Canadian singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, has described his latest album, Nothing Pressing, as his ‘deepest artistic statement yet’.
It’s also one of his strongest and darkest records. Largely written and recorded in the wake of a close friend’s death and with the shadow of Covid hanging over it, Leger says it’s an album about survival – mental, physical and artistic.
Some of the songs, like the stark, stripped-down and folky Underground Blues and Sinking In, were recorded in his Toronto apartment, using two SM58 microphones fed into his vintage 1981 Tascam four-track tape recorder.
“I spent a lot of the lockdown writing and demoing using the four-track,” he says. “I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude.”
He adds: “It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends. I think it’s unavoidable that things like that seep in. It’s a surreal feeling losing someone close. I wasn’t consciously writing with him in mind, but I can now hear traces of me dealing with it in a few of the songs.”
New single, the raw and punchy Kill It With Kindness, anthemic rocker Have You Ever Been Happy?, the Neil Young-like Recluse Revisions, the classic country-sounding A Page You’ve Turned, and the Beatlesy love song With Only You were laid down in the studio with his long-time producer, Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), and Leger’s band, The Situation (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion). There are guest contributions on the album from Tim Bovaconti (pedal steel) and Angie Hilts (vocals).
“Other than my drummer and bassist/backing vocalist, I sang and played almost everything,” says Leger. “This gave the sound a certain flavour and character that hasn’t quite been captured on previous studio albums. There is very little outside involvement, to avoid diluting the sound we were after, creating a more personal statement.”
“I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude”
The song, Nothing Pressing, which opens the record, and the tracks Protector and Still Patience are solo acoustic, recorded live in the studio with few embellishments, save for Mock’s overdubbed harmony vocals and, on the title track, Timmins’ ukulele.
The follow-up to his 2019 studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, it’s a stunning collection of songs – and often painfully honest. On Still Patience, over a sparse backing of guitar and Wurlitzer, Leger sings: “I go drinking by myself, when I got nobody else, for misery is company.”
At times sad and reflective, it’s an album that doesn’t shy away from tackling personal issues, such as mental health, depression and seeking solace in alcohol, but it’s also a record that believes a problem shared is a problem halved.
“I really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting,” says Leger, talking to Say It With Garage Flowers from his apartment, in an exclusive interview.
“It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.”
It’s good to chat again – it’s been a while. How are you doing?
Jerry Leger: I’m good. It’s been a busy year so far, what with getting the record together and the tour. It’s definitely been a bit stressful – putting a new studio album out in the current climate, where we’re still dealing with the pandemic and everything else.
And now there’s a war on…
JL: Yeah – it doesn’t seem to be getting that much better, but it’s exciting to have something new to focus on. Putting this record has been different.
The last time we spoke was in March 2020 – Covid had forced you to cancel your European and UK spring tour for your album, Time Out For Tomorrow, and you’d hastily put together a brand new, digital-only album, called Songs From The Apartment.
Available to buy from Bandcamp, it was made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that you’d demoed and quickly forgotten about. Since then, it’s had a vinyl release.
You’ve also published a book of poetry, called Just The Night Birds, made a concert film, put out some non-album digital singles, and written and recorded the new record. You’ve been busy…
JL: I know – I do like staying busy in general. I guess the healthy thing about all those projects I did was that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to create anything or put them out – it was helpful me to do that.
To make this album, we were trying to get into the studio as soon as possible because we knew that when we resumed touring and going overseas we couldn’t really tour Time Out For Tomorrow. It was definitely a smart idea to make a new record, but we had to work out how we could get into the studio.
“It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it”
The four of us – (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion) and Michael Timmins (producer) – wanted to make sure we were comfortable and safe.
I went to the studio in the summer (2021) and recorded some stark, acoustic numbers. Then, once we got the green light, we got the band in. It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it.
Was it a quick album to record?
JL: It was a lot faster to make than I thought it would be. I did the songs Nothing Pressing, Still Patience and Protector in one session – just me and my guitar. I added some Wurlitzer to one of the tracks, and then when the band came in, we booked a week – a Monday to Friday – to record.
We were so determined to do a good job and not rush it, but that determination allowed us to do the songs in two / two-and-a-half days. There’s also five songs I recorded with the band that didn’t go on the album. I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions and I listened to the rough mixes. I thought it should be just a full-band album, but Mike brought me back to the original plan – he said that wasn’t the concept we should be going for. That was helpful – that’s why I still like working with a producer. He’s someone who can make sure I’m staying on-task.
Mike wanted some stark acoustic songs, a couple of tracks that were me at home, and then the band. There’s a story – the album is bookended by Nothing Pressing and Protector. Both those songs are saying certain things and in the middle you get everything else.
