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Music Interview: Jerry Leger

Music Interview: Jerry Leger

Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger is a voracious collector of vinyl records. When I spoke to him on his last UK tour, ahead of a gig with his band, The Situation, in East London, he told me: “When I get into a record, I dissect it – I listen very closely to it and it means something to me. Over a beer, I can talk all night about music I love.”

His new record, Time Out For Tomorrow, has been heavily influenced by two albums that he adores – Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird. “Coney Island Baby was the first solo Lou Reed record I heard. I think it was my brother, Shawn, who bought it at a garage sale or something. I was still pretty young, maybe 14 or so. I had got into The Velvet Underground a couple of years earlier,” he says.

“It’s an album that has always stuck with me. It’s not trying to prove anything – it’s there to discover. I love the production, especially the drum sound, which is what I really wanted on this record.”

He adds: “Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird is just a beauty of an album. It has a wonderful bright sound to it. I get the same feeling listening to an Everly Brothers or Jack Scott record. 

“Have you ever listened to Jack Scott? He was one of the first Canadian rock ‘n’ rollers to break through abroad and he’s one of my dad’s favourite singers. I suppose he influenced me to some degree. I know my parents did, musically. They have great taste in music. When my parents like my album, then I know I’ve made a good one.”

Image by Laura Proctor

Time Out For Tomorrow – the ninth studio album by Toronto-based Leger – should meet with his parents’ approval. It’s a brilliant record – from the Dylanesque country-rock of first single ‘Canvas of Gold’, to the melancholy, piano-led ballad ‘That Ain’t Here’, the blues-folk of ‘Burchell Lake’ – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting mountain tune, ‘Survived Like A Stone’ – with fiddle and saw – these are raw, powerful and emotional songs that deserve to be heard by a much wider audience.

Through a gruelling touring schedule, Leger has slowly started to build up a following in the UK and Europe. In spring 2019, he released a limited edition, retrospective compilation album, called Too Broke To Die, which was put together especially for the European market and was available to buy from his merchandise stall. 

Six months after our first meeting in London, I caught up with him again to talk about the making of his latest album and find out more about the influences behind it…

SH: Could Time Out For Tomorrow be the your ‘breakout’ album?

JL: I hope it does – just to make it easier to keep travelling and making albums. I certainly think that there are enough people that would dig it to make that happen, but it’s hard these days. Once upon a time the music would come to them, now they gotta dig for it, unless there’s a lot of money behind it, pushing it. We’ll definitely be back [in the UK and Europe] in the spring. We’re just starting to figure that out. I’m really looking forward to it.

2018’s Nonsense and Heartache, was a double album – the first half had a raw, electric, blues feel, but the second half was much more stripped-down and alt-country. The new album feels less bluesy and more Americana… 

Yeah – that’s a fair comment. I think the Nonsense portion of Nonsense and Heartache was basically a blues record. It’s just where I was at for those sessions. They’re all kind of blues records, but this one swings more.

With 10 tracks, it feels very direct – it doesn’t mess around…

The last record was a double because we were making two very different records at the same time. [Producer] Michael Timmins said, “why don’t we just release them together under the same roof?” I knew this one was gonna be a single album and I wanted it to be short and sweet – to say what it needs to say and then move on to the next thing.

Some of my favourite albums are doubles for the reason that the artists do it because they need to let it all out at that moment, for better or worse. On the other hand, some of my favourite albums are the ones where they’re there and then they’re gone – just like some of the best memories you have. You get a natural high and all you wanna do is re-live it. I wanted to make a record like that – that made you feel good.

Your basic band set-up on this album is very mid‑‘60s Bob Dylan…

Bob Dylan has influenced everything and everyone, whether they like it or not. As Warren Zevon once said, ‘He invented my job.’ Having said that, it wasn’t anything intentional. We just have a good buddy, Alan Zemaitis, who plays the organ like you’ve never heard. He recently played with Buddy Guy in Chicago, and Buddy gave him the nod and thumbs up. I really wanted him as part of the family on this record.

 

How were the recording sessions? 

Smooth and quick. It basically took a week, but a few tunes were recorded during the rehearsals and they ended up as final takes. Unlike the other records, the band and I met up more to try out different arrangements of the tunes or hammer out parts that we really dug. There was still spontaneity and some songs were re-arranged on the fly, but we definitely took more time finding the world each song lived in. We recorded it at the Cowboy Junkies’ studio, The Hangar, in Toronto.

What’s Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) like to work with?

He doesn’t interfere, but he’ll suggest things when he feels like he needs to. A lot of times he’s right. I trust him. There are only a handful of people that I really trust with my music. I think this record is the closest sound-wise that I’ve ever got to what’s in my head. You can never get there 100%, but I’m very proud of it.

Did you have many songs left over from the album sessions? 

Yeah – every record has that. Sometimes the best song is dropped because it just doesn’t fit. This record had about eight or nine other tunes that didn’t make the cut. They were some of my favourites, but I trusted the vision of the album. 

Are all the songs on Time Out For Tomorrow new, or do some date from a while back?

There was just one song, ‘Tell A Lie’ that we recorded for the last album. I knew it didn’t fit, but I also knew that it had something – a great chorus and feel, so we re-recorded it for Time Out For Tomorrow. The rest of the songs were new. I wrote ‘Canvas of Gold’ days before we started recording.

The title of the new album is taken from a ‘60s dime store collection of sci-fi short stories that a friend gave you. Why and how did that inspire you and why did you feel it summed up the record?

I just couldn’t get the title out of my head. It seemed to make sense to me for this record. Sometimes I know exactly what it means and sometimes I think it could be something else. I dig that.

The first song on the record – and also the first single – is ‘Canvas of Gold’. Is the song autobiographical?

Well, my dad had a rough upbringing – not a lot of money in a very full house in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He always worked very hard – he did a few jobs to make sure that we didn’t grow up the same way. His work ethic is still inspiring to me. He always had pride in what he was doing. My Dad was no sell-out. 

As a full-time musician trying to earn a living, do you feel like a hustler?

Yeah. Life is a hustle for people that don’t rely on luck, or rely on someone to create the illusion for them.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Burchell Lake’, which was written about a ghost town in Ontario. Can you tell me more about the song?

I read about Burchell Lake in a book on ghost towns, which was written by Ron Brown. The gas station was still there, with some products left behind on the shelves, a row of houses, a general store… I wrote the song in five or 10 minutes. ‘Burchell Lake’ just seemed like a song that needed to be around. 

The song ‘Survived Like A Stone’ has a folk feel to it and a fiddle and a saw on it. It has an eerie and dark atmosphere, and sounds like a mountain ballad… 

I wrote it on piano, but it felt better on guitar. I pictured it in an old Western film – coming off the mountains. That’s why the choruses have that atmosphere to them. Once Upon A Time In The West is one of my favourite movies and I love Ennio Morricone’s scores. I really like the words to ‘Survived Like A Stone’. I thought it was a cool idea – stones and rocks, some have been here forever and we come and go. There are spirits in those stones…

Would you say this album is more personal than some of your other records? It feels like it is…

I think they all have a degree of that. It’s intertwined with make believe and random thoughts, too. 

What music are you currently enjoying? You’re a big record collector. Have you bought any vinyl recently?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Butch Hancock. I finally got my hands on a few of his albums – they’re not easy to find. I was in Newfoundland recently and picked up an album by a legendary artist from there named Ron Hynes. When you get a chance, check out a song called ‘1962’. It’s beautiful.

Image by Laura Proctor

If you could get some ‘time out for tomorrow’, what would you do?

Probably just write more songs, or maybe try and write and direct a good, old haunted house movie. Something that is simple and creepy. I hope that someday someone asks me to write music for a spooky film. 

Time Out For Tomorrow by Jerry Leger is out now on Latent Recordings. https://jerryleger.com

All images by Laura Proctor

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