Listening to Blair Lee’s debut EP The Puppy Game feels like driving with the windows down on a cloudless summer day. Produced by her longtime collaborator ModMaxx (Drake, Roy Woods, Tinashe), the EP’s five 90s-influenced pop-rock tracks are soft around the edges and will instantly win over fans of MUNA or Soccer Mommy. But most notably, Lee’s songs evoke a sense of freedom that, as she explains, is a reflection of her intuitive songwriting process.
“I find that when I go into my own world to write, I’ll feel around for what’s there in that moment,” she says. “Sometimes it will start with one line or a word and then I’ll look at it and be like, ‘okay, what are we talking about?’ It’s a mix of trusting my unconscious self and tying that to more conscious thoughts.”
Although Lee admits to being a little nervous about the release of The Puppy Game, finishing this project has been a big goal of her’s so she’s trying to embrace her excitement. A few days before the EP’s release, RANGE connected with the Toronto-based singer-songwriter to learn more about her journey so far as a musician, being brave, and her dream Lilith Fair line-up.
Can you tell me a bit about your initial relationship with music? I read that you are a classically trained pianist but have you always had an interest in singing and writing songs as well?
I’ve always dreamt about being a musician but I never considered it as a real career. I think I was always intimidated by pursuing it head on just because of how hard and gruelling it is. I started with playing the piano and then I would play piano and sing and record videos of it. But it wasn’t until I came to Toronto for audio production school that I started to actually record, collaborate with people, learn about the whole music industry, and try to slip my way into it.
Did you have a specific moment when you started songwriting where you thought, “oh yeah, I can give this a go as a career”?
When I went to audio production school, I was actually hoping to learn more about music in film and get an internship in the television or film industry. I thought on the side I could learn to produce and put out my own songs. But while I was in school and recording with more people, there was a moment when one of my teachers, who’s in the music industry, heard some of the songs and he looked at me and said, “Do you want to do this? Because you could.” That was really, really awesome.
What’s the collaborative process like with ModMaxx?
I feel like it’s kind of different every time. A lot of the time, we’ll start a song together. We’ll sit down and either I’ll play something on keyboard or he’ll start with a guitar idea. That’s what has been happening more lately — he’ll start with a guitar riff and we’ll build off of that. Other times, I’ll have a demo idea that we’ll build off of but I would say most of the time, it’s just something that we make from the ground up.
I was really struck by how bravery seems to be a through line on the EP. “All Day” begins with you singing “Don’t be afraid to be colourful just as you are / Speak as you do, paint the moment with your guitar” and on “Peachy World,” you repeat, “I’m not scared.” How do you tap into that bravery?
That’s a really interesting theme you found because nobody else has said that, but it does really strike a chord with me. Maybe because I don’t always see myself as a brave person but I would like to be. Fear for me, and for most people, holds you back from doing a lot of things. For me, it’s music but it could be anything in your life like not being able to stand up for yourself or be who you are without worrying what everyone thinks. Just putting out the EP, that for me is a brave move because it’s vulnerable.
Sonically, your songs have a 90s vibe to them. Is that a natural reflection of your musical interests or an intentional choice?
It’s probably natural for me because I grew up listening to 90s music. I’m a 90s baby and I feel like those melodies resonate with me so maybe that’s what ends up coming out. I think that I’ve leaned into it more and we started to lean the production that way as well to lend to that sound.
Given this 90s influence, it begs the question, if you were in charge of reviving Lilith Fair, who would your festival line-up include?
Okay, wow! beabadoobee, Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Swift, Ethel Cain, MUNA, Claud, Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, Liz Phair, Vanessa Carlton, Chantal Kreviazuk, and maybe Natalie Imbruglia just to sing “Torn.” I better stop there, I could keep going.
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