10 things you need to know about Haley Blais, Canada's nostalgia pop queen
Her latest single ‘On a Weekend’ promises to be a social anxiety and quarantine themed carnival ride.
Photography Lindsay Elliott
Back in May, Haley Blais declared: “It’s bob season.” She certainly wasn't wrong. A few months into lockdown, isolation chops are all the rage. “I had a drastic quarantine haircut,” she explains, her voice hovering with excitement. It’s a risky decision at the best of times, but Haley is over the moon about her lockdown bob. “I mean, hair grows back. So I’ve heard,” she adds wryly.
The Canadian singer-songwriter is one of the lucky few who have found themselves thriving during a pandemic that shut down most of the world. “Quarantine has really opened my eyes,” she says. The time indoors has nourished her homebody nature. “I think I was tricking myself into thinking I was an extrovert, or at least a slightly extroverted introvert. But my true colours have really come out being home this whole time, and I've been blooming, I think.”
Currently isolating with her partner in Vancouver, Haley has been spending her time working on ideas for new music, drinking tequila in their paddling pool (luxe!), and gearing up for the release of her debut album on 25 August. “It's my birthday gift to myself!” she exclaims. “And to everyone else, if they want to listen."
The record will be a follow-up to her 2018 EP Let Yourself Go, a colourful 5-track gem full of ukulele rhythms and adolescent yearning. “A lot of my songwriting is based on the past and nostalgia,” Haley says, “and I'm excited to see how that changes as I grow.” In her newest singles "Too Good" and "On a Weekend", you can see those changes manifesting as a clearer sense of identity, a greater self-confidence, and an energetic influx of synths and percussives.
Whether you want to find out more about Haley’s eclectic bedroom pop or just her fervent love of salt, here are 10 fun facts to get you better acquainted.
1. Haley’s formal introduction to music came through the magic of opera
“When my parents decided to put me in singing lessons, the only music teacher within like a 10 mile radius of my house was an opera singer. Her name was Alexandra Babbel, and she taught me for 10 years. I joined her all-girls music ensemble, Candesca. We toured Europe twice, New York, all around Canada.”
2. But when she got to her late teens it wasn’t quite the right creative outlet
“I was with them for about five years and when I turned 18, I started writing my own music. I had so much pent-up aggression. There's only so much you can channel into Italian arias.”
3. She owes her first live performance to Elton John, and his award-winning contribution to The Lion King (1994)
“It was a duet with my friend in the fourth grade at our school talent show -- we sang "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?". I was actually sent a video of the incident recently and I cried watching it! Partly because I was like, ‘This is where it all began!’ but also because it was really embarrassing and cringy, and I remember being such a diva about it. It's really special to have that to look back on now, though why I wore camo print capris is beyond me.”
4. Rest assured though, she’s left that all behind now
"I was so unbearably uncool in my formative years. Looking back I'm like, 'How would my music and songwriting have changed if I'd paid attention to better music back then?' It's embarrassing to say as a musician, but I didn't listen to good music at all. I think the only exception would be Bob Dylan, but all you need is like, an uncle or a father to know about him.”
5. "On a Weekend", her newest single, is actually a huge lockdown mood
“It now has become this kind of reluctant quarantine anthem. It was originally about FOMO due to social anxiety, or a lack of a social life, but now it’s taken something of a turn for me. There's a line where I say, 'Do what you want to do/ without me there with you'. Originally I wrote it a little bitter and tongue-in-cheek, but now I'm like: seriously, everybody stay home! I don't need to be by your side. It's okay to be alone on the weekend, it's okay if your plans fall through."
6. Her aspirations for the next couple of years include getting a few more albums under her belt, achieving financial stability from them and, most importantly, adopting a dog
“I like really absurdly common names, you know? Like Patrick or Mark would be hilarious for a dog... Mike... Michael.”
7. Her upcoming record is named for her obsession with… salt?
“I'm a self-identified salt freak. I'll add salt to salt.”
8. No, really, it’s called Below the Salt
“I was reading this book about salt, and there was this little passage in it about the history of salt in language. There are a bunch of old sayings involving salt, and they had their modern meanings listed with them. And there was one, 'below the salt', which really resonated with me. It refers to someone who is not royalty, nothing special, a peasant, just an average guy -- they sit below the salt. And it felt right, because I love salt, and I liked the phrase, and I think a lot of people can relate to it. I was like, 'That’s me, I'm just a normal dude!'”
9. Her songwriting process is either rapid-fire, or non-existent
“I think if a song isn't written in twenty minutes, I'll never finish it.”
10. But that doesn’t make it any less cathartic
“I’m like: ‘Take the weight of all this emotion, please!’ I like when it becomes everyone else's music, and they can infer things about my songs and I can be like 'Yeah, that's what this song is about now! It's your problem now'.”