“I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions. I thought it should be just a full-band album”
I was having so much fun playing with the band and with what we were recording that it made me want to change what we were going for. Who knows if that would’ve been better or worse? It wouldn’t be worse – it would still be a great record…
Look at Dylan. When he started screwing with his records sometimes it went in a good way – like Blood On The Tracks, which he rethought and recorded, but other records, like Infidels, suffered. It could’ve been a certain record, but he had second thoughts.
You’re a prolific songwriter. Did you have all the tracks written before you went into the studio, and were any of the songs old ones you hadn’t put out before?
JL: They were all brand new, except for Wait A Little Longer, which I’d recorded with my side-project, The Del Fi’s – it came out on their second record, in 2018. You’ve got to dig for those albums – not a lot of people heard that song and I thought we could do a really good job on it and give it a different spirit and a wider audience.
It’s a song I love and the band also love it. I originally gave it to The Del Fi’s because when I played it live I never really got much of a reaction to it. But after we played with The Del Fi’s, my band said: ‘Why did you give that song away?’ I thought I was the only one who liked it… There’s something jovial about it and I thought this album could benefit from it.
“I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean. I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard”
It’s a pretty dark record at times. Some of the songs are sad and deal with personal issues, like alcohol abuse, depression and wrestling with inner demons. You lost a good friend, called Sean, before you made the album, which influenced some of the songs and themes on it. You’ve described the record as your ‘deepest artistic statement yet’. There’s a shadow hanging over it, isn’t there?
JL: I think that’s a good description of it. There’s a shadow hanging over everything and I was trying to make an effort to not accept that or realise it. Everyone deals with it at various points – a resilience. What comes with that is trying to push certain thoughts away. I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean – I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard. I still haven’t seen a lot of my friends, or it’s been on a semi-regular basis. It’s a bit of a sad record – but it has moments that go off in other directions.
Did you have a feel for what this album should sound like? For Time Out For Tomorrow, you were influenced by Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby…
JL: I just wanted it to sound like me and us – for this one, I didn’t have a concept of how I wanted it to sound. I think that’s why some of the tracks vary from one another. I think the record sounds like who I am, but it’s a little deeper than some of the others. It’s more vulnerable in places. Still Patience is a song that I wasn’t sure I wanted to release.
That’s one of my favourite songs on the record…
JL: Oh, thanks. It’s a song that at the time I was writing it, I wasn’t exactly thinking about what I was writing about – it was quite emotional to record, as it was the first song I recorded being back in a studio, after so long wondering whether if I’d ever be doing it again.
A couple of the songs on the record are just you singing and playing into a four-track recorder…
JL: I particularly love the sound of the four-track, which I used to record Underground Blues and Sinking In. I love the sound of those machines. If we hadn’t made this studio album, I was going to put out an album of just songs recorded on the four-track, because I was really excited about the sounds I was getting out of it and the different arrangements I was coming up with. Mike liked that too – he was the one who mentioned I should include a couple of those recordings on the album.
“Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska”
I’m not a great guitarist, but I played the electric guitar solo on Underground Blues – this was the first album where I played all the solos. Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska.
Underground Blues is folky and has a mid-’60s Dylan feel…
JL: One of my buddies is a big Dylan fan and he also loves Bert Jansch – he thought it sounded like something he would do. That’s interesting because Bert Jansch is somebody I’ve listened to more and more over the years. I really dig him, but I could never play like that. There’s a certain feel in the acoustic playing that aligns itself to that kind of blues song that Bert would’ve played – there’s a bit of a folk element to it.
The album title, Nothing Pressing, is apt for a record that was written during lockdown…
JL: Yeah. Besides Wait A Little Longer, that was the only song that I wrote before 2020. It was written around the time of the release of Time Out For Tomorrow – in 2019. It’s just one of those songs that came to me – I was picturing somebody like John Prine or Butch Hancock.
I was going to call the album Recluse Revisions, but Nothing Pressing became the title track. Mike suggested Nothing Pressing because he felt it was a song that really set up the record well and that it was nice to start it off with an acoustic number and then, surprise, here’s the second song, Kill It With Kindness… It’s not the record you thought you were getting…
The phrase ‘Nothing Pressing’ could also be a comment on the current global vinyl shortage…
JL: That’s true – I actually received some surprising news that our vinyl has made it time for the album release date.
Well, Adele’s latest record is out now…
JL: Yeah – she gave us some room.
The first single you released from the album was Have You Ever Been Happy? I like the lyric ‘Something made me laugh, but the punchline was me…’
That song has a great chorus and melody, and I love the backing vocals by Angie Hilts…
JL: She’s from Toronto – she also sings on Wait A Little Longer. She had sung on the original recording of that by The Del Fi’s. She came up with the vocal harmony. I worked with her before, on my Nonsense and Heartache album – she sang on The Big Smoke Blues, Pawn Shop Piano and Lucy and Little Billy The Kid. She’s a great singer and artist – she can go in different directions, above or below me, and it just blends.
