WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. For people who are regularly listeners to the show, I think you have an idea of sort of the wide range of genres that I like to talk about on the podcast. And, I mean, I have my favorite genres, of course, and I often get a lot of artists in those areas. But one of the cool things about doing the show for as long as I have is it lets me reach out into some genres of music that I haven't really delved into that much. And one of those, maybe surprisingly, is pop. I mean, I listen to a lot of different stuff, but pop really has never been one of sort of my genres of choice. So it's one of the things I've sort of developed more of an interest in and more kind of knowledge of it just through the course of doing the podcast. But the guest on this episode is someone who definitely has a lot of pop in his sound. And I think that the best way to start this off is if you want to just introduce yourself and give bit of background about what you do as an artist.
GARRETT NEILES: Yeah, well, thanks for having me on the show here, Sam. My name is Garrett Neiles, and I am a Winnipeg born pop rock artist.
Born and raised in Winnipeg. Lived there for 30 years of my life and just recently moved out here to Toronto, but definitely excited to kind of chat about the experience that I had in the music industry in Winnipeg, which was phenomenal, and kind of share some of the cool stories of how I got into it in a relatively smaller pop market, which is Winnipeg.
WR: Well, and I think that's part of what I was just saying, too, is that one of the reasons that pop has never really been that much on my radar other than just sort of knowing the big mainstream pop hits just through osmosis, but is because Winnipeg doesn't really have that much of a pop scene. I mean, stuff like country and folk and punk rock and metal, a lot of these genres are huge in Winnipeg, but just kind of more straight ahead pop music, it seems like there isn't really much of a scene for it. So is that part of the reason you moved to?
GN: Definitely. And I think that if you look back historically on some of the bigger pop rock acts that have come out of Canada or Winnipeg specifically, I'd even consider something like Burton Cummings and the Guess Who, that is popular rock, that is commercial rock there. And obviously they cut their teeth starting in Winnipeg, but they had to go to where their market was. And not that there isn't a pop rock market in as. It's not as present as like a Toronto or a Montreal.
GN: And certainly that was kind of the reasoning behind my move out here, is to continue to build a fan base out here, start spreading throughout Canada and take it to the next level, Nashville, LA type.
WR: So what sort of prompted the decision to move out there? Because, like you said, you were born and raised in Winnipeg, spent, obviously, most of your life here. What sort of was the spark to say, finally, I'm going to Toronto, this is what's happening?
GN: Yeah, man. So that's a great question. So, just to give you kind of a background on things, I did the scene in Winnipeg for, I'd say, probably 10-12 years, just playing five, six, seven nights a week at every bar, every private party that you could possibly do. And through it all, even playing covers, was able to build a pretty solid fan base and following, and more so importantly, relationships, friends and people that I'd never meet if I wasn't doing what I was doing. And that all kind of culminated at I put on an EP release show at Park Theater last November, and that was kind of the big coming out party in Winnipeg in playing my original music on the grand stage. And we actually sold it out, which was a pretty cool thing for a first time EP release. And at that point, as much as Winnipeg will always be home and it’s always going to feel like coming home, playing those big shows in Winnipeg. At that point, I knew that I wanted to create something like I had in Winnipeg out in a much more saturated pop rock market like Toronto.
WR: Is there a big learning curve to coming to somewhere like Toronto and basically starting from scratch? Like you said, you've built up an audience in Winnipeg. People had an idea of who you were, what you did, just over that kind of relentless playing shows.
WR: And now you're here and did you have to start from zero or did you already have some ins in Toronto as far as those relationships, like you mentioned?
GN: Yeah, no, good question. Yeah. So there definitely is and continues to be a learning curve with, I think something as simple as just the pace out here in Toronto. And just the way that you have to be able to move at a certain pace is a learning curve.
The industry is a little bit different out here as well.
It's interesting in Winnipeg, you can kind of get away with playing every week, know, once a month.
