Interview: Jerry Leger

Although it isn’t even the end of April yet, here at Americana UK, there’s already fairly widespread agreement that the whole of 2018 is unlikely to throw up a better album than Jerry Leger and The Situation’s new record, ‘Nonsense and Heartache.’ For someone who’s only just turned 33, Canadian singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, has already enjoyed a musical career spanning some 13 years and 10 albums. Name-checked by none other than Ron Sexsmith as “one of the best songwriters I’ve heard in quite some time,” ‘Nonsense and Heartache’ came out earlier this year on Michael Timmins’ (of Cowboy Junkies fame) Latent Records label.

Touring Europe and Scandinavia earlier in April, Jerry will be bringing his full band, The Situation, with him for a number of Irish and UK dates. Americana UK caught up with him on the verge of his tour.

First of all, happy birthday Jerry! Does being on the road on your birthday make you feel a bit homesick, or is it something you’re used to after all this time?

Actually, we didn’t initially have a show booked but I wanted to play on my birthday. So I asked the promoters there (Die With Your Boots On) to help me find a cool bar for a show. I usually don’t really celebrate it too much so it’s nice to play some music and have a hang afterwards. I didn’t feel homesick so much but it did have some fond childhood memories come back to me.

And did you manage to celebrate after the gig in Norway?

The pub had my favourite beer on tap, Guinness, so I had a few more of those and hung out with my girlfriend Laura and some of the locals who sang a Norwegian birthday song to me. It was nice.

So far your European tour has taken you to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Has any place particularly impressed you?

Well, the history has really been wild. We went on a canal tour in Leiden which was a wonderful experience, seen old Cathedrals such as the one in Cologne dating back to 1200. Pretty wild stuff.

And are the audiences much different to those back home? I particularly loved the way you had them up and dancing in Wredenhagen, Germany.

I think because I’ve been making records since 2005 there was some anticipation to a degree. I’ve met some people that have been listening to me for the last decade so faraway from where the albums were made. Other than that I have found the audiences are more attentive. Canadians seem to not mind talking during shows, even if it’s their favourite artist.

 ‘Nonsense and Heartache,’ your latest album, showcases two entirely separates sides of your musical character – one bluesy and electric, the other more acoustic. Was the decision to record a double album a natural evolution, or one which you and Michael Timmins consciously decided on beforehand?

It was a conscious decision. My previous albums have either been one or the other or a mixture of both. Mike may have thought of showcasing the two main sides from knowing that. There’s still a lot of people who don’t know my music; he thought it would be a nice introduction on what I do, under the same roof.

Does releasing a record which includes multiple musical genres inadvertently make things more challenging, perhaps if people don’t find it easy to pigeonhole you – or if you don’t appear to come within an easily packaged genre?

Well, I still hear it all as roots/folk music, whether it’s rock ‘n’ roll, blues, soul, folk or country. I mean, Hank Williams always called himself a country artist and Neil Young has more what you would call country songs but he’d probably mainly be identified as a rocker.

Is there a risk that in the current era of streaming, that the listener won’t get the full benefit from an album like ‘Nonsense and Heartache’ if they don’t listen to it all the way through?

That’s probably true and I was concerned about that, for example, listeners not getting as far as the ‘Heartache’ portion if they’re streaming the whole 18 tunes in one sitting. I mean, maybe those aren’t the fans I’m after anyway. All the records I’ve made have been meant to be listened to as a whole and that’s how I’ve always been as a music fan. I’d listen to ‘Exile On Main St.’ and ‘Between The Buttons’ with the same attention and commitment. Of course, there’s ‘singles’ but that would just lead to the album or interest in the artist and what else they’ve done. I don’t know enough about the pros and cons of streaming but I dig albums you need to live with, and I think I make those kind of albums too.

Over the course of the 10 albums you’ve released how would you describe the evolution of the sound between your debut album and the latest record?

I think I’ve become a better singer; just learned how to use it depending on the song more.

You’ve toured extensively with a diverse range of acts such as Ron Sexsmith, The Sadies, Jesse WinchesterFred EaglesmithJill BarberJustin Townes EarleDeer TickSkydiggersJim Lauderdale, Dawes, Tift Merritt, and Doug Paisley. Any tours that are particularly memorable for you – and why?

Well, they were more one-offs or in some cases a few shows in a row with some of those artists. Yeah, a few things come to mind. I played a couple of shows with Justin Townes Earle at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and Justin watched on the sidelines. He told me I reminded him of one of his favourite songwriters in Nashville that kind of burned out without barely anyone ever knowing who he was. It was sort of a depressing compliment. Can’t remember the name. Anyway, I’ve been good at staying under the radar and staying out of trouble too. Jesse Winchester was a sweet guy and told me stories about listening to B.B. King’s radio show when he was young in Memphis. That was wild. Deer Tick were nice; they helped sell our stuff at the merch table!

Chris Difford of Squeeze said recently his favourite lyricist was Joni Mitchell and that he admired the way the space between her lyrics and music wasn’t structured in a rigid way. He said something to the effect that Canadians such as Rufus WainwrightJoni Mitchell and Ron Sexsmith write differently to Americans – maybe because they’re stuck between Europe and America. How do you go about writing lyrics?

Well, it depends if I’m just letting it flow out of me or if I’m more writing a story. I don’t; it just happens. It’s a bit compulsive.

What sort of music was playing in your home when you were growing up? Anyone who particularly influenced you?

Rock ‘n’ roll, soul, folk…Beatles, Dylan, Everly Brothers, Drifters, Roy Orbison, Stones, Neil Young, that kind of thing – plus The Traveling Wilburys and Rodney Crowell records were played a lot in the family car. John Lennon was the reason why I wanted to play music as a little kid. Dylan became very important when I started to get serious about it. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, Hank Williams as well. There’s been a lot; I started off and still am an obsessive music listener, so a lot has inspired and influenced me.

There appears to be something of a theme in the lyrics to some of the songs on ‘Nonsense and Heartache’ about being out of place or out of time.

I don’t overanalyze what I write, but I guess we all can feel out of place at times.

The song, ‘Pawn Shop Piano,’ seems to capture perfectly the conflicting emotions that must concern every jobbing musician: the tension at the heart of pursuing your muse at the possible expense of a more ‘regular’ life. Is it difficult to get the right balance?

Ya, that’s pretty much what that song is about. The balance that is difficult is surviving. I’m not worried about creatively surviving but financially it can be stressful.

‘Nonsense and Heartache’ is out now on Latent Recordings.

Tour dates for Jerry Leger and the Situation can be found at:

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