Recluse Revisions – another favourite of mine – has some great pedal steel on it and the harmonica gives it a classic Neil Young feel…
JL: I hear that.
I like the line in the song about musicians playing ‘cowboy songs we know by heart’ on cheap guitars…
JL: I had that line leading up to the song – I liked the idea of musicians listening to it. It’s about when you have a cheap guitar and the action / the strings are really high up from the neck, but you can usually still play those cowboy song chords, like G and C and E.
I like that imagery – of being with a comrade, playing songs and it still being harmonious. There’s another line in it: ‘We’re young now that we’re old.’ That could be about losing time, but not… In some ways, it feels like we’ve lost the last two years, but in other ways, all this stuff has happened – you and I kept doing things. We all did. Recluse Revisions is about trying to figure out how we reemerge and join the rest of society again. How to socialise and how to be comfortable going out again.
“I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety, so I have to push myself even more now to get out”
Here in Toronto, certain mandates have started to be lifted and I know that in the UK that’s already happened. I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety to begin with, so I have to push myself even more now to get out. I want to get out, get on the road and play shows because that’s always felt like a different dimension or a different world. I can accept that.
“I’m a survivor – I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years”
You were getting a bit of a following in the UK, after playing gigs here and some decent press. Are you worried that you’ve lost some momentum due to the pandemic? How do you feel about coming back to play here? You’ve now got three albums’ worth of new material to play…
JL:I’m just excited to get back doing it. I’m a survivor – I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years, with my career and things not working out how I thought they would. Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher.
Time Out For Tomorrow had some good momentum and I was excited about touring it, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I just keep making albums and touring them, and, hopefully, people come out. We’ll be there and we hope that our audience feels comfortable about coming back out and supporting us.
I also really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting. I can’t keep on making the same record every time – I’m not even capable of doing that.
“Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher”
This record just happens to be what it is, but, song-wise, I think it’s a much stronger record than the last few. It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. There are records that are very great-sounding and bright – if I want to be in a better mood, I throw a Beatles record on – but then there are records for when I need a different type of comfort, like Blood On The Tracks. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.
Kill It With Kindness is a big-sounding song, with some raw guitar. Like some of the other songs on the record, it tackles alcohol use and depression – keeping demons at bay…
JL: Yeah – that’s true. It starts off with the enemy being in your mind – it’s about how you choose to react to certain things. If there are people and things around you that are having a negative effect, you have a choice – you can decide how you want to tackle that.
I agree with you – I think the record is about tackling that and trying to fight some demons. With the pandemic and everything stopping, there was a lot more time to self-reflect and look in the mirror. Thinking about things and how you want to be perceived and how you want to be moving forward.
Sure there are some things that we use as a crutch. There are elements of that – using different things to help you cope and get by. Sometimes that can end up making things a bit more overwhelming. The record is a man with a worried mind – stress and anxiety – and it acknowledges that. I think the next record will be about tackling those things, but through meditation and stuff like that…
You’ve got the George Harrison moustache to do it…
JL: (laughs): Yeah – I have. Exactly. I’m gearing up for that. The next record will be about taking care of myself – I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on. It will be about finding that help to help myself.
Your song With Only You from the latest album has a very Beatlesy feel…
JL: Yeah – I really dig that one. It’s a love song – a break point on the album – but there’s an element of sadness to it, because you’re relying on someone else to help you through. You can’t make it without them, because you need more strength than you can create yourself. But there’s also a beauty to it.
That song is very much the Beatles influence that’s been there all my life. It shows on that song. I actually worked out and wrote the guitar solo for it – I normally just do it and feel it out. It sounds like a cross between George Harrison and Mick Jones from The Clash. Mick Jones didn’t always have finesse, but he had confidence. It’s nothing super-fancy – it’s light and it’s melodic. A little brother to George Harrison.
“The next record will be about taking care of myself – I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on”
Your first live show for the new album will be in Toronto, at the Paradise Theatre, on March 31, which is my birthday…
JL: Yeah – I got you tickets to fly over for it. I wish!
It’s your big comeback show…
JL: I’m going to wear all leather.
Nothing Pressing is out now (digital) via Latent Recordings/Warner Music Canada/Proper Music. The physical release (CD and vinyl) is out on March 18.
03-05 Birkenhead, England – Future Yard
04-05 Winchester, England – The Railway Inn
05-05 London, England – The Green Note
06-05 Nottingham, England – The Chapel, Angel Microbrewery
07-05 Glasgow, Scotland – Broadcast