Born in the mid-1980s, singer-songwriter Jerry Leger came of age in the Upper Beaches area of Toronto.
Surrounded by music from a young age, it was his grandfather who first turned him onto Hank Williams, and he was captivated by his imagistic songwriting. From there he struck out on his own path through the music of Bob Dylan, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello, Neil Young and the Everly Brothers, Tom Waits and Gordon Lightfoot. With each album Leger puts out he takes another turn off the pathway he set out upon all those years ago, and his new album feels like his most personal yet.
It’s been 17 years now since Jerry Leger cut his first independently released album at the age of 19. In the years following, the Toronto singer-songwriter has recorded 9 albums, as well as a live compilation, and in 2014 he signed to the Cowboy Junkies’ label, Latent Recordings; the same label that his new album Nothing Pressing is released on this month.
Written following the tragic loss of a best friend, it’s a record filled with a sense of time standing still and slipping away. An album that captures a sense of journey in Leger’s life, both musically and personally, and he hopes the finished record can instil a similar feeling in listeners. “I hope they hear an album they can travel through life with,” he says. “I feel it's that kind of record.”
“It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends,” he continues. “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."
Written during the pandemic, Nothing Pressing was just one of the projects that kept Leger busy during his time off the road. In 2020, he published his first book of poetry, Just the Night Birds, made a film for his mailing list subscribers The Apartment Show He Never Gave, and released a “surprise” album, Songs from the Apartment. Somewhere in amongst all that, he managed to release a handful of one-off singles as well.
Opening with the gentle melancholy strum of an acoustic guitar, the album’s title- track sets the tone for an album that feels as close to a complete personal statement as Leger has ever made. The performances captured here are often unembellished and stridently heartfelt, as he engages with questions of existence, mortality, hope, trust and heartbreak while simultaneously conjuring feelings of isolation, reflection and gratitude. The intimacy of Leger’s voice tears deep into your heart as he lets the lyrics almost sing themselves on the album’s more intimate moments.
“I think this record could be about survival,” says Leger, “Mental, physical and artistic survival”.
That’s not to say it’s all gently-picked introspection though; Leger still makes space for the sort of pristine precise power-pop he’s perhaps best known for on songs like ‘Wait A Little Longer’, ‘Have You Ever Been Happy’ and the wonderfully sludgy slacker rock of ‘Kill It With Kindness'.
The video for the latter is premiering exclusively on Holler below.
Holler spoke to Jerry Leger about the writing and recording of the album and how it feels different putting a record out now from when he started out.
What inspired you musically on Nothing Pressing?
I think musically, it was being at home working on songs that I knew I wouldn't be able to bring to the band for a while, mixed with singing more intimately. I couldn't really belt out in the apartment, so I found these other textures in my voice that I could work with.
Having the extra time by myself made me work more on arrangement ideas and come up with solos - normally someone else who's technically better would play them.
In the past, I had played the odd "Lennon-ish" solo, more rhythmic, but on this record, I think it sounds kinda like something Mick Jones of The Clash would play; at least to my ears.
Lyrically it feels more personal too, was that something you were conscious of?
Lyrically, they all just have their own thing going. ‘Recluse Revisions’ was right after I finished a book by Joan Didion called Play It As It Lays. I like old phrases like that, so I threw it in the chorus of that song. Sometimes that happens or I just try to stay open to what forms in my mind. I'll take something and kind of warp and twist it until I don't recognize where it all came from. Or, it happens so fast that I don't have a clue what it's about or what it is. The final track, ‘Protector’, is hoping you'll buy this record!
What are the themes of the new album?
Self-help maybe? Help Me To Help Myself-kind of songs.
What was the writing and recording process like for the new album?
The writing was more therapeutic. Two of the tracks, ‘Sinking In’ and ‘Underground Blues’ were recorded on this old 4-track tape recorder. I just love the sound of those machines. The other songs were recorded at Cowboy Junkies studio here in Toronto.
We had this small window in the summer to hit the studio, so it was quick but determined. First, I came in and recorded a few starker and acoustic numbers. That was a bit emotional because I was starting to feel like it may never happen again.
Then, Dan Mock on bass and vocals and Kyle Sullivan on drums joined and we ploughed through the rest of the numbers. I think it’s the most solid we've ever sounded together. It only took a couple of days to record those songs with them.
You put out your first record 16 years ago; how does it feel looking back on those early records all these years later?
It feels great! All of my albums are documents and they all have a different sound from each other. That hasn't been deliberate, but when you don't make your albums as a marketing plan, you'll find they sound just as you want them to. I was still a teenager when we made the first album but I knew I wanted to make records I could look back on and know that I went with my gut.
How does this new album feel different to your previous work?
It feels stronger and more rewarding. It's a real grower of a record, I'd be surprised if you digested it all in one listen. That makes it a tougher album to connect with these days but when it does, I think you have a companion for life.
How would you describe your sound in three words?
Ragged but right.
Is there anything in life you feel like you’ve missed out on because you were pursuing music?
Yes, a real vacation.
What does it feel like the day that a song or an album of yours comes out and everyone gets to hear it for the first time?
Well, you're usually busy with all the stuff that comes with "release day" but you do get a sense of relief. It's out!! It's alive!! When do we make the next one?
Which song are you most excited about people hearing on the new album?
‘With Only You’ because it's a lovely ballad and I like my guitar solo on it! I never get to play solos!