Haley Blais Lands Her Punchlines
The Vancouver songwriter discusses new album 'Wisecrack' and why she's "a procrastinator first and foremost, and a musician second"
Published Sep 13, 2023Even on the road, Haley Blais is able to communicate her infectious humour. When I reach the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter for our interview, she's in a grocery outlet near Oregon. "I'm just checking out," she says. "I got two boxes of mini chocolate chunk vegan cookies that are really good. I could truly spend hours here."
The 28-year-old artist is making a pit stop while driving back from Los Angeles, where she concluded a set of recent shows. "This year has been the first string of headlining shows I've ever done, so it's been totally different and very fulfilling. I've been having so much fun," she reflects.
The audiences at these shows, whom she describes as "so engaged and enthusiastic," have elevated her experience. Through the fall, Blais will be performing a mix of support and headline gigs, where she'll be debuting songs from her upcoming sophomore album, Wisecrack (September 15 through Arts & Crafts).
"I can't wait. I started writing the songs for this album in the beginning of 2020," she explains. "I finished recording the album in the summer of 2022, so it's been a long process. I feel like I've been sitting on it forever, and I'm kind of like, 'Are we still talking about this? Come on, guys. This is old news.'"
For over a decade, Blais has built a deep connection with viewers online through her YouTube channel. Her videos exist in a time capsule with daily vlogs, thrift hauls and music covers. Whenever she meets people after the show, the majority of attendees say they've been following her channel for years.
"I love that," Blais enthuses. "I'm not as active there anymore, yet people are still coming to the shows — it's like they're moving on with me. I'm sure I'll still post, but it's not my full-time job anymore, and I'm excited about it."
In August 2020 during one of many pandemic lockdowns, Blais released her debut album, Below the Salt. Chronicling anxiety, insecurity and self-assurance, Blais was effortlessly able to capture the relatable essence of trying to find oneself in the chaos of the everyday world.
Of her previous work, Blais recalls putting it out more hastily, and releasing songs during bursts of excitement. "They're not really cohesive with each other — they just exist individually," she notes. When she talks about the process of creating Wisecrack, however, there's a sense of calmness and confidence in her voice.
"I wanted to take my time with it, and I knew that I wanted it to be released with care and thoughtfulness," she says. "It's been nice that I can really think about what I want to put out into the world and how I want this to be seen and received." But, she has one more point to add: "I'm a procrastinator first and foremost, and a musician second."
While Blais is moving forward in her career, Wisecrack brings her back to her childhood. The album, which focuses on nostalgia, innocence and shifting family dynamics, is her most personal record. "It's like a diary entry about growing older and saying goodbye to what you thought family was," she notes.
The album's title comes from a quippy lyric that's featured in the single, "Baby Teeth." On the track, she yearns for the wholesome experience of youth and staring in the mirror to practice a late-night show monologue. "I love the word and the way it fills your mouth. Tthe definition of it is also pretty true to the themes of the album and me as a person," she says. "It's trying to find the kind of lightness in a sad situation."
On Wisecrack, Blais has achieved both lyrical and sonic cohesion. During the recording process, Blais played more instruments than ever. "I wrote the whole album on this guitar I got when I was 10 — it's like a really shitty nylon-string classical guitar," she says. The guitar served as a tangible piece of Blais's childhood, allowing her to lean into nostalgia.
To capture the album's sound, she collaborated with Vancouver producer David Vertesi of Hey Ocean! The pair wanted to sonically capture the feeling of the music Blais listened to as a child, citing the late '90s and early '00s as major inspirations. During these years, many musical genres had their time to shine — bubblegum pop, grunge and shoegaze, to name a few — but Blais' tracks like "Reset button" and "Concrete," feature an elegant strings section, faint drums and ethereal vocals, bearing an uncanny resemblance to indie music you might've heard back then while sitting in your parent's car as a kid. "We wanted to make these songs sound like they're old and new at the same time," she says.
As Wisecrack is Blais's most pointed take on her own life, she notes creating the album was healing: "I learned how I process [big life] events that I had repressed, and then have them come out in song." On the track, "The Cabin," the narrative is strong, as she recalls pivotal moments with her family, which inspired the majority of her album. She says the feedback she has received from them has been extremely supportive.
"I had a lot of resentment and confusion, and I think writing the songs and then showing them to everybody was really satisfying," she confesses. "I had a fear that nobody would understand it, and people would be mad that I'm being so specific, but we're all stoked about it, which is great."
When Blais thinks about her fans' reception of Wisecrack, she isn't fazed by the depth of her honesty, and feels it'll bring her audience closer. "I could be singing a song about how I think it's my fault that my parents got divorced, but then someone might listen to it and it reminds them of their high school graduation or a friend that they don't talk to anymore," she says. "I'm really excited for people to hear the songs and then interpret them in their own way and make it about them. That's what music is supposed to do — connect with you in whatever way it does."