As Toronto’s music scene has grown in stature on the world stage, singer-songwriter Jerry Leger has been making his own significant contributions. A favourite of Uncut Magazine and Rolling Stone Germany, Jerry has also earned the praise of fellow artists Ron Sexsmith (“he’s the real deal”) and Doug Paisley, while maintaining a long relationship with Cowboy Junkies as part of their Latent Recordings roster, with their songwriter/guitarist Michael Timmins serving as producer.
On his new album, Donlands, Jerry has taken a different approach, teaming up with legendary Canadian producer/engineer Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neil Young), whose trademark atmospheric sound adds an entirely new dimension to Jerry’s approach. Named after the street in Toronto’s east end where it was recorded, in what once was the Donlands Theatre, Donlands presents Jerry Leger as he’s never been heard before.
On songs like “I Was Right To Doubt Her,” the film noir vibe recalls Mark’s work on Willie Nelson’s Teatro. But mostly, Jerry wears his poetic heart firmly on his sleeve on “Three Hours Ahead Of Midnight” and “The Flower And The Dirt,” songs that underscore Jerry’s uncommon ability to pen timeless music and lyrics. Further, as on the Roy Orbison-esque opening track “Sort Me Out” and the heart-wrenching piano ballad “Wounded Wing,” Jerry digs deep to express the strength and resolve we’ve all needed to get through the past few years.
For Jerry Leger, the search for the elusive creative spark remains never-ending, but there are always new routes to explore in getting to it. With Donlands, he has made an album that stands as one of the peak moments in an already towering body of work. Jerry took some time out of his European tour to speak with us, before his return to Canada to officially launch Donlands. The Toronto show takes place on Nov. 29 at TD Music Hall in Massey Hall. Get tickets HERE, and check jerryleger.com for further dates and more info about Donlands.
As a Toronto artist, the city has always seemed to inspire your work. Along with the location where it was actually recorded, what else about Donlands reflects Toronto at this moment in time?
Well, we have a history with Donlands. When I first got the band together, we made our live debut at The Only Café — located at Danforth and Donlands. As far as this moment in time, to me it feels like another part of the city that is trying to keep some personality and community.
This is your first collaboration with producer Mark Howard, who’s worked with many of your heroes. How do you look back on that experience now?
It’s a week in my life that I’ll never forget. It was a really cool experience. The record came out exactly how I hoped it would. It lives in that dimension, for me, like some of the albums Mark has worked on. I loved the old-school approach, like live mixing, while also trying some out-of-the-box ideas. I’ve always recorded my albums as live in the studio as possible, so Mark and I were already on the same page there.
You’ve been highly prolific over the past decade. Is songwriting something you’re compelled to work at every day?
It’s something I’m compelled to do when I have the moment and inspiration. I used to try and write every day but the business side gets in the way. You gotta wear a lot of hats in this day and age. I’m best at writing, performing and recording though. That’s what makes me feel like I’m living and breathing. I think these days when I write a song I really like, it turns the tap on and I’ll write a whole bunch of ’em quickly.
You have a loyal following in Europe. Why do you think audiences there respond so well to your music?
In my experience, I’ve just come across a lot of people over there that hold music as a very important thing in their lives still. They want music with depth and heart. It’s not image-driven or focused on Instagram reels. They get hooked, backtrack and get the older records too. That’s how I was when I was growing up and still am. I’m a music nerd, that’s how it started.
You’ll be making your Massey Hall debut in November. What does that mean to you and how are you preparing for it?
It’s probably one of the big dreams for most Toronto artists. It’s definitely a privilege to play Massey Hall on Nov. 18 as part of Chest Fever’s tribute to The Last Waltz, where I’ll be singing songs by one of my biggest influences, Bob Dylan. I also get to sing one of them with my friend Don Stevenson, a founding member of Moby Grape, another band I love. I’m hoping that some folks who see me there will come to our big album release show in the new Massey Hall room, TD Music Hall on Nov. 29. It’s gonna be a really special night for us. It’s a pretty wild way to end what has been a very interesting and sometimes challenging year for me.