Strongly influenced by The Beatles, Crowded House and Squeeze,
he’s been called “unapologetically melodic in his songwriting”.
He has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music,
a walking jukebox if you will,
and he always aims to please.
Perfect for the garden party circuit, wedding, house concert
and bar room,
he can play all your requests.
I can’t count how many times I saw people
go nuts over his solo performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
And his cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
Impressive, to say the least.
I saw my brother’s jaw drop watching him perform
Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing.”
Having attended many of his solo performances over the years
at Irish pubs scattered across Toronto like The Foggy Dew,
I can guarantee you,
Greg Wyard is a splendid time for all.
I’ve seen him move my friend to tears with his cover
of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
And he’s moved me with his cover of Bob Dylan’s
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
One night at another Irish pub called The Pour House,
Wyard played Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You,”
at my request,
simply while sitting around a table with friends,
drinking beer after the gig.
He played it in its entirety, perfectly.
This was the result of telling him how disappointed I was
when the DJ refused to play it for me at the roller rink,
where I’d just come from skating.
As I said,
Wyard aims to please.
But when he threatened to play “Always on My Mind,”
I had to leave the room.
That one makes me waaaay too emotional.
Another friend of mine has fond memories
of seeing Greg play “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” by The Beatles.
Greg Wyard also plays to audiences of thousands
on some of Toronto’s larger stages,
like Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.
He’s also a professional musician who tours the world.
As a songwriter, as a musician, and as a human being,
Greg Wyard is top shelf.
he’s a master at crafting great love songs himself.
Greg wrote one called “The First” that moves me beyond belief.
It’s the title track of his debut cd,
released in 1998.
He released his second cd
“Something I Made Up” in 2001.
A few weeks ago,
Greg honored me with an in-depth sit-down chat
to discuss why it’s taken 13 years to release his third.
Encore is a collection of 7 songs, plus one more.
a cd release party has been booked at Hugh’s Room in Toronto
on June 24.
And it will be presented by none other than Jeanne Beker,
the fashion diva who some of us will also remember as
the rock reporter on CityTV’s The New Music (1979-1985).
As a regular watcher of The New Music throughout my teens and twenties,
I would say Jeanne’s interviews helped shape me
into the rock and roll chick writer I am today.
She’s also an enormous fan of Greg Wyard.
I watched the video for Snowed In (third track on the new cd) at your website. Got me wonderin’ how you survived Toronto’s Ice Storm last Christmas. I lost power for 3 days during the storm. You?
I lost power for three days as well. But the song and the video were recorded after the storm, on the last day of February. I remember that because I was singing the line “February, everybody’s moving slow. The town is buried in fifty thousand feet of snow...” Jeanne Beker has a farm in Cobourg that she lets me use to do some recording. That’s where the video was shot.
Does the farm have a recording studio?
No, I brought what I needed and set it up. The beauty is I can play uninhibited there, as long and as loud as I like.
And you got snowed in?
I did. I was half way down this long road that leads up from the highway before I realized I was in the middle of a wind storm which covered the road in snow. I got buried from the drift and had to stay a day longer than expected. I had my video cameras with me because I was filming the sessions, so I thought I’d make the most of it and make a little video for the song.
The song was already written then?
Yes. It was a coincidence. It felt like synchronicity. I must do a video about this song because now I’m actually snowed in!
It’s a fun video.
I was alone, so I had to do everything myself with two stationary cameras. I had to turn the camera on, run away and act like I’m singing, and then run back and turn it off again. And edit myself out between takes. One time the iPod fell in the snow, and it stopped. So I had to abandon a couple of takes.
How did you become such good friends with Jeanne Beker?
It was through a mutual friend of ours who brought Jeanne out to one of my gigs. She liked my show and asked if I would give guitar lessons to her daughter. So I did. That was about 7 years ago. She has also hired me to perform at private functions.
Was most of the work on the new cd done when you were snowed in?
No. I’d been writing the songs over the last ten years, and I’ve been working on them in my home studio. I had already done a lot of the guitar tracks, bass and vocals, but I had left off the final drum and piano tracks. And the arrangements. I wanted to stick a song at the beginning of a long instrumental, and it took me a long time to think up a song that would work. I did it with At the End of The Day, which is the longest song on the cd. I wanted to have a big, rousing finish for this album. And as a little joke, I did all these fake endings.
