Quinton Blair grew up listening to his grandma's singing and piano playing. He took piano lessons as a child but he didn't enjoy it. He says, "I quit piano lessons, just gave up music altogether for a little bit and fell in love naturally with the guitar when it came along. I started writing songs and playing in bands after that."
Country Roots (Profiles in Canadian Country Music): Quinton Blair
I talk to Quinton Blair about storytelling through songs, his sources of inspiration and his passion for being a musician.
His music has its roots in the storytelling tradition of country music. Quinton explains, "I grew up listening to storytellers like Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. My music references the late '70s and '80s era of country music. We also play a lot of rodeo dances so you can hear a lot of '90s country in my music too. It's a collection of music from the last 25 years."
In terms of his strongest musical influences, there are two names that stand out. He says, "Guy Clark really speaks to me with his writing. As far as musicianship, production and being true to yourself, Lyle Lovett would be the other huge inspiration for me."
The country music Quinton writes and plays differs from what's currently being promoted on mainstream radio. He points out "These days the songs seem to be about making you feel good, but they're not there to make you just feel. I come at a lot of my writing from the perspective of trying to tell stories but also trying to invoke emotions in people. Not every song has to be a happy song even though that's what we're hearing these days. The country music from the '70s and '80s had a lot of heart wrenching stories in it."
He adds, "As far as writing goes, I try to focus on regionalization and writing about things that I know. I'm not trying to pretend I'm from L.A. or down south. I'm a boy from the Prairies and I write songs about the Prairies."
Songwriting is something that combines inspiration with a strong work ethic for Quinton. He says, "Sometimes I have a bunch of really great ideas that are hitting all the time and other times I'll go a couple of weeks without writing anything. I try to treat my writing like a trade and make sure I'm doing it on a regular basis. Not every song I write is one that I'm going to keep, but it's an important exercise for getting emotion out and just exploring your abilities. If you want to be a better songwriter, you just have to keep writing all the time."
Writing songs with other people is also something that he enjoys. Quinton continues, "The music community's pretty small but with Skype and FaceTime it's easy to write songs with people all over North America, so you have friends all over you can write songs with."
Being in the country music world now means dealing with its polarization in Quinton's view. He explains, "You've got your mainstream acts that sound a certain way and you've got your outlaw/alternative acts that sound a different way. I think you see people flocking to country music who weren't necessarily there before, but that has polarized people who love certain aspects of country music that aren't being fed by what's coming out of Nashville."
However, he believes that it's possible to build a career without getting radio play. Quinton says, "You can either be forgettable and be on the radio or you can have a sound and make a career. I'm okay with having a sound and not being on the radio because the people who come to shows, buy albums and t-shirts, do all the social media and engage will help me build a stronger career."
Another part of building a stronger career is his ability to straddle the line between country and roots music. He says, "We'll be opening for a pop country band that's coming through town and the next night we're sitting at a workshop with some amazing folk singers, so it's a really cool spot that I find myself in and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Being part of the music scene in Winnipeg is something of which he's proud. Quinton elaborates, "Winnipeg is a community of musicians, so I'm very fortunate because I have the ability to pick up the phone and call some of these phenomenal players to come play shows with me. That being said, as I travel around, I meet phenomenal players all over this country. I've just never seen so much talent one place like we have in Winnipeg."
Quinton recharges his creative batteries by spending time on his own. He says, "I ride horses and work cattle. I'm fine with spending hours by myself relaxing and decompressing. I think it makes me a little more introspective when it comes to writing."
For more information on Quinton and his music, please visit him here.
This profile of Quinton Blair is based on a telephone interview conducted and recorded on May 17, 2017.