Interview: Jerry Leger talks live streaming, lockdown and staying positive

When Americana UK last caught up with Jerry Leger in November 2019 (the week after the release of his new album), we asked him why the record was called ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’. While the album’s literal title was based on an early ’60s dime store collection of science fiction short stories, Jerry said at the time that it was “hard to have a clear explanation but the title just seemed to fit. Maybe parts of the album are a bit sci-fi. We’re living in strange times.” 6 months ago Leger couldn’t have appreciated quite how strange things were about to get – with life right now feeling as though we’re living in a nightmarish, dystopian science fiction reality. Nothing sums up the present more than the book store that put a sign in its window which said that its post apocalyptic fiction had been moved to the current affairs section.

Like thousands of other artists, the impact of the terrifying spread of Covid-19 is a game-changer for Jerry in the same way it is so many others who depend on the touring circuit to earn a living. Heck, it’s a hard scrabble existence at the best of times, but things have gotten almost impossible in the matter of a few short months. Jerry was slated to play 28 shows throughout Europe, as well as Canadian dates starting this month and now he’s faced with significant loss of earnings as well as considerable upfront expenses. Just as bad is trying to guesstimate when exactly things might get back to what might be construed as the new “normal”.

Like so many other musicians, Jerry has looked to livestreaming performances as a way to at least boost the tip jar, including a run of recent shows broadcast from his home in Toronto, timed to be in the same time zones of the European dates he’d originally planned. He also came up with the somewhat novel idea of releasing a surprise, digital-only album, ‘Songs From The Apartment’, on the 20th of March on Bandcamp, a day when Bandcamp allowed artists to get 100% of the revenue from sales. Americana-UK took time out to talk to Jerry about how he was managing during the current crisis.

Hi Jerry, the disruption caused by the spread of Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of your tour which must be hugely frustrating as well as making it so difficult to earn a living. It’s also the lost opportunity of being able to build on the platform that ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ seemed to be giving you through all the ace reviews and word of mouth. Are you managing to stay positive at the moment in spite of everything?
I’m in a healthy headspace at the moment. When the tours were first cancelled there was a lot of stress and figuring things out that went along with it. This is serious what we’re all facing and going through, so I’m just embracing the downtime and keeping busy and hoping we all get through it as quickly as possible. Writing, sketching and reading a lot has helped keep me sane and stopped me from worrying about what I can’t control. My girlfriend Laura has been a huge help too and I feel very fortunate to be together during this. It’s a drag for sure but the whole world is kind of on pause. I miss seeing my family, friends and playing with the band, but I’m staying positive that we’ll just resume when we can.

Musicians lead a precarious enough existence at the best of times. Is the Canadian government making any support available to people like yourself in the creative industries?
They are; I’m not entirely sure how much I’ll be able to benefit from it but of course I wouldn’t mind a helping hand during this tough time. I mean, this is just a wild thing. I hope everyone is staying safe and being responsible.

I know it’s hard to find much in the way of consolation right now but I’m sure in your case that it will help spark a period of intense creativity. Have you been writing during the lockdown period?
Well, I wrote about 15 tunes in the first couple months of the year before all the bad news hit. I was pretty much off the road but gearing up for the tours. Being home a lot meant that I had way more time to write and see what happens. Now, that’s just continuing but I have more time to relax which I’m not used to.

How did you find the experience of playing to your fan base in Europe across 7 consecutive nights?
There was a nice reaction and there were aspects I enjoyed about it. I’m not very techy and never thought about playing online before, but of course events changed that. I could probably use it more to my advantage but I’d need some help with those technical sides of it. I liked having the requests come in, especially for some older ones or deep cuts that I had to dust off and reacquaint myself with. That was nice and I liked the casual feel of it. Just playing without any mics, cables, electricity. Just voice, guitar, harmonica, piano.

And now you’re also looking to livestream shows on Instagram as well?
Yeah, I did one over the weekend and it seemed to go well. Again, I’m sure I could make it a bigger thing but I like keeping it casual for now. I don’t want to treat them quite like a proper live show because they’re not. I think that’s what makes them interesting. We’re kinda hanging out in a way and if you’re into it then it’s a great and if it’s not your thing, then that’s cool too. Hopefully it won’t be a long time before I can be on a stage in front of people.

Tell us a bit about the idea to release the digital only ‘Songs From The Apartment’. Originally, I thought the songs might have been outtakes from the ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ sessions, but I understand they’re actually demos from a 5 year period between 2008 to 2013?
They were actually mainly from the 2014-2019 period with one from 2013, ‘Leaving Now’. It was last month, during the 2nd week of high anxiety due to everything I was dealing with and I needed something therapeutic to do. It was in the back of my mind that I had countless demos of songs that nobody ever heard except me and Mike Timmins, who produced the last few albums. There were a lot of great ones that just were forgotten about. It was good to go through and put a collection together. It gave me a real sense of purpose. The timing was right to release these real intimate home recordings, recorded in my apartment in moments of isolation and a lot of us are in that position now. It’s gotten a nice response. I didn’t think anyone would hear these recordings so they’re very unguarded.

Turning to some of the songs on the new record, it’s a pretty stripped back affair, with just an acoustic guitar for the most part, which is why the piano led ‘You & Louise’ comes somewhat out of the blue on the record. What was the thinking behind releasing a song you’d previously put out through your Del Fi’s side project?
When I heard that piano demo again I just really liked it. It’s a slightly different arrangement than what I ended up doing with The Del Fi’s and a couple of different lines as well. It was one of the few that I didn’t write specifically for The Del Fi’s but at the time I didn’t think it fit with anything else that I was doing.

If nothing else, ‘You & Louise’ led me to download other Bandcamp releases that you’ve put out as the Del Fi’s and Bop Fi’s. I’ve had ‘Wait A Little Longer’ from the Del Fi’s ‘Residuals’ album on repeat for weeks now. It sounds like you had enormous fun during those recording sessions. For your UK fans who may not be so familiar with those projects, can you say a little bit about how they came about?
It was completely fun! The first Del Fi’s album ‘Crowd Pleaser’ was one of the best days of my life. Well, the concept for The Del Fi’s was to get a bunch of friends together in the studio for one day, play songs that they didn’t really know and come and go as they pleased. I wanted it to be casual and pressure-free. You get this beautiful spontaneous reaction from everyone playing. Nobody is overplaying or overthinking because they don’t have a chance to. The Bop Fi’s was a project where I could really get out of my comfort zone. It was a marriage of my spoken word poetry with jazz. That was a great experience. Wasn’t quite like the party we were having while making the Del Fi’s albums but it was something else. Really cool. A good late-night album.

‘Can’t Stop A Bridge That Needs To Be Burned’ is perhaps my favourite song from the new record. Odd title, though? What was the thinking behind that number?
No idea! Just one of those things that came to me and I ran with it. I know it was written quickly around 2016. I played it with the band as a possible contender for ‘Nonsense and Heartache’ but we couldn’t get it to where I liked it, so it was abandoned. ‘Hoodoo Brown’ had the same fate. It most likely was recorded within the half hour it was written. I’d like to bring it back to the band and see what happens, it’s a fun song, I dig the words and feel. We could do a real Stonesy thing with it.

‘Ticket Bought’ is another favourite and a song we recently featured in our mini gig series. Given the age of some of the material can you still remember much of the inspiration behind these particular songs?
I really dig that one too. Well, it was considered for ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ and I think we recorded a studio version of it. I thought it had a similar feel to ‘Tomorrow In My Mind’ and I had to pick one or the other. I chose the latter for ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ because Mike Timmins and the band loved it so much, it made me fall back in love with it too. The bridge in ‘Ticket Bought’ is one of my favourites that I’ve written.

You had help from Aaron Comeau with touching up the rough recordings on the record. Is he someone you’ve worked with before?
Yes, he played some piano on my albums ‘Some Folks Know’, ‘Early Riser’ and ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’. His old studio, The Trailer is where we recorded the Del Fi’s, Bop Fi’s and a few other things. He’s a great player and a great guy. He was gonna be playing guitar on the European tour but I’m sure he’ll be with us for the rescheduled dates.

What music are you listening to at the moment? What’s your lockdown soundtrack?
I grabbed a collection of lost songs by David Wiffen that has some real beauties on it. Been enjoying the recently released Lightfoot album ‘Solo‘ and a buddy introduced me to this Scottish band from the ’70s called Blue. Kinda Badfinger meets early ’70s Hollies. Real nice power pop. I also recently found ‘Gypsy Boy‘ by Billy Joe Shaver on vinyl, which is great and it’s hard to find his records. Been revisiting Sam Cooke and Valentinos era Bobby Womack after reading the Sam Cooke bio “Dream Boogie.” Oh and I had an early listen to my buddy Lindy Vopnfjord’s forthcoming album. Besides that it’s just a lot of records and CDs from my collection. We always have music on in the apartment when we’re not watching something or when I’m not playing on a instrument.

And any other plans in the immediate future apart from writing and livestreaming shows? Is a subscription model something you’ve looked at?
Oh, that’s interesting! I’ll have to look into a subscription idea. See, I’m not very tech-savvy or anything, haha. Still a pad and pen guy. I’m gonna do more live-streamed shows but just spacing it out. I don’t want it to grow stale for anyone, especially myself. I have some other ideas of things I wanna do this year. Before the lockdown I wrote and recorded a track with a couple of buddies that I’m excited about and want to release as a single but it may not come out til early next year. We’ll see!

All of Jerry Leger’s cancelled shows will be rescheduled around the same time next year.

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