There’s fast and furious guitar work on At The End of The Day. It has strings and drums, and it gets jazzy. But how does the rhythm of the song fit in with the words?
You know the John Lennon song Watching The Wheels?
It’s kind of in that vein. He’s writing about his five-year absence, and I’m saying in my song that sometimes it takes a few days to contemplate. People ask when the new cd is coming out, and I say I’m still working on it, and then I don’t get ‘round to it. Ten years goes by, and I’ve still not done it. I ask myself, what’s taking so long to get this cd together? I drove myself crazy worrying about getting it out, but in the meantime I was living life. Things happened. I lost my brother and my marriage broke up. I did a lot of travelling. I met Anju.
So the rhythm of the song makes sense then. Life’s like a Ferris wheel that keeps going round and round, or a roller coaster of ups and downs. I wondered whether the rhythm of the song and the whole big ending was directly associated with the lyrics.
Maybe loosely, in that this is the thing that I’ve been beating myself up over, obsessing about... getting out. And now here it is. And after saying here it is, I wanted a big finale, a seven-minute song with everything on it including the kitchen sink.
“Already Lived Much More (for Leo)” was written for your brother who passed away. Can you talk a bit about the song, and your brother?
It took many re-writes to get the right sentiment for that song. I wanted to write a song that represented Leo without being, for lack of better words, sappy or morose. Something that I thought he would approve of. Every time I started it, I’d start with something kind of ethereal, looking over the horizon, thinking about you, your soul, the sun, and all this stuff that wasn’t really him. I couldn’t do it from that point of view. And then I tried a dream-like thing where we were together in a dream. But in the end, I decided to focus on all the positive things in his life. He was always the first to do everything in the family. He did skydiving first, he got married first, he got a good job first. He had everything compartmentalized. I felt when he passed away that he... that he’d missed out... but he’d also done a lot, up to that point.
How old was he when he passed away?
37. You know... not even 40. The night before, when he went to bed, he was happy. He had no idea anything was going to happen. He was spared the fear of death. I thought I’d capture him at that moment, when he was happy. And all the memories. All the things he did. And the fact that if I lived two life times, I couldn’t live nearly as much as he did.
Yes, you say that in the song...“Even if I lived to be 103, you’ve already lived much more than me...”
When I played the song for my mum, she said it’s too happy-sounding. But it’s not really about his death. It’s not about him and his death. It’s about my reaction to seeing how happy he was in life. It’s actually more about me in some ways. My reaction to seeing him happy in his life.
He was older than you?
No, he was younger. A year and a half younger.
Sounds like he was a role model for you. Obviously you had a lot of respect for him, and admired him.
Absolutely. He was younger, but he surpassed me in many of life’s landmarks, ya know? I became a musician and that’s what I do. He could play music, and he worked as a physician’s assistant in hospital. He played sports. He was diversified. He had a lot of friends, a big group that would go places. He was very out-going, and I wanted to represent that in the song.
And then there’s “The First”.
For the second time.
Well, you know, I’ve told you before, this song moves me in every which way possible. It moves me in ways that I have to be careful where I am when I listen to it. I become instantly emotional. Like the time it came up in the iPod shuffle when I was riding the subway, and I had to stop it less than a minute in. I love the opening shuffle of the drums, the sound of the guitar, the backing vocals, the melody, but it’s the lyrics... so simple and honest. It’s my favourite song of yours because every part of the song hits every part of my heart. It tears it wide open! Have you ever been so moved by a song? If so, what song was it?
The one that comes to mind is probably the saddest song ever. And that’s Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It’s such a beautiful song. I love the song, but it’s the saddest possible song. I can’t think of anything sadder than somebody singing “I can’t make you love me” when they’re in love. I heard Bonnie Raitt had to hold back tears when she was recording it because it’s such a sad song. But it’s so beautiful. I’m not saying my song has the same emotional height as that one...
Then I will!
