Interview: Jerry Leger

Ahead of his UK and European tour with two members of his band, The Situation, Mark Underwood of Americana UK sat down with Canadian singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger to talk about the forthcoming shows and his latest release, the retrospective compilation, ‘Too Broke To Die,’ released to coincide with the tour dates.

Hi Jerry, tell us a bit about the upcoming tour. I think there are 26 dates over a 7 week period this time out. Are there any particular places you’ll be playing for the first time this year?
It’s a long haul this time around! Yeah, we’re playing a bunch of places we haven’t played before such as Sheffield, Lewes and Liverpool, which I’m excited about. We’re playing a spot called “The Shipping Forecast” in Liverpool but we also have a day off, so I wanna drink a few at The Grapes Pub where The Beatles used to hang and get drunk. I also heard that an underage Elvis Costello met Nick Lowe there for the first time, bought him a beer and picked his brain. We’re also playing France and Switzerland for the first time. That should be fun.

Looking back over your last European tour, were there any stand out moments for you?
Well, the first tour it was all standing out ’cause I’d never been overseas and it felt very surreal. I especially liked Leiden, which is kinda like a less touristy Amsterdam. Norway in general was beautiful and the shows were great. ‘Music Star’ in Norderstedt close to Hamburg was really fun. We played there twice and we’re going back in May to play the bigger room. I love the folks who run the place too. On the 2nd tour in the fall we played a festival in Groningen called ‘Take Root’ with a small but pretty wild lineup such as Neko Case, Alejandro Escovedo, Kurt Vile, folks like that. It was cool to be part of it. When we played London, it was the last show of the April tour and it was wonderful. Attentive crowd and we kinda got carried away afterwards to celebrate. It was nice hanging out with you before and after the show too! Real good times. Winchester was a lot of fun also; we played a really old haunted pub.

Why did you feel the time was right to issue a retrospective album (‘Too Broke To Die?’)
It seemed like a good idea as we’ve been gaining traction and I’ve released all these albums that sort of went under the radar and barely anyone heard them. It felt cool to put a compilation together to reintroduce what I’ve done over the years to fans that have gotten into the last one or two albums. I’ve seen other artists put together Spotify playlists but I thought this would be a better way to have a retrospective playlist that you can stream if you’d like to or treat like a real release.

And there are two new tracks on ‘Too Broke To Die.’ Were they left over from the ‘Nonsense and Heartache sessions?’
‘Beating The Storm’ was recorded in 2008 for the ‘You, Me and The Horse’ album but for whatever reason we decided it didn’t fit. We actually tried a full band version a few years later for the ‘Some Folks Know’ record but it still was left off. Previously the only version that was out there was on the ‘Live On Stage’ album. ‘You Really Got It So Bad’ is an outtake from the ‘Early Riser’ sessions. I really dig it but again, I guess Mike and I felt that it didn’t sit with the other tracks well enough. There’s usually 5 or so outtakes. ‘Nonsense and Heartache’ had about 8 or 9 ’cause it was essentially two different albums recorded separately.

I understand that towards the end of 2018 you headed back into the studio to work on some new material with Michael Timmins. How’s the new album shaping up?
It’s finished and Mike (Timmins) has just about mixed the whole thing. I’m very happy and excited about it.

Tell us a bit about your side project, the Del Fi’s. How did it come about?
It started as Hank Holly & The Del Fi’s and just a thing we did in between tours when we were home. We’d get booked into divey bars and play old rock ‘n’ roll and old country tunes. One day I wondered what would happen if we were a real band with our own songs. So, I wrote a bunch of simple loose melodies with crazy lyrics and booked a session at my buddy Aaron Comeau’s studio, “The Trailer.” I invited a bunch of musician friends but didn’t tell them what we were doing. They had no idea we were making a record. It was my favorite recording session. Very spontaneous, nobody knew the tunes and there weren’t any rules. The shows are always like that too. I love it; I make Del Fi records in between mine now.

For the sophomore Del Fi’s album, ‘Residuals,’ I hear you had a cast of 18 people for one of the sessions. That must have taken a lot of organisation.
It was more of a challenge because for the first album no one knew what The Del Fi’s were, so some people would be there for a couple of hours and then take off. This time most of the 18 stayed the entire session so it was pretty crammed and I just don’t think some were as comfortable as the first record to let their instincts take over. I still think it’s a great, great record but it was more like making a record as opposed to hanging out and playing with your friends like the first one. The first one was magicial, the second is a great album with probably better songs actually, haha.

And you wrote all the material on ‘Residuals.’ What sort of reception has it got?
Yeah I did – same with the first. Neither record got a lot of reception from the press but that’s also because I wanted The Del Fi’s to not have the same pressure and expectations as my own stuff. It’s a drag when things become too much about business and numbers. I know a lot of people dig the albums though – actual Del Fi’s fans. It’s quite nice really. I went to see Lucinda Williams here in Toronto and I was chatting with her great guitar player, Stuart Mathis, when a woman came up to us. She said she just wanted to tell me how much she loves my music. I felt pretty good, especially in front of Lucinda’s band and then she said, “yeah, I just love The Del Fi’s!” Haha, I thought that was awesome. She had no idea what else I do.

As if you weren’t busy enough already with the tour, working on new music for the Situation, and the Del Fi’s side project, I hear you produced the new album by Eric & The Soo. What’s the back story there?
Eric had been coming to our shows for years and I think it just happened over the course of time. We’d talk about records and then ended up hanging out listening to music and drinking. He had a band but wanted to go solo, something he never did before, was never a front guy. I ended up helping him with shaping tunes and getting a good group together. It was fun ’cause producing someone else’s music was a fairly new experience for me. We ended up making a roots record and then a psychedelic record and he was more confident with his role and his singing on that one. I produced another buddy’s album, Ben Somer, but it was shelved. I thought it was great. Too bad.

Over a 14 year career you’ve been incredibly prolific and toured extensively during that time. Looking back over that time what advice would you now give to your younger self?
I don’t really know ’cause I always trusted my gut and never sacrificed. Sometimes it’s been frustrating that it’s taken so long for more people to discover and pay attention to what I’m doing but I don’t know how I could have changed that. Luck plays a big role but so does money, kissing ass while treating others terribly and playing a role like an actor. I never had much money or luck and the rest I couldn’t stomach. I’m looking forward to the next 14 years and onward. I make records that I’m proud of, play and surround myself with people I love. What’s more successful than that?

Jerry Leger’s UK tour starts on April 13th in High Wycombe. Full dates in our gig guide.

Photo by kind permission of LPPhotographs

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