One of my favourite George Carlin lines comes from his infamous 1978 special, when he’s talking about his teachers trying to teach him how to read a clock. “Of course you can’t tell time; time tells you, but they were trying.” It’s this kind of clever aside and wit that Vancouver songwriter Johnny Payne is channelling in the sentiment of his new video single, “Someday.”
Formerly of the Shilohs, Payne has concocted a 60s-influenced piano ballad that’s all about waiting for something for so long that the waiting eventually becomes the thing. According to Payne, the video was pandemic-inspired, toggling mostly between shots of him singing at the piano in a dark room and him playing the drums on top of a building as the Vancouver skyline darkens.
And really, when the world shuts down for nearly two years and that universal sense of limbo compounds with the time it takes to get anywhere in one’s own life anyway, where else can one go but deeper into that waiting. We spoke to Payne about what exactly he’s been waiting for while we patiently await the release of his forthcoming album, King of Cups.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve loved music since I was a little kid and played it since I was about 12 but I didn’t fully settle on being a musician until after high school. The original plan was to be an actor. I took a year off before drama school and went to Europe. While I was there I met a lot of musicians and jammed a lot in hostels and stuff. I think it was in Nice, France one night that it hit me…”this is what I’m supposed to do”. It felt more honest to me at that time. Musicians weren’t pretending to be anyone else. I could just write my songs and be myself. I called my parents and said I was giving up acting for rock and roll. (laughs) Of course I realized later that there’s a ton of acting in the musician life too. But anyway…
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Dad was folky music like Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot. And Mom was the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. No point denying it, there was a lot of Beatles around the house. Beach Boys too. I also adored all the music from the early Disney films. Mary Poppins, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Pinocchio. I still kinda think that’s the most magical music.
“Someday” has a John Lennon circa Plastic Ono Band vibe to it. I’m personally a sucker for those kinds of ballads, but what are some other influences on your sound we might not expect?
I was blown away by a closer listen to Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” late one night. That was big in the inception of “Someday.” But there’s also a lot of Elton John and, of course, Harry Nilsson. Oh, and those beautiful magic chords that Laura Nyro plays.
Was there a particular thing in your life you were “waiting” on that inspired this song?
I suppose it could be interpreted as being about my career in music, or how I used to think about it anyway. That there is this level of success you’re supposed to reach to become satisfied. But that’s all bullshit. I figured out along the way that the dream happens when you’re in the studio hearing the playback, or when you’re on stage with your friends. The song is really about my struggle to live in the present. You can miss wonderful days thinking about your next someday.
Who are some artists in your periphery that we should pay attention to, local or otherwise?
Right now I’m down in LA producing a record for my friend Sam Blasucci of Mapache and I can’t say enough about how good his music is. This is his first solo record and it’s going to be amazing but the Mapache records he and Clay Finch make are absolutely fantastic too. I think everyone is going to know who they are by the end of next year.
I also just produced two EPs (yet unreleased) for my friend Travis in Vancouver. He goes by the name T. Barber. Really chill, weirdo country songs that we made in my little studio. I also did an album for his previous band Ponytails that isn’t out yet. That one is really nice too.
My friend STACEY also made a meticulously crafted pop record that just came out. She lives in LA but is also Canadian. Kind of a Carpenters meets Lana Del Ray vibe.
Is there anything that you learned about yourself over the course of the last two years throughout the pandemic that you’re carrying with you into this next phase of your music career?
Any musician who says they haven’t learned anything about themselves in the past two years is lying. I probably learned too much about myself actually. What’s the line from Spinal Tap? “Too much fucking perspective.” The most important thing I learned was how much I missed making music with people. Collaboration in the studio and also live performance. Now that it’s kind of back and I’m in Los Angeles in the thick of it again I’m really appreciating all the little things so much. I’m just so grateful for all my sweet talented friends and it’s great to be able to play with them again. Making music alone is possible, it can even be rewarding and fun, but human collaboration is the secret ingredient in all the best music.