It was written by a couple of guys from Nashville. It’s great when you hear a song by an artist who you swear is pouring out their soul, only to find out they’re interpreting someone else’s song. I’m even more appreciative because Bonnie Raitt made it her own. You’d swear it was her speaking.
Can you describe what your childhood was like in England? I want to hear about what first sparked your interest in music, and if you could describe a time when, as a child, music played a big part.
My dad was the drummer in a 1960s surf-guitar rock band called The Barons. He was a gigging musician who played Sunday matinees and Friday and Saturday nights. We lived in a place called Chelmsford and then Colchester, and he would drive to Southend and play with a keyboard player and singer. He also had a full time job as a technical writer. He was into jazz. There was a drum set in the house, which was the first thing I bashed on. I got a bass for my 11th birthday. I wanted to play like Paul McCartney. This was around the first time I ever played live, in a pub with my dad. On my 12th birthday, I got my first guitar.
Your father was encouraging?
Yes, to a point. He still wanted me to go to school and get a career, to become an engineer, or something. Because you want to do the best for your kids, you tend to imprint yourself on them. He saw that I was interested in music, but he didn’t want me to put all my eggs in one basket. He gave up full time music when he met my mum. He was being a good parent.
Tell me about your mum.
My mum’s from England, but her mum’s Irish. She met my dad when she was 18 and they got married when she was 22. She’s not a musician, but she can sing. It’s funny because she was in a household with us three boys and my dad who could all play, and she didn’t. I always felt that she was a bit left out.
Did she feel left out? Or you just felt that she felt left out?
I don’t know. But I think you have to be a musician to really understand the passion behind it.
Did she encourage you?
She did. But again, tempered with some common sense. They always did that. They said: “You can’t be a rock star. You have to go to school and get an education.”
Did she work or was she a stay-at-home mum?
She worked. She was a secretary.
So what kind of recorded music were you hearing around the house?
My dad liked Buddy Rich and Eydie Gorme. My mum was into Jack Jones and The Carpenters.
And what was it like playing together around the house?
We weren’t the kind of family that got together and jammed. I always wanted it to be like that, like a kitchen party, but it wasn’t. We didn’t have a piano, but I would play the guitar. I would bring it to school and play it at school. The first time I really connected with anything was when a friend brought a Beatles record to school. He had the Beatles record called Oldies but Goldies, a collection that was only released in the U.K. It had Eleanor Rigby and I Wanna Hold Your Hand on it. I fell in love with it. It was The Beatles that spurred me to write songs. I hadn’t played guitar yet. I was around 8 or 9. I started writing songs and formed a group that played in front of the school, even before I got a guitar. It was the happiest time. I was writing songs about girls... who I’d never met, obviously...
I was just taking if from The Beatles!
Like I’ll Be Back or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, you know? I didn’t know who these girls were, but in a song you can say things like “I love you,” and “Won’t you come back to me?”
It goes without saying that your song writing is totally influenced by those early Beatles records, lyrically and structurally. But writing songs at 9? That’s amazing!
I have a tape of fifteen or sixteen songs that I made when I was 13. They’re childlike and I’m not sure they’re worthy of ever being released. But at least I did it.
So your role models were The Beatles.
I was as bit obsessed with them. At the time, I had nothing to compare it with, but all these years later, when I have lots to compare it with, it still holds up. You just can’t argue the quality of The Beatles. Top of The Pops was also a big part of my life, the show that played on television every Thursday night. It had everything on the show that was going on. When I was ten years old, I remember “Bohemian Rhapsody” being #1 for the longest time. I loved David Bowie, and Slade.
What was the first album you ever bought?
I bought singles, 45s. I bought Crocodile Rock by Elton John. I bought Dreadlock Holiday by 10CC. It was the number one song in England in ’78.
Had the disco thing happened in England yet?
It happened just as I was leaving. I was a big Donna Summer fan. As an adolescent boy, I loved Donna Summer. Love to Love You, Baby! I loved that. (laughs) And then we left for Canada. I lost momentum for writing songs then... being put in a different environment.
And you first landed in Montreal, before moving to Ottawa. And it was in Ottawa that you went to high school?
Yes, from Grade 9 to Grade 13.
And you formed a band?
When I was 18, I joined a new wave cover band. We played Tears for Fears and A Flock of Seagulls.
Did you have the hair?
Didn’t have the hair, no. One of the band members did, but I never did.
Of course you didn’t.
I never felt that connected to the 80s.
None of us did.
But some of us had to be. What is it about the 80s that we don’t want to take part in? I liked Tears for Fears and I listened to Duran Duran and all the hair bands, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
And all along, since you were 9, you were writing songs?
Coming to Canada slowed that down for a while. But then I started playing solo when I was 20 and something clicked, because I’m still doing it.
Did your band not leave a mark on the Ottawa scene? Especially after you released “The First”?
I played there for many years, probably 10 years. And I got a following. When email came along, I got everyone to write down their address on a list. By the time I released my first cd in 1998, I had several hundred people on the list, and then 500 people showed up at the release party. I took the cd to Majic 100 and CHEZ 106 where it got airplay. It was a real boost to my career, but hard to sustain. You’ve always got to be thinking of the next move.
So you decided to change cities?
I was trying to get work for the band in Toronto, where we made frequent trips. I thought if I get the opportunity, I would move here. After we did get to Toronto, we played places like Lee’s Palace and the El Mocambo, street festivals... and we got spots on Breakfast Television (BT).
|Greg Wyard at The Pour House, Toronto Oct 22, 2011|
Today is Jimmy McCulloch’s birthday (born June 4, 1953, died Sept 1979), the late Scottish guitarist who played with Paul McCartney and Wings. Venus and Mars is my favourite Wings album. What about you?
I do like that album, but my favourite is Ram. I can listen to it all the way through, and I always enjoy it. I like bits of Wildlife and Red Rose Speedway, but I can’t listen to them all the way through. I can listen to Band on the Run all the way through. Ram and Band on the Run are my favourites.
Speaking of albums from the 70s, we share a love of Jesus Christ Superstar.
You can recite all the lyrics, as can I.
Yes. “My mind is clearer now. At last, all too well, I can see where we all soon will be...”
(laughs) What a soundtrack. Almost everyone who loves it, can recite it.
It’s a script.
It’s a rock opera. But there are other great rock operas, like The Who’s “Tommy”. I know most of the lyrics from “Tommy”, but not like I do JCS.
I saw Evita, but I never put the time into it like I did with Jesus Christ Superstar.
I was born and raised a Catholic. I went to Catholic church until I was about 12 when my dad decided he wasn’t going anymore, so I stopped going too.
I am also a Catholic. But nothing the Catholic church ever portrayed to me was very interesting. But Jesus Christ Superstar is very interesting. It takes the story and puts it against a backdrop of rock music and fleshes out the characters as real people, who can sing. The biblical stories are just so wooden and uninteresting compared to that. I’m not saying it should replace the bible, but if you put music in liturgy you strike a better chord with people, and excite them. Reading and rote behaviour is not interesting to humans.
When I first heard Jesus Christ Superstar, yes, it excited me! I brought the album to school, to Grade 6 religion class. I also went to a Catholic school. I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to learn more about Pontius Pilate, Judas, Herod, and all the other characters in the story of Christ. Until I heard that album, I didn’t pay attention in religion class or church. Unless I was being scared into paying attention. In fact, I rebelled against it. I was quite rebellious in Catholic school. Did you have a similar experience? Was it the album that got you interested to know more about religion? Was it the album that got you askin’: “Who is this Pontius Pilate dude?”
I came to Jesus Christ Superstar knowing who all the characters were. I knew about Pontius Pilate from going to church. It was like going to the movies and already knowing all the characters. I didn’t need to have them explained to me. JCS made the characters a little more human and conveyed it through music, which is something I related to.
So unlike me, you paid attention in church. Another difference between you and me is that you’re into the brown album, and I’m into the blue. I’m a fan of Ted Neeley as Jesus.
I think Murray Head was the better Jesus.
(laughs) We will never come to an agreement on this.
I assume you’ve heard about the new stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Johnny Rotten cast as King Herod?
Yes, I was thinking of getting a ticket.
I would love to see Johnny Rotten play Herod. That is perfect casting!
I think so too.
But the entire tour has been cancelled, only days before it was to begin. Apparently due to a lack of ticket sales.
Is that right? I had no idea.
Johnny Rotten has been in the press blaming Michael Cohl, the promoter.
Weren’t they all superstar paycheques? They’d want to be paid. They were rehearsed and ready to start the tour?
Rehearsed, and ready to go. The tour was supposed to start this week.
Oh man. It was coming to the Air Canada Centre, right?
Yes. And Johnny Rotten holds Cohl responsible for the cancellation. For not having the human touch. Apparently Cohl never came ‘round to see anyone, so Johnny doesn’t trust him.
It’s a great musical, but the generation now doesn’t know it like they did thirty years ago.
And the ones that do know it, I’m not sure they would pay the price to see it in an arena.
I saw it in a theatre in London, when I still lived in England.
For me it was in Toronto in 1993, at the O’Keefe Centre.
So what was your first concert?
Really? Me too! I didn’t realize we had that in common.
At the Ottawa Civic Centre in 1981. Because I was a bass player growing up in Canada during the 80s, who could escape the influence of Geddy Lee? Every bass player had to outdo each other playing YYZ and Limelight, and I was one of them.
Was it primarily all about the bass, or was it the lyrics? I mean Neal Peart’s lyrics are amazing.
It was primarily because of the bass. But what I did like about Rush was that they didn’t do love songs. I thought that was pretty cool. At 16, I didn’t really know what they were singing about...
They were singing about trees Greg. Everybody knows that.
(laughs) All I knew was... it was cool to play.
When you first moved to Toronto, you released “Something I Made Up”?
I recorded it in Ottawa, and released it in Toronto. At the same time I worked a full-time job for a year and a half.
You did? Doing what, where?
Computer programming at IBM (laughs).
I can’t picture you in an office cubicle, sitting behind a computer all day. Did you enjoy it?
Not at all.
Were you good at it?
I wasn’t even good at it, no. It got me through a period until I was able to quit. I quit when I was preparing for the cd release of “Something I Made Up”, sending out invitations and all the other things that go along with that; the same things I’m doing now. Between ‘89 and ‘93, I went to McGill University and got a music degree. And in ’91, I got married. So a few things happened. The computer programming job got me through a time when I wasn’t playing a lot, but I couldn’t work as a musician, plan a cd party, and work a full-time job. It was an easy choice to let the day job go.
And you teach music too, right?
No, not really. I taught Jeanne’s daughter for two years. But not anymore.
No? I thought maybe you had 10 students that you taught regularly.
Some people love to teach, but I’m not one of them. I’m too impatient. I’d rather be playing.
So what was it that finally got you to release this new material?
I gave myself a deadline. I had all these songs kicking around that I was waiting for the perfect moment to record. A few months ago, I got a random email from a guy in Norway inviting me to go there and perform. But if I was going to go to Norway, I wanted to bring something new with me. So I set a deadline and forced myself to finish the songs. There were sleepless nights, but it got done. Doing something like that is really scary because you think oh my god, I should have waited longer and maybe done a better job. But if you keep waiting, you’ll never do it. It’s the same with the cd party at Hugh’s Room. I’ve booked it. Now I have to make it happen.
How did the Norway trip come to be exactly?
Somebody saw the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video I did on Youtube.
That’s such a great video. Based on that, you were invited to play in Norway? By who?
Yes. The person who sent the random email was Trond Betten. He did a budget for transportation and expenses, and hired me to play 5 gigs. Trond paid for everything, and I got paid for the gigs too.
How long did you go for?
Amazing. Does Trond Betten own all five places where you played?
Nope. He’s a musician himself who’s played in some of them. He showed my video to people. He sent out the promos, and negotiated a fee. He did all the groundwork for me. I couldn’t have done it myself. I couldn’t have just shown up in Norway and said “hire me.”
Do you have a motto that you live by?
Not a motto. I keep myself positive. I don’t get depressed for very long. I’m always upbeat because I really do think there’s something better that I haven’t done yet. I proved it to myself by doing this cd. I’m more interested in this cd than I am in the last one. I was proud of the last one at the time, but this new one has come along to replace it. And something else will come along to replace this one. I get satisfaction in life from writing songs and performing them.
