. That's kind of like the area and only music or art can navigate the stuff that is super specific.

[00:44:27] We could talk about that and we can write an essay on it and we can explore that idea. But it's that in-between stuff that you can't really nail down with the combination of words, that music and metaphor and sarcasm and imagery and all that kind of stuff is the most effective vehicle for navigating that.

[00:44:45] And I really recognize that in your music. And that's what really drew me in from the first lesson was you do have these interesting lines that contrast each other and just make you think. It's not just a story where you sit back and it's a nice, easy [00:45:00] listing story. Most of your songs, at least the ones that I've heard do make you think and question, what does he mean by that?

[00:45:07] What does that mean to me? And I really appreciate that. I think you walk the same line that, that he did and you do it well. So I appreciate that. 

[00:45:14] Blair Packham: Wow. Well, I'm really, really flattered by all that. Thank you. Because that's what I'm going for. If you feel I'm getting that, I'm thrilled. I consider myself a not terribly heralded songwriter, even though there are lots of people who like my songs and stuff, but it's not like I have a big following or anything like that.

[00:45:31] So, and when I said to Blake earlier that the currency I trade in is compliments. I'm not kidding. It means a lot, especially from a fellow songwriter and a talented fellow songwriter. Like you, it means a lot. So I appreciate you saying that. 

[00:45:43] Oliver McQuaid: You got it. I'm taking a quote from this as well from you that I might incorporate into a song lyric that songwriting is mostly hard with a little brain thrown in and I certainly have one of those.

[00:45:53] Yeah. That's a very John Prine quote, the mostly heart with a little brain thrown in. So maybe you'll find that on a future [00:46:00] recording of mine. 

[00:46:01] Blair Packham: And that's the kind of thing where songs come from. Somebody can say something and it's kind of fantastic and you're absolutely right about songs. Being the art form, where you can express things that you can't express quite in any other form.

[00:46:14] It's what makes songwriting so confounding and also so beautiful, 

[00:46:19] Oliver McQuaid: and necessary and I think that's what we found during the COVID pandemic, at least with what I've noticed in our microcosm of it in Kimberly here, when the pizza place, just a couple doors down from me, built a stage that worked with COVID and started having live music.

[00:46:34] And they were the only place in town you could go for live music. People couldn't get a ticket two weeks in advance, and this isn't a place that ever had music before. And what that told me is it's so necessary music and culture like this and art in our daily lives and it's to whatever degree had been taken out during the pandemic and so that navigating of that in between stuff that you can't [00:47:00] quite put your finger on. Is all around us that we need the music to help us with it. 

[00:47:05] Blair Packham: I'm so glad to hear you say that. And I agree a hundred percent. I hope that things get back to some version of normal at some point 

[00:47:13] Oliver McQuaid: when they do, you'll be hearing from me and maybe it will pull the trailer and my family across the country. and come track you down 

[00:47:19] Blake Melnick: gentlemen, you've been fabulous guests. The jam has officially been passed from Oliver McQuade to Blair pack him. And I'll let you guys know something. I've been listening to all of her songs for the last month or so. And I've also listened to Blair's songs in preparation for these past two episodes.

[00:47:37] And I find myself walking around my house, singing your songs, whistling your songs. So clearly they found their way into my psych here, soul, or however you'd like to describe it. But I want to let you know that I really appreciate the work that you both do in making great music and in constantly stretching your personal and artistic boundaries in an attempt to do something new [00:48:00] and better.

[00:48:01] And I just think that's so important in this, this day and age. My name is, and Oliver, it's been great having you on the show. I think you've given a lot of food for thought for young aspiring songwriters. Around motivation around how to craft a song around the fact that not all songs need to just flow emotionally based on a given moment in time, but it's a mixture of emotion and craft, which makes for a good song.

[00:48:33] What I've really loved about listening to both of you is a complete lack of ego reset. I really appreciate how you engage with each other, how you share what you've learned about the art of songwriting and a music page is your they're afraid to ask questions and you're not afraid to learn. And that really.

[00:48:56] What's the purpose of starting this whole series. And as you [00:49:00] know, and I've referenced this a number of times in previous episodes, we want to cap off full season of past the jam with a special event to leave the be alive show, live webcast, perhaps even a record. But I know from all the musicians we've had on the show that it's going to be something very special.

[00:49:25] So once again, I thank you. Both. This concludes this week's episode, uh, for what it's worth called living the impossible dream with my guests, Blair pack. Now the current holder of the jam next week, we have a very special episode in store for our listeners for what it's worth and the space in between is now officially one-year-old.

[00:49:49] And it has been a great year. We've had incredible support from our listeners. We've had amazing guests and we've learned a lot. So next [00:50:00] week we're going to take a slightly different tact to the show and the four of us, the whole, or what it's worth podcast team will be hosting the episode. And we'll be talking about those key moments over the year.

[00:50:15] What we've learned, what we've loved, what we'd like to do better and give you some insight into what you can expect in the very near future. So please join us for the tween, the sheets

[00:50:36]