Out here you kind of see more acts like that are keeping the bullet in the you know, they play once a year or maybe twice a year and then go take the show outwards at the different little districts of Ontario. So it's a really cool thing to kind of navigate. But to answer your second question yeah, it is like starting, you know, the first three, four months since I moved out here was basically just cold reaching out to people and trying to form some networks and just trying to find my way into the music community.
And I think that as much as I don't want to downplay just being a genuine good person and somebody that's fun to be around, because that is really important and that's the most important piece. But I think having an actual ability to navigate your way around a studio and be able to carry a tune, being refined with your craft goes a long way out here too.
Talent sees talent, or game respects game, however you want to put it. And there's nothing more true than that than out here in Toronto, for sure.
People won't have a lot of time with you if you're kind of faking it out here, you know what mean? Like, you got to know what you're doing. And that's definitely been a big learning curve. It's definitely motivated me to double down on everything that I'm doing to make sure that I'm at the top of my game.
WR: Yeah. Do you feel like you're there yet or do you feel like there's still some steps to climb to be at the top of your game?
GN: I don't think I'm the type of person… I'll never feel like I'm there, but that's the fun in it. I really find even little things. Like my girlfriend out here is a classically trained singer and a really great musician. And she's kind of developed these vocal exercises that I now have on my voice notes. And every day for half an hour, just whether it's in transit to work or wherever, I can it's every single day doing these little vocal exercises.
To really create that muscle memory. And then as much studio time I can get or as much time I can spend in my own studio. Recording, producing, just refining the skills. Those are all things that I put into my daily schedule every single day. So that it's. The consistency.
That's how you're going to play the long game, right?
GN: I've just found that that's helped me level up so much as an artist. It's just making it every single day. Habits, no matter how shitty I feel or however bad I want to do anything but that, it's just like, no, just do it. That's how you're going to find your way in this city.
WR: Has living in Toronto… I know. It's a relatively new thing, right? Like you said, it wasn't that long ago that you moved, but has it had a noticeable impact on your songwriting or on just sort of how you approach music? Just being in a different community, being in a different situation again, where you're starting off sort of from scratch and new people, new places?
GN: Yeah. I can't really say whether it's the environment or just myself as a person, that's kind of changing, but I'd like to think that you're a function of your environment. Right. And I think getting outside of that circumference of area where you're so close to your parents and friends and that comfort, that safety net, that's so great. But pushing outside those boundaries has really changed me as a person. It's forced me to figure things out, become a problem solver. And I definitely think that that's bled into my songwriting and just experimentality with the music, whereas in previous years and even the stuff up to now, I'm very proud of it. But I look back and it's like, okay, this is a great foundational piece, but it's in the box.
I think there's places where I played it safe.
And now we're kind of getting to a point with the music that I'm really excited about some of these new pieces that are going to be coming out in 2024 because they're very experimental while still carrying that pop rock DNA and that commerciality to it. And it's just a really exciting kind of venture for me to be in.
WR: How do you balance that? Because, I mean, usually experimental and commercial are two words that really kind of clash, right? They don't seem to go together very well. So how do you sort of have an equal measure of that pop rock DNA like you said, and then also being able to experiment and try new things that maybe are outside of your comfort zone or aren't as safe as what you were doing here in Winnipeg, right?
GN: So I always kind of like to look at it from the listener standpoint of the, for lack of a better term, uneducated musical ear, which we all were at some point, we all had to ourselves. So I go back to when was the most enjoyable time for me listening to music from a pure listenership standpoint. And that was when I was young, didn't know anything about production, chord structures, whatever. I wasn't analyzing anything. I like to kind of write my songs from that point of view of what makes sense to 99% of the listeners out there.
Let's not try and confuse them with breaking into different time signatures or throwing in some sort of dissonant chord that's going to be perceivably to their ear out of sort to the rest of the picture. So I like to, from a songwriting standpoint, starting out with the song Keep It Simple.