What attributes do you think are most important to being successful?
Perfectionism not being present is good. Setting realistic deadlines. Accepting that not everything you do is going to be fantastic, but still continuing. Not taking criticism personally. Accepting that everybody will have a different opinion. I may think that the songs on this cd are great, but somebody else who hasn’t experienced quite the same thing, won’t get it. Or somebody who’s had a similar experience will get it, but to a bigger degree than I may have intended.
So you think just believing in yourself, trusting in yourself, and just putting it out there because you’re not going to please everybody...
When I did the second cd, I was a bit sensitive to criticism because I wanted everything to be great. With this one, I love to hear if somebody likes it, but I don’t feel the need to explain it if they don’t. It’s what I wanted to do. I’m confident in the work. Having said that, I’m still nervous to play these songs when I’m playing solo in bars. I think they need to be listened to, to get them. That’s why this cd release party will be great. I’ll have a captive audience in a quiet room where they can actually hear the words. The words are important because I’m not trying to hit you over the head with catchy hooks. I have a couple of hooks here and there, but you have to listen to the words to get the meaning. And that doesn’t always translate in a noisy bar.
I like this that I read about you: “For Wyard, melody is king.”
I bank melodies until I find a lyric that works with them. Beautiful Mystery is a good example. I had the entire melody for quite a while, and then I wrote the lyrics much later. They weren’t written at the same time, but they fit.
So you’re really a musician first, and a lyricist second.
Yea. I don’t go about writing books of poetry and then try to set them to music. It’s the other way ‘round. I have banks of tunes and then something will happen that I’ll feel like writing about. Then I’ll go through my list of melodies.
Would you say you write your best songs when you’re happy or when you’re sad?
I don’t think I can write anything when I’m sad.
I think I have to be happy. Even when I’m writing about something that’s sad, I have to be happy when I’m writing it. When I’m sad, I’m just too depressed. I don’t feel like doing anything.
But some of the best songs ever written come directly from being in pain.
I don’t think I’m one of those people. If I’m in pain, I don’t want to write.
Almost every great song is about heartbreak. There might be a happy, bouncy Hallmark greeting card beat on it, but you can bet that once you read the lyrics, nine times out of ten it will be about some sort of sad event.
Beautiful Mystery is actually a happy song that turned bad. The person it was written about ended the relationship shortly after I wrote the lyrics. But I completed the song when I was happy. I didn’t go back to it after she left me to write another verse to trash her. I like the pristine, happy state that it was written in. I captured the moment. And I left it like that.
What I love about your songs is the honesty. They don’t come across as happy, bouncy Hallmark greeting cards. You do capture the pain and torment of relationships. Yet they’re far from depressing. They’re not depressing at all. And they’re very personal, right?
Oh yea. My life is in all the songs, on all the cds.
I want to talk more about “The First”. It’s been re-recorded as a bonus track for the new cd. Why? I can’t really hear a difference.
There’s only a subtle difference. The song is in a particular time signature. It’s in 6/8. I put all these half bar measures in, here and there. And if I mapped out the number of bars on a piece of paper, you would see that it’s very asymmetrical. The structure has a lot of extra information in it. All I really did was cut out the extra information. I made 8 bar passages. So when it starts out, it’s a riff for 8 bars, and then the first verse for 8 bars, and then the second verse for 8 bars, and then the chorus. I took out bits between the chorus and the verse because it took too long to get from the chorus back to the verse again. The essence of the song is still there. I haven’t changed the melody at all. I’ve just taken out the time it takes to get from one section to the next. And the drums are a little more aggressive. It’s a different drummer on the new version.
Another big favourite of mine from the album “The First” is “Looking In From The Outside”. What a great song that is! “All these years of being back stage, looking in from the outside from a million miles away. Never got to turn the page. Looking in from the outside doesn’t leave you much to say, but knowing you were mine would have blown my mind...”
I’ve never done that song with live strings before. At the cd release party, I’ll have live strings playing that, and I can’t wait to hear it.
My favourite from the new record is “Make Up Your Mind”.
Is it really? I’m really glad you said that.
