From Passive to Passionate

How E.T. the Extra Terrestrial changed the way Haley Blais experiences and consumes art.

I think fondly on the days I was fueled by instinct rather than passion. I’ve met a lot of artists who’ve said they make art because they “have to” or they’ll “die.” You always hear that; they’re beings of impetuous passion. Being a musician or a songwriter was an identifier for me, I looked at it logically and rationally and followed my gut telling me “this is what you do.” I remember listening to music and appreciating it, but never using it as a tool to further my craft, to dissect and analyze what makes it great, what went into producing it, who wrote it? How? It’s embarrassing to admit, being a musician, and never having that “aha!” moment with an album or song, obsessing over one artist and collecting their discography. For Phoebe Bridgers, it was Elliott Smith. For me, it was much later, after a rewatch of a Steven Spielberg film. Whatever the reason, it collectively influenced me over the last five years to be passionate about the art I was so used to passively consuming. The fondness I have for the years I lived quietly and contently in my naïveté can be compared to hearing your grandparents reminisce on the good old days, before everything became so fucking complicated.

I rewatched E.T. the Extra Terrestrial the year I moved out of my parents’ house. I was 21 and, unless I’m remembering this incorrectly, an idiot. I say rewatched because obviously I watched it a few times as a kid, but this time really felt like the first time. I was young and vulnerable, looking for something to cling on to for dear life, and let’s just say I’m now the girl in the bar drunkenly telling you that it “really holds up!” while probably wearing my E.T. t-shirt, swinging my E.T. keychain, and maybe you’ll come over and we’ll listen to the E.T. soundtrack on vinyl and I’ll show you my E.T. figurines while gingerly caressing my signed Henry Thomas photograph. At 21 I finally felt real passion about something for the first time in my life. 

To be honest, it’s really brave of me to admit I had never personally felt passion until I rewatched a children’s movie about a boy befriending a botanist from outer space and I think we should all acknowledge that. But I digress. 

Would I say E.T. influenced the way I make music? Or listen to it? Does it matter? Is it the feeling of passion that drives the artist or is it the art itself? In obsessing, for lack of a better term, over this movie I learned how to be passionate, and that in turn changed the way I experience music to this day. I can again bravely announce a piece of music had never made me cry until after I watched E.T. (“Sister” by Angel Olsen), had never appreciated a god damn bass line until after I watched E.T. (“You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon), and never once had the desire to make music and write songs so badly or else I’ll die until after I watched E.T.. It was a catalyst that I’ll be forever grateful for, that I’ll continue to reference and use as a muse for a long time.

In fact, my latest single, “Rob the Original” derives from a Spielberg quote I found on the E.T. Wiki page I occasionally peruse for inspiration, and a series of demos I released in 2017 titled Zero Charisma is a direct quote from the film. My tattoo, a hastily stick-and-poked handwritten “be good” on my arm reminds me.

When I read the book The Pigman by Paul Zindel, a similar thing happened: a fire was lit under my ass. I moved to L.A. (for three months, but it still counts) intent on making it a movie. Nothing happened, of course, I’m not a movie producer and don’t know the first thing about it, but instead I wrote a shit ton of songs. I truly believe every song anyone has ever heard of mine or that exists in the ether today exists because of these two forms of media.

Haley Blais is a Vancouver based singer-songwriter/musician. She’s been DIY-ing it since 2014, turning out song after song of defiant scream-into-your-pillow bedroom pop anthems. Since the success of her 2018 EP Let Yourself Go, Haley has organically earned a considerable online reputation for her self-deprecating, self-loving balladry sung out in operatic crescendos. 2020 sees the release of highly awaited debut Below the Salt via Tiny Kingdom Music.

(Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott)