If you don’t immediately recognize Patrick Ballantyne’s name, you likely know his work. As a “songwriter’s songwriter,” the Toronto-based Ballantyne has lent his natural talent for hooks and lyrics to artists such as The Trews, Big Sugar and Tim Chaisson, helping to create a formidable catalogue of radio staples over the past two decades.
However, it wasn’t until 2008 that Ballantyne began releasing music under his own name. Now, with his third album Calendar (available via Northwood Records), he proves definitively that he belongs in any conversation about Canada’s great contemporary singer/songwriters.
The concept behind Calendar grew out of Ballantyne’s tireless craftsmanship; in 2015 he embarked on a personal challenge to write and record a new song from scratch each month. When revisiting his output the following year, he recognized how these tracks could be brought together as an album.
With sounds encompassing everything from pop to Americana to psychedelia, Calendar presents the most well-rounded picture of Ballantyne’s skills to date, all tied together by his honest, and often heartbreaking storytelling ability.
Calendar’s most personal moments are contained on the tracks “Close Your Eyes” and “Plans,” both written in tribute to a friend who died young, with the latter featuring a guest appearance by Ballantyne’s longtime associate, Kelly Hoppe of Big Sugar. Overall, though, the album showcases Ballantyne’s musical evolution since his formative years growing up in Windsor, Ontario, and absorbing the Beatles and Stones’ mid-1960s output, along with the songs of Jimmy Webb.
Patrick Ballantyne plays Windsor’s Phog Lounge on Nov. 9 with special guests the Oh Chays. For more info on the show, as well as Calendar, go to patrickballantyne.com.
What makes Calendar stand apart from your previous work?
Calendar is made up of songs initially recorded during my “Hit-a-Month” project in 2015. As a bit of an alcohol-inspired challenge, we wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered a song every month for most of a year.The discipline and focus required were intense, and I was pretty proud of the results. That said, there were numerous things I let slip by in haste that I've now had time to address. I also finished the song “Plans,” one that was initially intended for the Series. Calendar is the result, and I think it holds together very well as an album, rather than a series of individual tracks.
What songs on the album best capture your current musical vision?
Both “Fore the Harvest Comes” and “Mirror Mirror” reflect a desire to write and record what I hear in my head, rather than deliberately trying to write a “hit.” They are a bit more self-indulgent, perhaps, but they reflect my vision pretty accurately—or at least my vision at the time they were recorded! “My Excellent Boy” is a bit more straightforward, by comparison, and it is a homage to some of my favourite artists and writers… Beatles, Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, David Bowie.
How do you approach writing songs with other artists as opposed to writing songs for yourself?
I tend to be less concerned about commerciality when I’m writing alone. When co-writing, we are usually hoping to write songs that a lot of folks will love and want to own. When I’m alone, I’m just painting pictures in the basement studio, not expecting a whole lot of people to pop down and see them! I guess it’s a more pure form of self-expression.
What's been the most significant change in your life in the past year?
While music is my main passion, it is not my only focus. I have a busy day job, a young daughter and a wife. I’m also serving as Chair of the Songwriters Association of Canada, an advocacy group for the rights of music creators. So, to answer your question, having even LESS time for writing music has been the biggest change. And the biggest challenge. But I’m determined to keep at it. Honestly, I don’t know how NOT to.
If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?
Creators’ work is simply not valued properly in the modern world of streaming and YouTube. In fact, it is grossly undervalued. Without casting blame on anyone, in particular, the value chain simply does not accurately reflect the massive contribution of songwriters. It’s a fierce battle, but we will keep fighting!