Because a few people have said that. Anju loves it. I think it’s the dark horse on the album. I personally think it’s the most interesting song. I’m curious to know what’s drawn you to the song?
When it first started to play, the first thing I noticed was the drum loop. And I liked it. It reminded me of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball. And I really liked being reminded of Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball. And then I heard the words. It was the words that made it an automatic favourite.
It’s my long-distance relationship song.
You are a master at writing great love songs Greg. “The First” is a song about being afraid to express your feelings, and trying to decide on being the first one to do just that. I think there’s some of that in all of the songs you write. Why is it so hard for people to express love? Why is it so easy for people to say “fuck you”? People can say “fuck you” at the drop of a hat, in a heartbeat, but “I love you”? No, that’s way too hard. They’re the three hardest words to say. And some people will go a lifetime without ever saying them.
When you say “fuck you,” you don’t care what the other person says. You’ve voided yourself from them. But when you say “I love you,” you need to be accepted.
So many people live in a world of deep-rooted fear.
If I feel that way about someone, and they don’t feel the same way back, I’m scared of hearing that, you know? “Make Up Your Mind” is about not being able to break up with somebody. It’s the opposite of “The First”. It’s not being able to say “I love you,” and not being able to say “I want to leave you.”
Yes! I get it! Thanks for explaining why these are now my two favourite songs of yours.
And you would not believe how long and drawn out my personal experience of all that was.
Oh, I believe it.
No one wanted to be the bigger person and step up, to end it. We just dragged it out. I’m addressing myself in the song. I’m calm in the beginning, right? But happiness seems to elude me. And then the loud bit is when I’m saying I’ve got to get my act together, you know? I’m talking like a crazy person. I want to be with her. I want to leave her. I’ve got to make up my mind!
So you let her go.
We let each other go. I tried to let her go, and she didn’t want it to happen. But then she ended up making the final decision.
Because it’s like listening to “Just Be You”, another favourite of mine from “Something I Made Up” when all of a sudden you get loud singing... “I’d go insane without you! Crazy without you!”
(laughs) That one is about crazy love. I’m crazy about her, and I’ll do anything to make it last forever. I’d go insane without her, but I’m not without her, so I’m okay. I’m taking a snapshot when everything’s great, and I want it to stay that way.
Even though you say you won’t tie her down. Whatever she dreams, she’s free to follow. But then you get loud again singing, “I’ll go insane without you! Crazy without you!”
(laughs) I contradict myself in the song, as people do in life.
And that’s why I love it. It’s a great snapshot of what love is really like. You really have a knack for writing a great, great love song. I can’t say that enough. Like “Leave It Like That”... “things this complicated never last...”
That’s a temptation song. An unobtainable person song. I’m playing the flirting game with somebody, but only in my head. Because if I actually went through with it, the consequences would not be good.
So that’s what you mean by “The dream is better than the real thing, so leave it like that...”
The dream is better than all the heartache that would happen if we went through with it.
But sometimes love is so blind. You think you’re really living the dream. When it all falls apart, you realize it obviously wasn’t your dream, and you wish you’d just kept it in your head. Why did I have to go and get that close to the dream, only to find out it’s not. The line “If ignorance is bliss, than I’m a happy guy” also struck a chord in me.
Not knowing how good it could be, I don’t have to worry about it. If I found out what it was like to be with her, and then couldn’t have her... that’s worse.
And what about these people who go around telling other people “You should just be happy with what you’ve got. You should just be happy all the time?”
Well no, you can’t manufacture it. I’ve been unhappy. Pretty much all of 2012, I was miserable. I was in relationships with people who were bad for me. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t finishing songs. I was lucky to meet Anju. But I made this happen myself (the cd). And this has made me happy. I did have it in my control to make myself happy, with this.
Because happiness isn’t all about having a significant other. What it takes to make people happy changes all the time. Happiness is temporary. Some people can only be truly happy when they do good work. When they contribute something to the world that has value, and lasts. Show me something in today’s world, especially in today’s world, built to last.
I was single for a long time and I enjoyed some parts of it. But I was too open and vulnerable to being led somewhere I didn’t want to go. I’d get connected to someone who wasn’t real. Now I’m with someone who I feel is real, so all that is taken out of the equation. The person you are with should protect you from all the people you don’t want to be with.