Does it pass the campfire test? Is it something that you can remember on first listen? That's really important to me. And I think that that starts to formulate the DNA of a good pop song, something that's repeatable, easy to remember, relatable. Then when we take that formula, start to throw it into the daw or whatever you're working in, that's where I'm talking about getting more experimental is like, okay, where can we take this in terms of sound, sonic atmosphere, different instruments, even playing different parts that I've never had in songs?
And how can we really take this to a new level of excitement where things are happening, maybe not up front in the music where you can even detect it, but things are happening that are just creating this world that the listener can now enter into. And those were the worlds that I used to live in when I first started music. So I think it's more experimental from a sonic atmosphere.
WR: Well, I think that's an interesting way of looking at experimental, too, because, yeah, I think a lot of people hear experimental and they do think dissonant chords or some kind of weird time signature is happening. But again, you're playing pop rock. You're playing music that has that sort of universal appeal.
WR: So you don't want to get too crazy with having a discordant sax solo in the middle of a song and then, like, someone breaking a plate in front of the mic.
But I like what you said about the campfire test. Is that sort of how you write your songs? Like, do you write very stripped down something that can be played on an acoustic guitar at a campfire?
GN: Yeah, it depends.
I don't have a specific formula of how I write songs, to be quite frank. Every single song I've written has started almost with a different structure of how I approach it. But for the most part, the majority of my writing is done on an acoustic guitar and singing.
So, yeah, when I say campfire test, the thing that I really always go back to is, can somebody repeat that back, or can somebody whistle that hook or that part back to you and can they remember it after the first listen? There's so many great songs of all time that don't have anything necessarily special about the songwriting or the production nature, like trying to think of a current song, like something like Watermelon Sugar it's it's it's a great song, don't get me wrong. But there's nothing so fantastic about the vocals or lyrics, like an Adele type thing, but yet you remember exactly what those words are to the chorus.
And to me, that's a really big thing, is are people catching on with this and are they remembering this from first listen?
To me, it's all kind of related back to the live show. When I play live, I want everybody singing those words back, and I want that crowd participation. It's the most important thing for me as an artist, is the live element, and that just comes from 15 years of playing countless shows live. It's an infectious energy that you really can't or I haven't been able to recreate through anything else I do. And I find that it's my greatest skill, is creating that energy through live performance in that community.
WR: Is part of that repeatability. And making those songs that you want people to sing sing back to you and sing a sing along with is part of that. Keeping things simple. I mean, keeping things relatively stripped down and not basic because you can have pop songs that definitely have a level of complexity, but just focusing on the hook rather than focusing on sort of any kind of virtuosic instrumentation or anything like that.
GN: Yeah, well, first of all, I'm not a virtuosic instrumentalist.
WR: You know what I mean, though, right?
GN. There’s this great quote, actually, from Ryan Tedder, who's one of my favourites from the industry. He's One Republic's lead singer and just a brilliant songwriter. He's written so many great hits, but he said something to the tune of like, You Have to Suck Just Enough, and that really resonated with me.
There is a brilliance in simplicity and not overcomplicating things. And having those big musical tangents, to me, it's like the best way to explain somebody to somebody is to explain it like you're explaining it to a seven year old. So how can I explain my song to a listener like a seven year old's listening?
And if it sounds kind of counterintuitive to the whole maturity and depth behind songwriting, but can you create something that has depth, but yet a seven year old can understand it? Is the juxtaposition there?
WR: Yeah, no, definitely. I know what you mean by that. I think a great example of that is the Ramones. My kids love the Ramones. I love the Ramones. And when they were, like, five years old, I would play them the first album and they would sing along to every song immediately. Like, in the car, give it, like, five minutes and they're singing along to everything on the record. And it's because yeah, it's simple. It sticks in your head. And some of the songs are deeper when you think about it. But it's that kind of chorus and repeating and three chords and the truth kind of thing that it works for adults and kids alike.
GN: Well, Blitzkrieg Bop’s like one of the finest examples.
