“Hey, Nashville! Break’s over!”
Jason Blaine remembers the gentle joshing he received from fellow workers during the few years he toiled at a filing cabinet factory back in the ‘90s. As a then-aspiring country music singer and songwriter who dreamed of living in Music City, Tennessee, and making an impact on country music, Blaine was ribbed by a few blue-collar types on the job, but never let it get under his skin.
“I got teased a bit, but I think it was all in good fun,” recalls Blaine, who was raised on a radio diet of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Vince Gill, among others. “They literally named me ‘Nashville,’ but I thought, ‘That’s all right.’ I always knew I’d end up as a songwriter in Nashville.”
Today, the Pembroke, ON, native Blaine, 33, has transformed fantasy into reality with his wife Amy and their three kids, Grace, Sara and Carter. Although he may live south of the Canadian border, Blaine’s star is still very much on the rise back home. In 2012, his fourth album, Life So Far, yielded the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Single of the Year with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore.”
This year, he’s nominated for CCMAs for Songwriter of the Year – for “Cool,” a co-write with Deric Ruttan, from his stellar 2013 album Everything I Love.Co-produced by Blaine with Scott Cooke (Florida Georgia Line, Nickelback), Everything I Love is packed with irresistible earworms like the energetic “Rock It, Country Girl,” the celebratory “Good Ol’ Nights” and the slap-happy “Friends of Mine.” The latter features a quartet of homegrown country stars – Jason McCoy, Gord Bamford, Deric Ruttan and Chad Brownlee – chiming in on the festivities.
“I joked to them that if they hadn’t agreed to do it, I’d have to re-name the song ‘No Friends,’” Blaine chuckles.
Each song on Everything I Love is marked by melodic maturity, everyman lyrics, a hint of swagger and a stylistic versatility that adheres to Music Row expectations while still allowing Blaine to maintain his own identity. That’s something he may not have necessarily achieved had he landed anywhere other than in Nashville.
“I felt like I would have copped out on a dream of mine if I’d never actually went there and tried to figure out that scene and make friends,” admits Blaine, who honed his musical chops playing in a band with his dad and his brother. “It is a hub for amazing talent. If you go thinking you’re a pretty good songwriter, you will be humbled. If you go there thinking you’re a pretty good musician, you will be humbled. And you’ll be better for it.
“You go to some writers’ nights, you just go and listen and you think, ‘God, that’s amazing.’ You’ll
“There are still personal songs on it, but I really focused on fun and writing these uptempo crowd anthems.”
hear songs that you may never hear on the radio, and there are more undiscovered hits than there are hits. But it will raise your game, and I have friends and peers that I count on and trust that I can bounce stuff off, and they’ll go either, ‘Yeah man, that’s really great stuff,’ or they’ll send you back to the drawing board.”Some of those friends and collaborators have impressive track records: fellow Canadians Ruttan (Blake Shelton’s “Mine Would Be You,” Eric Church’s “Hell On The Heart”); Kelly Archer (Jason Aldean, Dustin Lynch) and Steven Lee Olsen (The Judds, 98 Degrees); and U.S. writers Jim Beavers (Tim McGraw’s “Felt Good On My Lips”, Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”) and George Teren (Brad Paisley’s “Where I Get Where I’m Going”, Tim McGraw’s “Real Good Man”.)
“I’m more of a melody/music/groove/guitar-riff guy,’ says Blaine, whose most popular U.S. placement has been “Work It Out” on country rapper Colt Ford’s Top 10 album Every Chance I Get, a song that featured Luke Bryan on vocals. “I think I’m stronger in that area than lyrics, which is why I’ve just been really fortunate to write with some guys who have just been honing their craft for years, like a George Teren, or a Deric Ruttan.
“They bring so much to the table. And they’ll bring lyrics and melody as well, or maybe tweak on a melody or a groove. You don’t need to worry about carrying all the lyrics because they’re great at what they do. You work together on the lyric and I enjoy that, because then you don’t feel like the pressure is all on you to come up with these amazing lyrics.”
Like he did on Life So Far, Blaine had a specific theme in mind for Everything I Love. “On Life So Far, it was more personal,” he explains. “I really wanted songs that allowed country music fans that cared about what I was doing, or the industry, to get to know me. I really opened up on that record: I wrote a song for my wife and kids called ‘Cool’ because I entered my 30s during that album, and so I talked about how the stuff in your 20s is still kind of fun, but it’s not as cool as having a family to come home to.
“I also wrote this song called ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore’ that I thought was only going to be an album cut as a tribute to my grandparents and their 50-plus-years love story. We singled it; it ended up just speaking to a lot of people and it won [the CCMA] Single of the Year.
“Everything I Love is totally different. I wanted to write an entertaining country album. If I was a country fan, what would I want to hear? A turn-it-up loud, all-summer-long, drive-around-in-my-truck album. It’s still me, and there are still personal songs on it, but I really focused on fun and writing these uptempo crowd anthems. This album most closely reflects what people can expect from my live show.”
Blaine, prepping for a Canadian autumn tour co-headlining with Deric Ruttan and Chad Brownlee, says writing fun songs is not an easy task. “To try to write a real great party anthem that will go over with the crowd; one that radio will accept so your peers will still think it’s cool as well; and one that avoids clichés and is fresh, keeps you on your toes.
“It’s all been said, it’s all been done, and people are going to do it again,” Blaine continues. “People are still going to talk about trucks and country and girls and good times and beer. As long as there’s country music, they’ll sing about these things, but finding ways to do it just a little bit different is the tricky part.”
In fact, Blaine, whose first song was a dare from his father, says if you focus too much on avoiding clichés, it can be detrimental to the process. “We call it ‘paralysis from analysis,’” he laughs. “You can sit there, and if you worry about everything that’s been said already, or if somebody has a song on the radio that says something similar – if you think about it too much – then you can get that paralysis from analysis.
“The truth is, people like to cut up on a Saturday night, get loud and throw back some beers and have good times with friends. And the boys always like when the good-looking country girls come around. So we have to sing about these things when you want a good time.”
With five albums and 16 singles to his credit, Blaine has certainly come a long way from his initial victory at the 2002 Project Discovery contest, when his very first release, a Top 10 hit of the Tom McKillip-produced “That’s What I Do,” also earned him his very first SOCAN royalty cheque.
But what was supposed to be a happy occasion turned into a slightly stressful one. “I remember being really, really miffed when I went to the bank for the first time,” Blaine recalls. “I was so excited and it was a hefty cheque – the first time I felt like [songwriting] was a real career. But I went to the bank to cash it and they placed some ridiculous hold on it because they didn’t know who SOCAN was. I remember telling them, ‘Look them up. If Bryan Adams and Shania Twain can cash SOCAN cheques, you guys can cash this one!’
“Anyway, we got over that, and I’m a big fan of the direct deposit now,” he laughs.
Publisher: Jason Blaine Music
Discography: While We Were Waiting (2005), Make My Move (2008), Sweet Sundown (2010), Life So Far (2011), Everything I Love(2013)
SOCAN Member since 2003