When I first heard the song “There Will Be No Encore”, my immediate thought was: Greg’s getting tired of playing the bars! I’ve seen you put up with a lot as a solo performer in bars, so I completely understand if you are.
Most places that I play are very respectful. I’ve been lucky. I’ve never really been heckled or disrespected. But there was this gig in New Zealand. Nothing against New Zealand, but this one particular bar happened to be in New Zealand. I walked in and there were a bunch of working-class guys in there who’d been drinking all day long. They just wanted to watch sports, so I played the first set to nobody. Until all these wheelchairs came in. All these disabled children came in. They started moving to the music and I thought well, at least somebody’s listening to the music! Turned out they were having a little outing, but they didn’t stay long. And it was the only time during the night I was actually appreciated. After they left, it was back to playing to the-bar-who-couldn’t-care-less. Somebody got up and fell over because they were so drunk. And the woman who ran the place came over and made advances. She was drunk. At the end of the night, I just wanted to go. Then they were like, “Play one more!” I thought... I’ve got to write a song about this. The line that kept coming to me was... “Dirty floors, dirty jeans. Dirty tackles on the tv screen.”
Any real musician who hears this song would instantly relate.
There’s a Blue Rodeo song called “What Am I Doing Here?” which is in a similar vein. But I don’t know too many other songs that put the first person in the room. I hope it comes across as a bit of light jibing. It’s not meant to be mean, or to attack anybody. It was a matter of “What am I doing here? I must be paying my dues.” It was my way of telling myself it’s okay. Goodnight, it’s time to clear the floor. There’ll be no encore.
But are you getting tired of playing the bars?
As long as I have a captive audience, I enjoy it. I had a great night last Saturday. The first set was great. The second set, nobody was clapping, and again I thought, “What am I doing here?” So I decided to play “There’ll Be No Encore.” I thought, screw you guys (laughs), I’m going to play my anti-bar room song! You won’t care, you’re not listening anyway. As soon as I finished it, I don’t know if they heard the words, but suddenly a group of people yelled out, “Yea! You sound great!” And then from that point, it took off again. Once I had the crowd again, I was in. If I have the crowd in my space, I can do this forever.
I’ve seen you play many, many times. I’ve seen you capture audiences. I’ve seen you play every request yelled out. And I mean every request. I’ve seen you create a rowdy dance floor. I’ve seen you move people to send up glasses of beer from the bar to the stage, and your performances are always, always entertaining.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s a list circulating with the ten things you should never do at a live gig. I can’t remember the order of them, but one of them is: “Never say sorry, I forgot the words”. Or, “Never say how do we sound out there?” Or, “You guys suck”. Or, “Your city sucks”. Or “This is a song about my dead grandma, love you grandma”. Or “This song is about my girlfriend”.
How many on the list have you said?
I’ve probably said 6 out of 10!
I’m thinking of bringing the list to the cd release party. And saying some of them.
What advice would you give up-and-coming musicians?
It would be the same advice I wish people gave me. It’s hard because there are so many factors that determine whether you’ll be successful. Do you have raw talent? On top of that, do you have the determination? Do you have the ability to deflect bad press? I always thought I was good enough, but I think my failing was believing my parents knew better. If you really believe, especially when you’re young, that you should get out and try something, then you should. Don’t worry about making mistakes. You’re young, you’ll bounce back. When I was young, I was so worried about messing up. I didn’t do things that I could have.
You didn’t take too many chances?
I take more chances now that I’m older. Like going to Norway. I would never have done that when I was seventeen or eighteen. That would have been outrageous. My parents would have thought I was crazy. If your gut tells you to do something, don’t think by not doing it, it’s non-conformist. Or just because your parents won’t like it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Be rebellious. I was the guy who went by all the rules. That’s my regret. I wish I’d been more rebellious.
Don’t miss Greg Wyard with his ten-piece band at Hugh’s Room in Toronto, June 24th, presented by Jeanne Beker.
Watch Greg Wyard perform “The First”...
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Photo of Greg Wyard at The Pour House courtesy of Live Music Head