You won't get much better of a hook than Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!
GN: I'm sure any seven year old after hearing that the first time is going to be yelling out. That when it comes along next. But meanwhile, the song is about war and invasion.
It's an incredibly deep song, but it comes with a lot of experience in songwriting to be able to do that. And that's what gets me back to that consistency thing, is like, you really can't teach those types of things. Doesn't matter how much talent you're born with. Like, you can get a head start, obviously, with talent, but you only develop that kind of knowledge and those kind of instincts by just doing it and doing it every day. Right.
WR: Well, then it becomes that muscle memory for songwriting as well as playing.
WR: Because you know instinctively what's going to work and how to make a hook and what's going to stick in people's heads. Because, like you said, practice makes perfect.
GN: Yeah, well, and even now, I used to be a very quick writer, and I thought that I had this natural gift, like it would just flow out onto paper.
As I started to progress down the songwriting path, I started to develop a little bit more of a filter for what was good and what was shit. And it started to slow down my writing a little bit.
And I had to kind of look at things and be like, okay. It’s a nice piece of writing, but it has no structure and it has no hook. So now things are kind of coming full circle where now I have that filter and I'm getting quicker with things. And I do think that that is a good place to be in, to be able to have that filter, but to be able to quickly move to the next place that you need to get to. I don't like sitting and swelling on things for too long.
I like to move on to perhaps different part of the song or a different part of the story if we're stuck on one part. And the other big thing that I would say to younger upcoming artists is finish everything.
Unless, you know, it's a total red flag disaster. But rarely are those the cases. I think my best songs have been recycled parts from other songs. So finish everything. Document it voice, note it on your phone, write the lyrics in a Google document, save all your songs. Because I guarantee you, you're going to go into a songwriting session one day with nothing, and you're going to open up a Google document and you're going to go, what are we writing about today? And then you're going to go, oh, yeah, I have that song that know, recorded from three months ago that I love the bridge to. Why don't we try that as a course type of thing?
That is literally how I write, is trying to make use of everything that I've done and documenting everything I've done.
WR: If someone wants to hear your music, I mean, say someone's listening to this and this is their first introduction to you. They might be from Winnipeg, they might have seen you play before, or it could be someone who's just hearing for the first time what's the best way to find your music? What would you encourage people to check out as far as your music?
GN: Yeah. So whatever their favorite streaming platform is, so the songs are on all the DSPs, so if you're a Spotify person or if you're an Apple Music person, you can just find it under Garrett Neiles. The one thing I am big on is music videos. So if you do want to check out the visuals, if you're that MTV much music era person like I am, I still love the music video and I try and create as much visual content for everyone that I can. So you can check me out on YouTube as well. That's a really cool platform to check out the live performances as well as music videos for the songs.
WR: Well, and I know you're in Toronto now and most of the people listening listen are, I'm assuming anyway, in Manitoba, because it's a Manitoba focused show. But where can someone go to find out more information about potential shows you have coming up or even more importantly, new music that's coming out. Like you said, you have things for 2024 that you are working on. What's the best way to follow you online and find out what's new in your world?
GN: So I actually have a big EP release show coming up on November 16 at the Park Theatre.
WR: Okay, so you're back. You're back in town.
GN: Yeah, back in town in Winnipeg at the legendary Park Theatre. So excited to be back there. We've got an all star band coming on a couple winnipeg absolute All Stars. Cam Cordova is on drums, Jace Bodner on guitar, and Tyler Wagar on bass. Guys are absolute monsters. We got the King's Way opening up, and we're actually closing out the night with a cover band that I play in called The Specialists.
It's so much fun.
If you want to come check out the show. It's November 16 at the Park Theater, and you can find all the information for the show through my Instagram or the Park Theater's website. There's an eventbrite link, and the best way to find out is just follow along on Instagram. I post everywhere that we're playing and shoot me a message. DM me. I love responding and having conversation with new friends, new fans, and talking about the music or talking about upcoming shows.