After delivering a staggering eight albums in the nine years between 2005 and 2014, Toronto’s Jerry Leger did the unthinkable following the release of 2014’s Early Riser: He kind of took a break. But actually, that last statement isn’t entirely true, considering in 2015 he made a record with his side project The Del-Fi’s, while last year, he recorded and released his first spoken-word effort.
Make no mistake about Leger, however. He is not prolific merely for the sake of releasing albums as frequently as he can. If you were to pick any of his previous releases to check out, you would discover a consistency and quality to his songs and albums that remains heads and shoulders above artists with ten times the name recognition.
Leger’s fortunes may very well change with his newest studio effort, Nonsense and Heartache. The release is an ambitious double album that serves to showcase his long-standing dual musical identities of Americana-inspired balladry on one record, while the other highlights his continued love of rock and roll.
“It was actually [record label owner] Michael Timmins that approached me with the concept of making a double album,” Leger says, in advance of his performance at Moncton’s Plan b on Tuesday evening.
“He pointed out to me that my previous records had always been a mixture of these two sides of my musical personality, but that I was still very much a cult-following kind of artist. So he came up with the idea of having one record – Heartache – showcase the more melodic side of my songwriting, while Nonsense would highlight the grittier material.”
Although this was the first time Leger sought to silo the different sides of his musical identities, he admits that separating the two worlds helped him place a greater emphasis on the songs that would be featured on each album.
The notion of releasing a double album in what is largely a singles driven market could be considered the boldest move of all.
“I grew up seeing the album as a whole piece of work that you took in from start to finish. As an artist, I can’t necessarily identify with those that don’t put a healthy amount of consideration into making their albums something more than just a collection of songs. I want there to be a thread of coherency running through my work. Nonsense and Heartache is an ambitious release, but it does showcase my strengths and where I’ve come from,” he says.
“Whether you’re releasing an EP with four songs, or a double record like I’ve done, it’s tough garnering attention. Everyone is having trouble selling albums these days. The fact is, I was really into the idea of a double record from the moment Mike mentioned it. It might be seen as being too much for some people, but overall I’d say I’m not too concerned that the format is going to turn people away. I think as long as people know the reason behind it, it makes a lot of sense.”
Both Nonsense and Heartache and 2014’s Easy Rider were released on the Latent Recordings label. Owned by Michael Timmins, a founding member of Canadian roots legends Cowboy Junkies, Leger insists that it is both Timmins’ experience in the music business and his appreciation of the work that goes into being a recording artists that affords artists like him the opportunity to pursue projects like his newest offering.
“I was largely anonymous for my first six records,” Leger admits. “I never saw the point of working with a label that was interested in shaping me or my music to fit a certain audience. I feel a big reason why Mike and I have such a good relationship is because he is an artist, first and foremost. Even if you look back at the Cowboy Junkies’ breakthrough record [1988’s Trinity Session], they were an unconventional band for the time and continue to follow that path all these years later. They make the kinds of records they want to make, and Mike affords that same courtesy to me. It’s a testament and his belief in what I do. I couldn’t ask for anything more, really.”
While Leger’s backing band won’t be along for the ride at his show on Tuesday evening, Leger is excited to treat fans to a mixture of old and new material alike. Though much of his recorded catalogue receives a full-band treatment in the studio, the bulk of his songs are born on an acoustic guitar or piano, making shows like his performance on Tuesday a treat of sorts for the artist.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that good songs should stand on their own. Playing acoustic shows is always very exciting because I get the opportunity to bring these songs back to their essence, but I also get the chance to play around with them and tinker with the delivery. That’s always an exciting prospect.”
What: Jerry Leger
When: Tuesday May 2, 9 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton