Interview: Jerry Leger shares the inspiration behind 'Donlands'
“I can't think of a time that I wasn’t fantasizing that I would be on a stage playing and making music,” Jerry Leger reflects as he joins me to talk about his new album ‘Donlands’. He spoke to me just days before the release of the record whilst touring across Canada. “The moment I get on stage, I don't know if I want my mind to wander, but I certainly want to get lost in it,” he says of his shows. “That doesn't happen every time, you're always hoping that will happen. When you get lost in the music and you forget about your surroundings, you're just in this zone. Those are the moments where you realise, this is why I do it. You kind of chase those moments. I like to be focused, there’s a lot of words to remember, but I feel most comfortable on stage so I like to think my mind wanders in a good way.”
Leger was inspired by the music of The Beatles but didn’t really believe he could be a musician until he saw his older brothers playing music, “My older brothers started writing poetry and playing music and it showed me anybody can do this. That inspired me to try to start doing that as well.”
Leger has come a long way from the early days of playing in coffee shops around Canada alongside his brothers and this latest record showcases some of his best songwriting and artistry. ‘Donlands’, which came out last Friday, is his first with fellow Canadian producer Mark Howard. “Working with Mark Howard, recording and producing it, I’m very aware of the record’s he’s had a hand in producing. I really wanted to make a record that weaved in that touch that he brings to records.”
Everything they knew about arranging and making records they threw out of the window, allowing new ideas to help shape this record, “For the past four or five records we've kind of come in knowing what we wanted to do with the songs already, and the producers job was to be capturing the best performance of that. This time around, we went in with the arrangements, and that all got thrown out. Mark really pushed the band in trying different arrangements to best serve the song. I trusted him, we tried different things and if it didn’t work I wasn’t afraid to say, I don’t think this works but I also wasn’t afraid to go with a different idea. I think we we got exactly what we wanted out of it.”
‘Donlands’ was named after the street in Toronto’s east end where it was recorded, in what once was the Donlands Theatre. The songs themselves draw influence from the last few years, signifying a new chapter in Leger’s life as well as his career. “A friend of mine heard it and he thought the record sounded courageously vulnerable and I think that's a good description of where I was at. You go in with a lot of confidence in your abilities, but I think I just felt, in general, very vulnerable, because I think we've been living in vulnerable years lately.”
‘Wounded Wing’ is a standout track on the album, and it is one of the oldest on the record. “That one felt special when I wrote it, I wrote it a few years ago and kept it in my back pocket waiting for the right time and it certainly works very well on this album.” He delves deeper into the story behind the song, “I hear it as kind of like a hopeful song of you can’t keep somebody down. It’s a courageous song. It takes a lot of courage to be wounded in love or wounded with our fragile egos, wounded in trying to do good in the world and being shot down. But you keep going, you don't lose the drive of trying to be better and trying to be helpful. A lot of the record is trying to survive and ‘Wounded Wing’ is a real song of survival.”
Leger has achieved so much up until this point and still has so much music he wants to share with his fans and peers but on reflection, he is most proud of the moment he decided to chase his dreams. “I still always think about being 14 and finally having the courage to go down to this coffee shop, that had an open jam on Fridays. I went along and played three songs because I was sick of just being in my bedroom, playing to the wall. I felt pretty proud of myself after that, then they asked me if I wanted to play, like have my own night on Wednesdays. I really learned how to project my voice and build confidence playing in front of strangers. So I'm still very proud that I took the plunge.”
‘Donlands’ is available everywhere now and Leger is planning more tour dates, globally, in the coming months.